Issei (, first generation) is a Japanese language term used in countries in North America, South America and Australia to specify the Japanese people first to immigrate. Their children born in the new country are referred to as "Nisei" (second generation), and their grandchildren are "Sansei" (third generation). (In Japanese counting, "one, two, three" is "ichi, ni, san." See: Japanese numerals).

Brazilian, American, Canadian and Peruvian citizens

Although the earliest organized group of Japanese emigrants settled in Mexico in 1897,Ministry of Foreign Affairs: [ "Japan-Mexico Foreign Relations"] ] the four largest populations of Japanese and descendants of Japanese immigrants live in Brazil, the United States, Canada and Peru.

Brazilian "Issei"

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), [ [ Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Japan-Brazil Relations] ] more than that of the 1.2 million in the United States. [ [;ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201PR:041;ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201T:041;ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201TPR:041&-ds_name=ACS_2005_EST_G00_&-_lang=en US Census data 2005] ] The "Issei" Japanese Brazilians are an important part of that ethnic minority in that South American nation.

American "Issei"

The first members of the "Issei" did not migrate directly to the United States, but to Hawaii (which was at the time American-controlled but not yet part of the U.S.). These migrants—the first of whom arrived on board the steamship "City of Tokio" in February 1885—were common laborers escaping hard times in Japan, and their emigration was subsidized by the Hawaiian government, which needed cheap labor for its sugar plantations. A large number of Japanese eventually settled in Hawaii. [Tate, E. Mowbray. (1986). [,M1 "Transpacific Steam: The Story of Steam Navigation from the Pacific Coast of North America to the Far East and the Antipodes, 1867-1941," p. 231.] ]

Direct migration of Japanese to the United States began a little later in 1885 with the arrival of "student-laborers". [Sakata, Yasuo. (1992). "Fading Footsteps of the Issei," p. 1.] The earliest of these migrated to San Francisco, and their numbers constantly expanded in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Their purpose of moving to America was to gain advanced knowledge and experience in order to develop the modern society at home. Both students and laborers were attracted by the image of America as a country that welcomes foreigners. When they first arrived in the U.S., they had no intention of living there permanently and were merely students or laborers whose purpose was to learn from Americans and to bring knowledge back to their own country.

Canadian "Issei"

Within Japanese-Canadian communities across Canada, three distinct subgroups developed, each with different sociocultural referents, generational identity, and wartime experiences.McLellan, Janet. (1999). [,M1 "Many Petals of the Lotus: Five Asian Buddhist Communities in Toronto," p. 36.] ] The narrative of "Issei" Japanese-Canadians include post-Pearl Harbor experiences of uprooting, incarceration, and dispersal of the pre-war Japanese-Canadian communities. [Oiwa, Keibo and Joy Kogawa. (1991). [ "Stone Voices: Wartime Writings of Japanese Canadian Issei," p. 18.] ]

Peruvian "Issei"

Among the approximately 80,000 Peruvians of Japanese descent, the "Issei" Japanese Peruvians comprise only a small number.

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. [McLellan, [,M1 p. 59.] ] 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.

The term "Nikkei" (日系) was coined by a multinational group of sociologists and encompasses all of the world's Japanese immigrants across generations. [ [ "What is Nikkei?"] Japanese American National Museum.] 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.McLellan, [,M1 p. 37.] ] In this context, the significant differences in post-war experiences and opportunities did nothing to mitigate the gaps which separated the lives of "Issei," "Nisei" and "Sansei."

Since the redress victory in 1988 nisei are changing the way they look at themselves and their pattern of accommodation to the non-Japanese majority. [McLellan, [,M1 p. 68.] ]


The first generation of immigrants, born in Japan before moving to Canada or the United States, is called "Issei" (一世). In the 1930s, the term "Issei" came into common use, replacing the term "immigrant" ("ijusha"). This new term illustrated a changed way of looking at themselves. The term "Issei" represented the idea of beginning, a psychological transformation relating to being settled, having a distinctive community, and the idea of belonging to the new country.

"Issei" settled in close ethnic communities, and therefore did not learn English. They endured great economic and social losses during the early years of World War II, and they were not able to rebuild their lost businesses and savings. The external circumstances tended to reinforce the pattern of "Issei" being predominantly friends with other "Issei."

Unlike their children, the tend to rely primarily on Japanese language media (newspapers, television, movies), and in some senses, they tend to think of themselves as more Japanese than Canadian or American.

