Nisei (二世, second generation) is a Japanese language term used in countries in North America, South America and Australia to specify the children born to Japanese people in the new country. The Nisei are considered the second generation; and the grandchildren of the Japanese-born immigrants are called Sansei. The Sansei are considered the third generation. (In Japanese counting, "one, two, three" is "ichi, ni, san" – see Japanese numerals).


Demographic groups

Although the earliest organized group of Japanese emigrants settled in Mexico in 1897,[1] the four largest populations of Japanese and descendants of Japanese immigrants live in Brazil, the United States, Canada and Peru.

Brazilian Nisei

The first Japanese Brazilian immigrants arriving aboard the Kassato Maru in 1908.

Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, numbering an estimate of more than 1.5 million (including those of mixed-race or mixed-ethnicity),[2] more than that of the 1.2 million in the United States.[3] The Nisei Japanese Brazilians are an important part of the ethnic minority in that South American nation.

American Nisei

Some US Nisei were born during the Baby Boom after the end of World War II; but most Nisei who were living in the western United States during WWII were forcibly interned with their parents (Issei) and children (Sansei) after Executive Order 9066 was promulgated to exclude everyone of Japanese descent from large parts of the Western states. In some senses, the children of the Nisei seem to feel they are caught in a dilemma between their "quiet" Nisei parents and their other identity model of "verbal" Americans.[4] The Nisei of Hawaii had a somewhat different experience.

In the United States, two representative Nisei are Daniel Inouye and Fred Korematsu, but the individual life histories of all the Neisei are cumulatively creating a more complex tapestry than can be casually summarized. Hawaiian-born Daniel Ken Inouye (井上 建 Inoue Ken?) was one of many young Nisei men who volunteered to fight in the nation's military when restrictions against Japanese-American enlistment were removed in 1943. Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu (是松 豊三郎 Korematsu Toyosaburo ?) was one of many Japanese-American citizens living on the West Coast who resisted internment during World War II.

Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Nisei Fred Korematsu.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, was awarded to Korematsu in 1998. In 1944, Korematsu lost a Supreme Court challenge to the wartime internment of Japanese Americans but gained vindication decades later.[5] At the White House award ceremonies, President Clinton explained, "In the long history of our country's constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls. Plessy, Brown, Parks ... to that distinguished list, today we add the name of Fred Korematsu."[6]

The overwhelming majority of Japanese Americans had reacted to the internment by acquiescing to the government's order, hoping to prove their loyalty as Americans. To them, Korematsu's opposition was treacherous to both his country and his community. Across the span of decades, he was seen as a traitor, a test case, an embarrassment and, finally, a hero.[7]

Canadian Nisei

Within Japanese-Canadian communities across Canada, three distinct subgroups developed, each with different sociocultural referents, generational identity, and wartime experiences.[8][9]

Peruvian Nisei

Among the approximately 80,000 Peruvians of Japanese descent, the Nisei Japanese Peruvians comprise the largest element. Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was the Nisei son of Issei emigrants from Kumamoto, Japan.[10]

Cultural profile


Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians have special names for each of their generations in North America. These are formed by combining one of the Japanese numbers corresponding to the generation with the Japanese word for generation (sei 世). The Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian communities have themselves distinguished their members with terms like Issei, Nisei, and Sansei which describe the first, second and third generation of immigrants. The fourth generation is called Yonsei (四世) and the fifth is called Gosei (五世). The Issei, Nisei and Sansei generations reflect distinctly different attitudes to authority, gender, non-Japanese involvement, and religious belief and practice, and other matters.[11] The age when individuals faced the wartime evacuation and internment is the single, most significant factor which explains these variations in their experiences, attitudes and behaviour patterns.[8]

The term Nikkei (日系) was coined by a multinational group of sociologists and encompasses all of the world's Japanese immigrants across generations.[12] The collective memory of the Issei and older Nisei was an image of Meiji Japan from 1870 through 1911, which contrasted sharply with the Japan that newer immigrants had more recently left. These differing attitudes, social values and associations with Japan were often incompatible with each other.[13] In this context, the significant differences in post-war experiences and opportunities did nothing to mitigate the gaps which separated generational perspectives.

