Distant Islands

The Japanese American Community in New York City, 1876-1930s

by Daniel H. Inouye

foreword by David Reimers

 George and Sakaye Aratani Nikkei in the Americas Series

“An exemplary work of social history research. Dr. Inouye makes the world(s) of the Nikkei in inter-war New York come alive.”
—Mae Ngai, Columbia University

"Daniel Inouye's Distant Islands is an important, foundational, and nuanced history of the Nikkei diaspora in the NYC region. In this Empire metropolis Japanese migrants with different backgrounds gain distinctive relations to European Protestant Atlantic World money, status, and elite culture while also grappling with different degrees of class-inflected American othering of Japanese and Asians. Inouye weaves an insightful, urban story of lives impacted by conflicted social-cultural cleavages pulled from his many interviews and meticulous archival research."
—John Kuo Wei Tchen, Inaugural Clement Price Chair of Public History & Humanities, Rutgers University-Newark


Distant Islands is a modern narrative history of the Japanese American community in New York City between America's centennial year and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Often overshadowed in historical literature by the Japanese diaspora on the West Coast, this community, which dates back to the 1870s, has its own fascinating history.

The New York Japanese American community was a composite of several micro communities divided along status, class, geographic, and religious lines. Using a wealth of primary sources—oral histories, memoirs, newspapers, government documents, photographs, and more—Daniel H. Inouye tells the stories of the business and professional elites, mid-sized merchants, small business owners, working-class families, menial laborers, and students that made up these communities. The book presents new knowledge about the history of Japanese immigrants in the United States and makes a novel and persuasive argument about the primacy of class and status stratification and relatively weak ethnic cohesion and solidarity in New York City, compared to the pervading understanding of nikkei on the West Coast. While a few prior studies have identified social stratification in other nikkei communities, this book presents the first full exploration of the subject and additionally draws parallels to divisions in German American communities.

Distant Islands is a unique and nuanced historical account of an American ethnic community that reveals the common humanity of pioneering Japanese New Yorkers despite diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and life stories. It will be of interest to general readers, students, and scholars interested in Asian American studies, immigration and ethnic studies, sociology, and history.


View 1930 Population Map

Daniel H. Inouye is a Ph.D. historian and an attorney who specializes in analytical narrative history writing, public history, Asian/Pacific American history, and jazz history.  He has taught courses at Columbia University, Queens College of the City University of New York, and New York University.

Imprint: University Press of Colorado

Book Details

  • Hardcover Price: $49.00
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-60732-792-9
  • Ebook Price: $39.00
  • 30-day ebook rental price: $20.00
  • EISBN: 978-1-60732-793-6
  • Publication Month: November
  • Publication Year: 2018
  • Pages: 360
  • Illustrations: 24 figures
  • Discount Type: Short
  • Author: by Daniel H. Inouye
  • ECommerce Code: 978-1-60732-792-9