"Issei" women
"Issei" women's lives were somewhat similar, despite differences in context, because they were structured within interlocking webs of patriarchal relationships, and that consistent subordination was experienced both as oppressive and as a source of happiness. [Kobayashi, Audrey Lynn. [,M1 "Women, Work and Place," p. xxxiii.] ] The "Issei" women lived lives of transition which were affected by three common factors: the dominant ideology of late "Meiji" Japan, which advanced the economic objectives of the Japanese state; the patriarchal traditions of the agricultural village, which arose partly as a form of adjustment to national objectives and the adjustment to changes imposed by modernization; and the constraints which arose within a Canadian or American society dominated by racist ideology. [Kobayashi, [,M1 p. 45.] ] Substantive evidence of the working lives of "Issei" women is very difficult to find, partly for lack of data and partly because the data that do exist are influenced by their implicit ideological definition of women. [Kobayashi, [,M1 p. 58.] ]

Within the framework of environmental contradictions, the narratives of these women revealed a surprisingly shared sense of inevitability, a perception that the events of life are beyond the control of the individual, which accounts for the consistency in the way in which Issei women, different and individual in many ways, seem to have structured their emotions [Kobayashi, [,M1 p. 56.] ] -- and this quality of emotional control was passed to their "Nisei" children.


The second generation of immigrants, born in Canada or the United Sates 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 [Miyamoto, S. Frank. [ "Problems of Interpersonal Style among the Nisei,"] "Amerasia Journal." v13 n2 p29-45 (1986-87).] -- 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. Older "Nisei" who had been employed in small businesses, in farming, in fishing or in semi-skilled occupations, tended to remain in blue-color work. [McLellan, [,M1 pp. 36-37.] ] In contrast, the younger "Nisei" attended university and college and entered various professions and white-color employment after the war.McLellan, [,M1 p. 37.] ] This sharp division in post-war experiences and opportunities exacerbated the gaps between these "Nisei."


The third generation of immigrants, born in the United States or Canada to parents born in the United States or Canada, is called "Sansei" (三世). Children born to the "Nisei" were generally born after 1945. The speak English as their first language and are completely acculturized in the contexts of Canadian or American society. They tend to identify with Canadian or American values, norms and expectations. Few speak Japanese, and most tend to express their identity as Canadian or American rather than Japanese. Among the "Sansei" there is an overwhelming percentage of marriages to persons of non-Japanese ancestry.


The experience of emmigrants is inevitably affected by a range of factors directly related to the Japanese society they left behind. As immigrants, the conflicts between the old country and the new played out in unique ways for each individual, and yet common elements do begin to appear in the history of the Japanese Canadian and Japanese American communities.

Emigrants from Japan

Japan was a closed country for more than two centuries, 1636 to 1853, since military rulers from the Tokugawa family wanted to keep foreigners away from Japanese society. [Spickard, Paul R. (1997). "Japanese Americans: The Formation and Transformations of an Ethnic Group," p. 7.] The only exceptions were Chinese and some Dutch people, but even they were discouraged from associating with Japanese citizens. Also, it was strictly prohibited by law for ordinary Japanese citizens to go abroad. Change came around the early 19th century when the visit of an American fleet commanded by Commodore Perry caused the new Japanese government to replace the Tokugawa system of economics and politics during the Meiji era in order to open its door to trade and contact with the outside world.

After 1866, the new Japanese government decided to send students and laborers to the U.S. in order to bring back the knowledge and experience necessary for the nation to grow strong.Tamura, Linda. (1998). [,M1 "The Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon's Hood River Valley," p. xxxvii.] ]

After 1884, emigration of working classes from Japan is permitted; and the first issei begin to arrive in North and South America soon after. For example, in 1890, only 25 Issei live in Oregon. By 1891, 1,000 Japanese live in Oregon. In 1900, 2,051 Japanese have come to live in Oregon. By 1915, Japanese men with savings of $800 are considered eligible to summon wives from Japan. [Tamura, [,M1 p. xxxviii.] ]

Immigrants in America

Few Japanese workers came to North America intending to become immigrants. Initially, most of them came with vague plans for gaining new experiences and for making some money before returning to homes in Japan. This group of workers was overwhelmingly male. Many "Issei" arrived as laborers. They worked in employment sectors such as agriculture, mining, and railroad construction.

