Called the U.S.'s first ambassador to Japan, a 14-year-old fisherman by the name of Manjiro is considered America's first Japanese immigrant, arriving in the country on May 7, 1843, by way of a whaling ship.
According to the National Endowment of the Humanities, the boy and his crew were caught in a violent storm, with their ship eventually washing up on a desert island 300 miles away from their coastal Japanese village. Rescued five months later by an American whaling ship, Manjiro was adopted by American Capt. William Whitfield, who renamed him John Mung and brought him back to the states to his home in Massachusetts.
Manjiro eventually returned to Japan, where he was named a samurai and worked as a political emissary between his home country and the West, the NEH reports.
According to the National Museum of American History, it was about 20 years later, in the 1860s, when groups of Japanese immigrants began arriving in the Hawaiian islands, where they worked in sugarcane fields. From there, many relocated to California, Washington and Oregon.
From 1886 to 1911, the Library of Congress adds, 400,000-plus Japanese women and men immigrated to America, particularly to Hawaii and the West Coast. In commemoration of Manjiro’s early arrival, Congress, in 1992, established May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.