Generation Summary
Issei (一世) The generation of people born in Japan who later immigrated to another country.
Nisei (二世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Australia, Hawaii, or any country outside of Japan either to at least one Issei or one non-immigrant Japanese parent.
Sansei (三世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Australia, Hawaii, or any country outside of Japan to at least one Nisei parent.
Yonsei (四世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Australia, Hawaii, or any country outside of Japan to at least one Sansei parent.
Gosei (五世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Australia, Hawaii, or any country outside of Japan to at least one Yonsei parent.[14]

In North America since the redress victory in 1988, a significant evolutionary change has occurred. The Nisei, their parents and their children are changing the way they look at themselves and their pattern of accommodation to the non-Japanese majority.[15]

There are currently just over one hundred thousand British Japanese, mostly in London; but unlike other Nikkei communities elsewhere in the world, these Britons do not conventionally parse their communities in generational terms as Issei, Nisei, or Sansei.[16]


The second generation of immigrants, born in Canada or the United States to parents not born in the Canada or the United States, is called Nisei (二世). The Nisei have been subjected to significant residential dispersal. The Nisei have resisted being absorbed into the majority society, largely because of their tendency to maintain Japanese interpersonal style. A primary aspect of the Nisei's style is found in the expression of a subjective self[17] -- and this quality of emotional control was passed to their Sansei children.

Most Nisei were educated in Canadian or American school systems where they were taught Western values of individualism and citizenship. When these were taken away in the early 1940s, the Nisei confronted great difficulty in accepting or coming to terms with internment and forced resettlement. Older Nisei tended to identify more closely with the Issei, sharing similar economic and social characteristics.[8] Older Nisei who had been employed in small businesses, in farming, in fishing or in semi-skilled occupations, tended to remain in blue-collar work.[18] In contrast, the younger Nisei attended university and college and entered various professions and white-collar employment after the war.[13] This sharp division in post-war experiences and opportunities exacerbated the gaps between these Nisei.


The kanreki (還暦), a traditional, pre-modern Japanese rite of passage to old age at 60, was sometimes celebrated by the Issei and is now being celebrated by increasing numbers of Nisei. Rituals are enactments of shared meanings, norms, and values; and this Japanese rite of passage highlights a collective response among the Nisei to the conventional dilemmas of growing older.[19] Aging is affecting the demographics of the Nisei. According to a 2011 columnist in The Rafu Shimpoof Los Angeles, the obituaries showing the number of Japanese Americans in their 80s and 90s — Nisei, in a word — who are passing is staggering"[20]


The Japanese-born Issei learned Japanese as their mother tongue, and their success in learning English as a second language was varied. Most Nisei speak Japanese to some extent, learned from Issei parents, Japanese school, and living in a Japanese community or in the internment camps. A majority of English-speaking Nisei have retained knowledge of the Japanese language, at least in its spoken form. Most Sansei speak English as their first language.[13]


An illustrative point-of-view, as revealed in the poetry of an Issei woman:

By Meiji parents
Emigrants to Canada
The Nisei were raised to be
Canadian citizens
Of whom they could be proud.
-- Kinori Oka, Kisaragi Poem Study Group, 1975.[21]




When the Canadian and American governments interned West Coast Japanese in 1942, neither distinguished between those who were citizens (Nisei) and their non-citizen parents (Issei).[22]

World War II Service


Japanese American redress

In 1978, the Japanese American Citizens League (Japanese American Citizens League|JACL) actively began demanding be taken as redress for harms endured by Japanese Americans during World War II.

In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) The commission report, Personal Justice Denied, condemned the internment as "unjust and motivated by racism rather than real military necessity".[23]

In 1988, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided for a formal apology and payments of $20,000 for each survivor. The legislation stated that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership".[24] The Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992, appropriating an additional $400 million in order to ensure that all remaining internees received their $20,000 redress payments, was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government.