The Issei were born in Japan, and their cultural perspective was primarily Japanese; but they were in America by choice. Despite a certain nostalgia for the old country, they had created homes in a country far from Japan. If they had not been prohibited from becoming citizens, many would have become citizens of the United States. [Yenne, Bill. (2007). [,M1 "Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II," p. xv.] ]

In 1913, California's Alien Land Law prohibited non-citizens from owning land in the state. This included the "Issei", Japanese residents born in Japan, but not their children, the Nisei, who were born in United States or Hawaii, and who therefore were American citizens by birth. Many of the Issei responded to the law by transferring title to their land to their "Nisei" children. [Yenne, [,M1 p. 12.] ]

Americans' first impression of Issei

Americans generally viewed the "Issei" as a crude, ill-educated lot. [Spickard, p. 15.] Possible reasons for this may be the fact that most Japanese were forced to work in menial jobs in the U.S., such as farming. Since there were many immigrants working in the U.S., Americans were relatively predisposed to have a negative view toward the immigrants. In fact, most of the "Issei" were well-educated. Most of them were better educated than the general Japanese public, and also compared with the average American population back then. Sixty percent of them actually completed middle school, and 21 percent were high school graduates.

Whether Christian, Buddhists, or nonbelievers, the "Issei" almost never caused trouble in the civil authority. The arrest rate for the "Issei" from 1902 to the 1960s was relatively lower than for any other major ethnic group in California. [Spickard, p. 57.] The only exceptions were that some young "Issei" committed crimes relating to gambling and prostitution, which stemmed from different cultural morals in Japan.

Since Buddhist social morals were deeply ingrained, the "Issei" tended to refrain from antisocial behavior. Also, they were concerned about the Japanese government, that the national image should not be sullied by misbehavior in the U.S.

Racial segregation and immigration law

The post-1900 cause to renew the Chinese Exclusion Act became generalized protests against all Asian immigrants, including the Issei. [Mercier, Laurie "et al." [ "Historical overview,"] "Japanese Americans In the Columbia River Basin," Washington State University web project.] Since many Chinese immigrants left the U.S., hostility fell on the "Issei." American labor organizations took an initiative in spreading Anti-Japanese sentiment. White Americans wanted to exclude them since they did not want any Asians to take their jobs away. As a result, they formed the Asiatic Exclusion League that viewed Japanese and Chinese as a threat of American workers. The protest of the league involved picketing and beatings of the Issei. In October of 1906, amid this anti-Japanese milieu, the San Francisco School Board, carrying out a campaign promise of the mayor, ordered all Japanese and Korean pupils to join the Chinese students at a segregated school.citation | last = Densho and The Board of Trustees of The Leland Stanford Junior University | title=Reading: The Issei immigrants and Civil Rights | url=| accessdate=2008-04-25] The "Issei" were displeased with the situation and some reported to Japanese newspapers. This caused the Japanese government to protest against the former President, Theodore Roosevelt, and as a result, they signed the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907. This agreement led the period of settling and family building to come.

By 1911, almost half of the Japanese immigrants were women who landed in the U.S. to reunite with their husband. After the Gentleman's agreement, the number of "Nisei", the second-generation Japanese, were born in California. Yet, it did not stop some white Americans from segregating Japanese immigrants. The "Issei" were a role model of American citizens by being hardworking, law-abiding, devoted to family and the community. However, some Americans did not want to admit the virtues of the "Issei."

The Immigration Act of 1924 represented the Issei's failed struggle against the segregation. The experiences of the Issei extend from well before the period before July 1, 1924, when the Japanese Exclusion Act came into effect. [Kirmura, Yukiko. (1988). [ "Issei: Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii," (abstract).] ]

The "Issei," however, were very good at enhancing rice farming on "unusable" land. Japanese Californian farmers made rice a major crop of the state. The largest "Issei" community settled around Vacaville, California, near San Francisco.


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"). [Dinnerstein, Leonard "et al." (1999). [,M1 "Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration," p. 181.] ] When the apology and redress for injustices were enacted by the American Congress and the Canadian Parliament in 1988, most of the "Issei" were dead, or too old for it to make any significant difference in lives that had been disrupted.

