Nikkei Chronicles #7—Nikkei Roots: Digging into Our Cultural Heritage

Stories in the Nikkei Chronicles series have explored many of the ways that Nikkei express their unique culture, whether through food, language, family, or tradition. For this edition, we are digging deeper—all the way down to our roots!

We solicited stories from May to September of 2018 and received 35 stories (22 English; 1 Japanese; 8 Spanish; and 4 Portuguese) from individuals in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Japan, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. 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, four favorite stories were selected.

Here are the selected favorite stories.

Editorial Committee’s Selections:

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >> 

identity en


“I wish you had shared more about your Japanese-American grandmother’s story.” – Professor Anderson

In the fall of my freshman year in college, I took a class called Growing Up Ethnic and Multicultural. The final project for the course was to share your life story.

Excited to share what I felt was my unique life story at age 17, I wrote fifteen pages about what it was like to grow up as an Asian-American in Ukiah, a small, rural town in Northern California. I talked about the cringe-inducing “no, but where are you really from?”, and the time when a …

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food en ja es pt

Of Food and Identity: My Grandmother’s New Years

Japanese New Years was one of the few traditions that made the jump when my great grandparents, like many others, left Japan for a better future on American soil. My grandmother, the designated New Year’s host for as long as I can remember, always began her preparations several days in advance, so every year my parents, my brother, and I would drive from our Orange County home up to my grandmother’s Los Angeles residence to help her prepare.

For as long as I can remember, New Years was exciting not just because of the delicious food I’d get to eat, …

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identity en

The Gift

My mother died on December 21, 1976. That Christmas was numbing. We already had the tree and gifts for my niece, but we took down the decorations. My niece was only three so it was ok with her. These days I look forward to Christmas and the whole commercial shebang. The lights, the carols, the brightly wrapped packages—all of it starting from Macy’s Christmas parade on Thanksgiving morning on TV. Some consider it crass, but I know from the Christmas when my mother died, it is the human spirit enduring the long, cold winter that is only just beginning on …

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identity en

Visiting the Former Family Temple

I had not expected to ever touch the temple entrance gate from the 1939 photo of my great-grandfather and his family. But here I was in Yamaguchi, Japan, reverently stroking and leaning against the weathered wood pillars and admiring the “Saikoji” sign. I was visiting my son, Kenzo, who did a study abroad semester during his junior year.

This journey began nearly forty years ago, when I was a young woman in my twenties. I was intrigued by an old black and white photo of my great-grandfather, Nobuyuki Oda and his family. They were posing near the family temple, Saikoji …

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identity en ja es pt

Sharing Heart Beats

(content warning; child abuse and suicidality)

These days, I talk with my grandma, younger siblings, and a cousin, but that’s it for biological family.

I’ve cut ties with my white dad twice. My mom and him are too entwined to part.

Recently I met with her at a donut place and said to her in public, “I can’t trust you, but, I love you.”

This is the moment that I was too tired to keep being condescended to by the way our relationship has been. I feel a desire to grow, and heal, but to be honest I never know …

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camps cancer christmas culture family food grandmother hapa identity Japan LGBT loss Mixed mother multicultural new year's Nikkei Chronicles Nikkei Roots obachan photograph rohwer Temple tradition transgender World War II