Japanese and Japanese Americans who were relocated during WWII were compensated for direct property losses in 1948. These payments were awarded to 82,210 Japanese Americans or their heirs at a cost of $1.6 billion; the program's final disbursement occurred in 1999.[25]

Japanese Canadian redress

In 1983, the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) mounted a campaign demanding redress for injustices during the war years.[26] NAJC hired Price Waterhouse to estimate the economic losses to Japanese Canadians resulting from property confiscations and loss of wages due to internment. On the basis of detailed records maintained by the Custodian of Alien Property,[27] it was determined that the total loss totalled $443 million (in 1986 dollars).[26]

In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave that long-awaited formal apology and the Canadian government began to make good on a compensation package—including $21,000 to all surviving internees, and the re-instatement of Canadian citizenship to those who were deported to Japan.[28]



Notable individuals

The number of nisei who have earned some degree of public recognition has continued to increase over time; but the quiet lives of those whose names are known only to family and friends are no less important in understanding the broader narrative of the nikkei. Although the names highlighted here are over-represented by issei from North America, the Latin American member countries of the Pan American Nikkei Association (PANA) include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, in addition to the English-speaking United States and Canada.[29]


  1. ^ Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), "Japan-Mexico Relations"; retrieved 2011-05-17
  2. ^ MOFA, "Japan-Brazil Relations"; retrieved 2011-05-17
  3. ^ US Census, "Selected Population Profile in the United States; Japanese alone or in any combination," 2005; retrieved 2011-05-17
  4. ^ Miyoshi, Nobu. (1978). "Identity Crisis of the Sansei and the Concentration Camp," NIMH Grant No. 1 R13 MH25655-01.
  5. ^ Lewis, Neil A. "President Names 15 for Nation's Top Civilian Honor," New York Times. January 9, 1998.
  6. ^ Goldstein, Richard. "Fred Korematsu, 86, Dies; Lost Key Suit on Internment," New York Times. April 1, 2005.
  7. ^ Bai, Matt. "He Said No to Internment," New York Times. December 25, 2005.
  8. ^ a b c McLellan, Janet. (1999). Many Petals of the Lotus: Five Asian Buddhist Communities in Toronto, p. 36.
  9. ^ Ikawa, Fumiko. "Reviews: Umi o Watatta Nippon no Mura by Masao Gamo and "Steveston Monogatari: Sekai no Naka no Nipponjin" by Kazuko Tsurumi, American Anthropologist (US). New Series, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Feb., 1963), pp. 152-156.
  10. ^ "Fujimori Secures Japanese Haven," BBC News. December 12, 2000.
  11. ^ McLellan, p. 59.
  12. ^ "What is Nikkei?" Japanese American National Museum.
  13. ^ a b c McLellan, p. 37.
  14. ^ Ikezoe-Halevi, Jean. "Voices of Chicago: Day of Remembrance 2006," Discover Nikkei (US). October 31, 2006.
  15. ^ McLellan, p. 68.
  16. ^ Itoh, p. 7.
  17. ^ Miyamoto, S. Frank. "Problems of Interpersonal Style among the Nisei," Amerasia Journal. v13 n2 p29-45 (1986-87).
  18. ^ McLellan, pp. 36-37.
  19. ^ Doi, Mary L. "A Transformation of Ritual: The Nisei 60th Birthday." Journal Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology. Vol. 6, No. 2 (April, 1991).
  20. ^ Johnson, George Toshio. "Into the Next Stage: Japanese American Newspapers: Over and Out?" Rafu Shimpo (US). February 17, 2011.
  21. ^ Kobayashi, p. 64.
  22. ^ Dinnerstein, Leonard et al. (1999). Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration, p. 181.
  23. ^ Personal Justice Denied,
  24. ^ 100th Congress, S. 1009, reproduced at].
  25. ^ DemocracyNow: WWII Reparations: Japanese-American Internees
  26. ^ a b Establishing Recognition of Past Injustices: Uses of Archival Records in Documenting the Experience of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War. Roberts-Moore, Judith. Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists, 53 (2002).
  27. ^ Order-in-Council, P.C. 1665: Yesaki, Mitsuo. (2003). Sutebusuton: A Japanese Village on the British Columbia Coast, p. 111.
