One of the first instances of severe discrimination occurred in Hawaii just four years after the first "official" Japanese immigration. In 1889, Katsu Goto (a prominent merchant and interpreter) was killed by those who didn't like the advocacy work he performed on behalf of Japanese plantation workers.

Led by the Morning Call, The San Francisco Examiner, and The San Francisco Bulletin, the first mainland anti-Japanese movement began in 1892. It culminated in the San Francisco Board of Education resolution of June 10, 1893 relegating Japanese students to the segregated Chinese school. After intervention by the Japanese consul, the resolution was soon rescinded, ending this early chapter of anti-Japanese agitation.

On April 30, 1900, the Organic Act was signed by President William McKinley. This act incorporated Hawaii as a Territory of the United States. As a Territory, contract labor was no longer legal in Hawaii once the act went into effect on June 14th. As a result, over 20 major strikes took place within a month. Over 8,000 laborers participated in these strikes that called for (among other things) higher wages, reduced work hours, and the hiring of Japanese supervisors.

The period from 1898 to 1907 saw great numbers of Japanese immigrants come to America. By 1910, the Japanese were the largest minority group in the state of Washington. Although the 1907 Gentleman's Agreement had limited Japanese immigration to America, anti-Asian feelings ran high. Anti-Japanese prejudice was common in the early 1900s on the west coast, especially in California. Some whites feared that the immigrants would take away their jobs, while others, notably farmers, were resentful of the bountiful crops raised by the Japanese farmers.

The Asiatic Exclusion League was founded in San Francisco in 1905, marking the official beginning of the anti-Japanese movement. Among those attending the first meeting were labor leaders (and European immigrants) Patrick Henry McCarthy and Olaf Tveitmoe of the Building Trades Council of San Francisco and Andrew Furuseth and Walter McCarthy of the Sailor's Union. Tveitmoe was named the first president of the organization.

In 1906, Japanese schoolchildren were segregated from white students by the San Francisco school board. In response to the growing anti-Japanese prejudice, President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated the "Gentlemen's Agreement" with Japan in 1907. The government of Japan agreed to stop issuing passports to laborers, thus slowing Japanese immigration to the United States.

On February 18, 1907, Congress approved amending existing immigration legislation which allowed President Roosevelt to issue an executive order stopping the migration of Japanese laborers from Hawaii and Mexico on March 14, 1907. In concert with the Gentlemen's Agreement, this action ended labor immigration to the U.S. and put labor contractors out of business.

California Governor Hiram Johnson signed the 1913 Alien Land Law, which was followed in November 1920 by a new Alien Land Law, intended to close loopholes in the 1913 law. The Alien Land Laws prevented non-citizens from owning property in California.

On November 13, 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to definitively prohibit Japanese from becoming naturalized citizens on the basis of race. This ban lasted until 1952. Another ruling was placed on a similar case involving the denial of naturalization. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed the 1924 immigration bill into law, effectively ending Japanese immigration to the U.S.

In Hawaii on August 1, 1938, striking Hilo dock workers protested the arrival of an Inter-Island Steamship Company vessel run by armed strikebreakers. Picketers were attacked with tear gas, fire hoses, and finally, gunfire. At least 50 strikers were wounded. Although the strike was broken, the "Hilo Massacre" helped build labor solidarity in Hawaii.

Citing a need to prevent banks in America from being used in ways harmful to the United States, a Presidential Order on July 25, 1941 froze Japanese assets in the United States and caused a run on Japanese banks. In an August, 1941 letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Representative John Dingell of Michigan suggested incarcerating 10,000 Hawaiian Japanese Americans as hostages to ensure "good behavior" on the part of Japan.

Meanwhile, overt discrimination continued to be practiced against those of Japanese ancestry.

On November 12, 1941 (shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor), 15 Japanese American businessmen and community leaders in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo were picked up in an F.B.I. raid. Records and membership lists for such organizations as the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and the Central Japanese Association were seized. The 15 cooperated with authorities, while a spokesman for the Central Japanese Association stated:  We teach the fundamental principles of America and the high ideals of American democracy. We want to live here in peace and harmony. Our people are 100 percent loyal to America.

This outrage was but a prelude. Having faced more than a half-century of discrimination, Japanese Americans were but a few months from entering the Dark Years and deprivation of life, liberty, and property.