Nikkei Chronicles #5: Nikkei-go: The Language of Family, Community, and Culture

Arigato, baka, sushi, benjo, and shoyu—how often have you used these words? In an informal survey conducted in 2010, we found that these were the most frequently used Japanese words among Japanese Americans living in Southern California.

In Nikkei communities around the world, the Japanese language symbolizes the culture of one’s ancestors, or the culture that was left behind. Japanese words often get mixed in with the language of the adopted country, creating a fluid, hybrid way of communicating.

For this series, we asked our Nima-kai community to vote for their favorite stories and an editorial committee to pick their favorites. In total, five favorite stories were selected.

Here are the selected favorite stories.

  Editorial Committee’s Selections:

  • PORTUGUESE:
    Gaijin 
    By Heriete Setsuko Shimabukuro Takeda

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>


Check out the past Nikkei Chronicles series:

#1: ITADAKIMASU! A Taste of Nikkei Culture 
#2: Nikkei+ ~ Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race ~ 
#3: Nikkei Names: Taro, John, Juan, João? 
#4: Nikkei Family: Memories, Traditions, and Values 

identity en ja es pt

Gaijin

I couldn’t understand my friend Emília. I brought her along to spend the holidays at my grandmother's house in Santos, hoping she would put to use her knowledge of the Japanese language, since I had almost none. Or rather, none at all.

But after a few minutes of conversation, she calls me aside and confesses: I can’t understand what your grandmother says!

- What do you mean? You told me you could speak Japanese!

- I know, but I can’t understand anything that she says!”

Emília was right: my grandmother spoke uchinaguchi, the Okinawa dialect. Only ...

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identity en ja es pt

Daikon, Kabu, Akadaikon, Akakabu

After starting to cook in a slightly more conscious manner (living with Bia, my girlfriend, I’ve naturally left behind those  university days when I thought that adding garlic to the Fugini tomato sauce was a great culinary feat), I began shopping weekly at the street market in my area, thinking a little about my physical health and a lot about my financial health.

Born and raised in a typical Japanese-Brazilian family in the interior of São Paulo, for a long time my culinary repertoire consisted of Japanese recipes living in perfect harmony with genuinely Brazilian dishes, such as ...

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community en ja es pt

The Japanese language in the daily lives of the members of the Hikari Group of Londrina

We belong to a generation of children, youths, adults, and seniors who are descendants of Japanese immigrants who came to Brazil in the years before World War II. Some are children, others are grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren of these immigrants. 

After leaving Japan, our ancestors gradually began to absorb Western culture, although the influence of Japanese culture has been preserved in many families, especially when the younger generations come in contact with older people who pass on to the younger ones the values, the customs, the cuisine, and the Japanese language. 

In Brazil, the largest Japanese colony is found in ...

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identity en ja es pt

Brazil is My Second Home – Japan is My Spiritual Home

My mother is Japanese Brazilian, and my father is Japanese. I was born in Japan and lived there until I was nine years old.

My parents spoke to me in Japanese only. When either of parents is Brazilian, some children go to Brazilian schools, but I went to Japanese school all years from preschool to 4th grade. Água and obrigado were the only two words I knew in Portuguese back then, and I can’t even remember when I used them.

The only time when I had a chance to meet Brazilians was when I went to Brazilian Evangelical Church ...

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identity en

Made in Japan

This familiar phrase, “made in Japan” (Nihon-sei) reminds me of my mother, Yaeko. She was born in Gunma, Japan, on March 7, 1927. Her parents, Matsuji and Kichi Niikura, always had old fashioned Japanese values. Yaeko was their only daughter among their three sons, Hiroshi, Katsumi, and Kazuhiko. She loved sewing and designing. Her dream was to become a fashion designer, however her parents had other ideas in mind. They wanted their daughter to marry and to have a family of her own.

Everything changed when World War II broke out between Japan and U.S.A. on December 7 ...

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