  28. ^ Apology and compensation, CBC Archives
  29. ^ National Association of Japanese Canadians: PANA
  30. ^ DiscoverNikkei: Aiso bio; retrieved 2011-05-17
  31. ^ DiscoverNikkei: Fujimori bio; retrieved 2011-05-17
  32. ^ Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 8. June 4, 2008.
  33. ^ a b Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 9. June 4, 2008.
  34. ^ a b Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 10. June 4, 2008.
  35. ^ Japanese American National Museum (JANM): William Honri bio; Martin, Douglas. "William Hohri Dies at 83; Sought Money for Internees," New York Times (US). November 24, 2010;retrieved 2011-05-17
  36. ^ a b Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 12. June 4, 2008.
  37. ^ DiscoverNikkei: Kochiyama bio
  38. ^ Svinth, Joseph R. (2000). "Tommy Kono". Physical Training. 
  39. ^ Yenne, Bill. (2007). Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II, pp. 1376-141.
  40. ^ University of Utah, Mike M. Masaoka Photograph Collection, bio
  41. ^ DiscoverNikkei: Matsunaga bio; retrieved 2011-05-17
  42. ^ DiscoverNikkei: Mineta bio; retrieved 2011-05-17
  43. ^ "A Nisei in the NBA: The Wat Misaka Story". 2008-08-29. 
  44. ^ "Pat Morita, 73, Actor Known for 'Karate Kid' and 'Happy Days,' Dies", The New York Times, November 26, 2005, 
  45. ^ a b Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 13. June 4, 2008.
  46. ^ Tamashiro, Ben H. (March 15, 1985). "The Congressional Medal of Honor: Sadao Munemori". The Hawaii Herald. 
  47. ^ Gallagher, Jack (2007-10-14). "Young star Nagasu has priorities in order". The Japan Times Online. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  48. ^ a b Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 14. June 4, 2008.
  49. ^ a b Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 15. June 4, 2008.
  50. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang. "George Nakashima Is Dead at 85; Designer and Master Woodworker," New York Times (US). June 18, 1990
  51. ^ Brenson, Michael. "Isamu Noguchi, the Sculptor, Dies at 84", New York Times (US). December 31, 1988.
  52. ^ a b Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 16. June 4, 2008.
  53. ^ a b Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 17. June 4, 2008.
  54. ^ Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 18. June 4, 2008.
  55. ^ Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 19. June 4, 2008.
  56. ^ Murata, Alice (February 2006). "Shinkichi Tajiri : World Renown Sculptor". Chicago Japanese American Historical Society. 
  57. ^ Medal of Honor: CRS RL30011, p. 20. June 4, 2008.
  58. ^ "Stories About USMS Swimmers: Yoshi Oyakawa". Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  59. ^ George Takei Biography (1937-)
  60. ^ Hadley, Jane (September 13, 2001), "Seattle architect created trade center as peace symbol", The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 

See also


Further reading

  • Moulin, Pierre. (1993). U.S. Samurais in Bruyeres : People of France and Japanese Americans: Incredible Story. Luxembourg: CPL Editions. 10-ISBN 2-959-9984-05
  • Asahina, Robert. (2007). Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad. New York: Gotham Books. 10-ISBN 1-592-40300-X
  • Harrington, Joseph D. (1979). Yankee Samurai: The Secret Role of Nisei in America's Pacific Victory Pettigrew Enterprises. 10-ISBN 0-933-68011-2; 13-ISBN 978-0-933-68011-1
  • McNaughton, James. (2006). Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service During World War II. Washington, D.C. : Department of the Army.
  • Sterner, C. Douglas (2008). Go For Broke: The Nisei Warriors of World War II Who Conquered Germany, Japan, and American Bigotry. Clearfield  : Utah American Legacy Historical Press. 10-ISBN 0-979-68961-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-979-68961-1

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • nisei —    (nee say) [Japanese: second generation] A person born in the United States of immigrant Japanese parents, especially those who were forced into isolated camps, in a misguided attempt to increase security during World War II.    See also issei …   Dictionary of foreign words and phrases

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