Notable individuals

Although the numbers of "Issei" who have earned some degree of public recognition has continued to increase over time, 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 "Issei."
* Mazie Hirono
* Rena Inoue
* Masi Oka
* Jokichi Takamine



* Leonard Dinnerstein, Leonard and David M. Reimers. (1999). [ "Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration."] New York: Columbia University Press. 10-ISBN 0-231-11189-4; 13-ISBN 978-0-231-11189-8
* Hosokawa, Bill. (2002). [ "Nisei: The Quiet Americans."] Boulder: University Press of Colorado 10-ISBN 0-870-81668-3; 13-ISBN 978-0-870-81668-0
* Ichioka, Yuji. (1988). [ "The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924."] New York: The Free Press. 10-ISBN 0-029-15370-0; 13-ISBN 978-0-029-15370-3
* Kimura, Yukiko. (1988). [ "Issei: Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii."] Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 10-ISBN 0-824-81029-5; 13-ISBN 978-0-824-81029-0
* McLellan, Janet. (1999). [ "Many Petals of the Lotus: Five Asian Buddhist Communities in Toronto."] Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 10-ISBN 0-802-08225-4; 13-ISBN 978-0-802-08225-1
* Miki, Roy [ "Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice."] Vancouver: Raincoast Books. 10-ISBN 1-551-92650-4; 13-ISBN 978-1-551-92650-6
* Keibo Oiwa, Keibo and Joy Kogawa. (1991). [ "Stone Voices: Wartime Writings of Japanese Canadian Issei."] Montréal : Véhicule Press. 10-ISBN 1-550-65014-9; 13-ISBN 978-1-550-65014-3
* Sakata, Yasuo, Los Angeles Japanese American Research Project, University of California. (1992). [ "Fading Footsteps of the Issei: An Annotated Checklist of the Manuscript Holdings of the Japanese American Research Project Collection."] Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, Center for Japanese Studies, University of California at Los Angeles, Japanese American National Museum. 10-ISBN 0-871-70444-7; 13-ISBN 978-0-871-70444-3
* Spickard, Paul R. (1996). [ "Japanese Americans."] New York: Twayne Publishers. 10-ISBN 0-805-77841-1; 13-ISBN 978-0-805-77841-0 -- London: Prentice Hall International. 10-ISBN 0-805-79242-2; 13-ISBN 978-0-805-79242-3
* Tamura, Linda. (1993). [ "The Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon's Hood River Valley."] Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 10-ISBN 0252063597; 13-ISBN 978-0-252-06359-6
* Tate, E. Mowbray. (1986). [ "Transpacific Steam: The Story of Steam Navigation from the Pacific Coast of North America to the Far East and the Antipodes, 1867-1941."] New York: Associated University Presses. 10-ISBN 0-845-34792-6; 13-ISBN 978-0-845-34792-8
* Yenne, Bill. (2007). [ "Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II."] New York: Macmillan. 10-ISBN 0-312-35464-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-312-35464-0

ee also

* Asian American
* Asian Canadian
* Hyphenated American
* Japanese American Citizens League
* Japanese American National Library
* Japanese American National Museum
* Japanese Canadian
* Japanese Brazilian
* Japanese British
* Japanese people
* list of Japanese Americans
* model minority
* Nisei Baseball Research Project
* Pacific Movement of the Eastern World
* Japanese American Internment
* Gila River War Relocation Center
* Granada War Relocation Center
* Heart Mountain War Relocation Center
* Jerome War Relocation Center
* Manzanar National Historic Site
* Minidoka Internment National Monument
* Poston War Relocation Center
* Rohwer War Relocation Center
* Topaz War Relocation Center
* Tule Lake War Relocation Center

External links

* [ Japanese American National Museum]
* [ Embassy of Japan] in Washington, DC
* [ Japanese American Citizens League]
* [ Japanese Cultural & Community Center] of Northern California
* [ Japanese American Community and Cultural Center] of Southern California
* [ Japanese American Historical Society]
* [ Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project]
* [ Japanese American Museum] of San Jose, California
* [ Japanese American Network]
* [ Japanese-American's own companies in USA]
* [ Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives]
* [ Online Archive of the Japanese American Relocation during World War II]
* [ Photo Exhibit of Japanese American community] in Florida
* [ The Asians in America Project - Japanese American Organizations Directory]
* [ Nikkei Federation]
* [ Discover Nikkei]
* [ Summary of a panel discussion on changing Japanese American identities]
* [ Interment and American samurai]
* [ "“The War Relocation Centers of World War II: When Fear Was Stronger than Justice”", a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]
* [ U.S. Government interned Japanese from Latin America]

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