This path focuses on migrants from Fuqing to Japan. Their mobility built on a history of Sino-Japanese exchanges, both legal and illegal, during the early modern era. Under the so-called maritime prohibition policies of the Tokugawa shogunate, Nagasaki had been the only port to which Chinese merchants and ship crews, mainly from Fujian Province, were permitted access. Chinese and local Japanese enjoyed generally good relations—so good that the shogunate confined Chinese traders and crews to a gated compound to prevent smuggling and other transactions that would overwhelm its policy of tightly controlled borders. Nonetheless, smuggling persisted, and by the nineteenth century, small-scale private trade by Fujianese ship crewmen constituted a significant portion of the overall Chinese trade (Hishitani 1988, Chen 2006).
Chinese migration to Japan grew dramatically after the implementation of the 1858 Ansei Treaties with the Euro-American powers (the so-called unequal treaties) and the opening of the treaty ports at Nagasaki, Yokohama, Kobe, Hakodate, and Niigata (the latter two under the terms of the Japan–US Treaty of Peace and Amity), as well as the foreign concessions in Tokyo and Osaka. In Nagasaki, resident Chinese were joined by compatriots employed as compradors or servants of Euro-American traders, by those who set up their own shops or trading firms, as well as by those who, lacking any employment, simply gained passage on Western ships bound for Japan. Comparable social topographies soon developed in Yokohama and Kobe. In fact, Chinese quickly came to comprise by far the largest group of foreigners in the treaty ports.
Popular images of the Chinese shifted over time. On the one hand, Chinese merchants were seen as kindly “Acha-san” who distributed gifts to children (Vasishth 1997; see also Kamachi 1980). But strangers could have dangerous as well as friendly aspects. Discourses on Chinese criminality soon spread, abetted by the new media of the Meiji era, which projected images of Chinese larceny, opium smuggling, and abduction and human trafficking, well out of proportion to the incidence of actual Chinese misbehavior. Geopolitical rivalry between Meiji Japan and Qing China, which culminated in Japan's victory in the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War, also replaced earlier fears of Chinese power with increasingly racist depictions of the Chinese as uncivilized and less-than-human (Lone 1994; Keene 1971), even as popular enthusiasm for Chinese food grew rapidly (Han 2014).
The Chinese who came to Japan had to find ways to exist in a society marked by these divisions, even as they embodied them in their daily movements across Japanese space—movements that were subjected to intensive police surveillance. (The image at the top of this page is part of a 1926 report titled “In the matter of a criminal Chinese”; it is contained within one of several Foreign Ministry dossiers on illegal activities of Chinese in Japan.)
On the historical ties between Fuqing/Fujian and Nagasaki and their uses in the present, see also this article on the Buddhist monk Ingen Ryūki.