Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Japan at the turn of the twentieth century could be described as “tenuous” at best. Each country had competing geopolitical interests in the South Pacific and sought to extend their spheres of influence into the interior of China. Meanwhile, growing Japanese American communities on the West Coast faced overt discrimination and harassment from white Americans. In 1906, the San Francisco Board of Education enacted a policy that required students of Japanese-descent to attend segregated schools. The measure angered Japanese government officials and threatened to destabilize the delicate relations between the two nations.
Through a series of diplomatic cables and notes between 1907 and 1908, the U.S. and Japan struck what came to be known as the “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” by which Japan would voluntarily limit the number of immigrants it sent to the U.S. and, in exchange, the U.S. government would take steps to curb the discriminatory practices and laws from which Japanese immigrants suffered.