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

Yokoso Y’all

Thirty years ago, much to my delight, two events occurred which served to encapsulate my bicultural, hapa heritage. I am the daughter of a Japanese mother and Southern gentleman father, a career U.S. Army veteran who met and married my mother in Japan in the aftermath of World War II.

While I traveled the world with my parents when my dad was in the military, I did most of my growing up in a small suburb of Memphis, Tennessee, after my dad retired.

In 1986, the Memphis in May International Festival, in addition to showcasing great barbeque and music ...

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identity en

Grasping Grandma’s Japanese Accent—My First Step in Discovering Nikkei-go

I live on a farm in the Imperial Valley, which is located in the southeastern corner of California. My Issei grandparents established our farm before the Second World War when thousands of Japanese immigrants converted barren desert into fertile farmland. When I was growing up, my grandmother lived on the farm too, in the original house that my grandparents built in 1930. I can still remember when the house did not yet have an indoor bathroom so there was an outhouse—a benjo as we called it—and a furoba (outdoor bathhouse). After my parents got married they built their ...

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education en ja

Minato Gakuen and Me

We are excited to ride the train whenever a new route is opened, but often don’t consider the history of the railways and the effort that went into building them. I recently read a story about the history of Minato Gakuen, written by Rio Imamura. Until then, I didn't realize there were many struggles before Minato Gakuen successfully operated.

I learned about Minato Gakuen when Japanese classes were still held at Miramar College so it must have been in the early phase of development for Minato. My husband and I relocated to San Diego from Kentucky in 1977 ...

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food en

Cindy Mochizuki's PAPER: a meal within a story; a story within a meal.

It’s a misty Sunday afternoon, and I am walking down to the ferry dock at the Yaletown Marina. I barely make the recommended 3:15 p.m. arrival time, and a small group of about twelve people is already waiting. Among the group I’m happy to see Momoko and Maki, who both used to work with me until recently at the museum, local writer Lydia Kwa, and of course Cindy Mochizuki, the artist who has brought us all out here.

Cindy’s assistant hands out oversized headphones and gives us instructions on how to handle them. Don’t ...

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identity en

You-mo? Me mo!: Nisei Language and Dialect

I don’t have a PhD in linguistics but I hope that a budding linguist major will get interested in this topic. In Hawaii, the first boat load of about 150 Japanese immigrants came to this island as sugar cane laborers in 1868. It was called Gannen-mono, first-year people. However, it proved to be an unsuccessful venture. They were city dwellers, not really farm workers. Nearly one third of gannen-mono immediately returned to Japan because of their work conditions. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act came into effect once the US took hold of Hawaii. Therefore, a considerable work force ...

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