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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 (who are called Issei). 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).
The character and uniqueness of the Nisei is recognized in its social history.
Although the earliest organized group of Japanese emigrants settled in Mexico in 1897, the four largest populations of Japanese and descendants of Japanese immigrants live in Brazil, the United States, Canada and Peru.
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), more than that of the 1.2 million in the United States. The Nisei Japanese Brazilians are an important part of the ethnic minority in that South American nation.
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 World War II 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. The Nisei of Hawaii had a somewhat different experience.
In the United States, two representative Nisei were Daniel Inouye and Fred Korematsu, but the individual life histories of all the Nisei 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. Inouye later went on to become a U.S. Senator from Hawaii after it achieved statehood.
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. In 1944, Korematsu lost a U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the wartime internment of Japanese Americans but gained vindication decades later. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, was awarded to Korematsu in 1998. At the White House award ceremonies, President Bill 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."
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. In this context, the significant differences in post-war experiences and opportunities did nothing to mitigate the gaps which separated generational perspectives.
|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 to at least one Nisei parent.|
|Yonsei (四世)||The generation of people born to at least one Sansei parent.|
|Gosei (五世)||The generation of people born to at least one Yonsei parent.|
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.
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.
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 -- 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-collar work. In contrast, the younger Nisei attended university and college and entered various professions and white-collar employment after the war. 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. Aging is affecting the demographics of the Nisei. According to a 2011 columnist in The Rafu Shimpo of Los Angeles, the obituaries showing the number of Japanese Americans in their 80s and 90s — Nisei, in a word — who are passing is staggering"
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.
An illustrative point-of-view, as revealed in the poetry of an Issei woman:
There was relatively little inter-marriage during the Nisei generation, mainly because the relocation and the war intervened exactly at a time when the group was of marrying age. Identification of them with the enemy by the American public, made them unpopular and unlikely candidates for inter-racial marriage. Beside this, they were thrown, en masse, into camps with others of the same ethnicity, causing the majority of Nisei to marry other Nisei. This is why third generation Sansei are mostly still of the same racial appearance as the Issei, who first immigrated to the U.S. The Sansei generation has widely inter-married in the post WWII years, with estimates of such unions at over 60 percent.
It should be mentioned here, that at the time of the relocation, much of it was justified by allegations of sabotage by Japanese Americans living near the west coast of mainland U.S.A. There is not a single documented case of such events occurring, except in fictionalized Hollywood movies, which had a tremendous influence on public opinion. Anyone who still doubts this is invited to research sabotage by Japanese Americans during WWII. There are no such incidents to find and the worst that can be said is that some individual, mainly Kibei (born in America but sent to Japan for schooling), voiced radical opinions. Those were segregated in a separate camp, as potentially dangerous subversives. Some were exchanged at sea, for important American prisoners of war.
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).
In 1978, the Japanese American Citizens League 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".
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". 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.
In 1983, the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) mounted a campaign demanding redress for injustices during the war years. 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, it was determined that the total loss totalled $443 million (in 1986 dollars).
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.
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.
George Yoshia (1922-) California musician and teacher
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