Discover Nikkei

Finding My Community

Growing up in the Central Valley of California, more specifically Fresno, my experience with the Nikkei community felt separate from the rest of my identity. I was often one of very few Japanese Americans at my elementary, middle, and high schools. Everyday at school, it felt like I was subconsciously and discretely ostracized. I didn’t struggle with making friends or fitting in at school; I just felt that I had to work harder than the rest of my peers. 

There were constant reminders that I wasn’t like everyone else. Whether I was the only one to take my shoes off at a friend’s house or bringing snacks to school that were “weird,” I was made aware that I was different. I don’t want to paint the picture that my school life was awful and I was miserable all the time. I just felt like throughout my school life I couldn’t be who I truly was.

However, I was able to come into my own in the small, tightly-woven Japanese American (JA) community. Because the community was so small, it was a safe space in which I could grow. Through basketball leagues, youth groups, and Boy Scouts, I was able to develop a sense of personal identity within the Nikkei community. 

My parents found the JA community upon moving to the area, putting both my sister and me in the Girl and Boy Scouts, respectively. Because the troop was co-sponsored by long-standing organizations in the area (the United Japanese Christian Church and the Fresno Buddhist Temple), it was mainly Japanese American. All of a sudden, the things that I felt ostracized for at school made me relatable with my friends in the troop. 

We quite literally grew up together from the age of 5 to 18, making memories and developing our life skills together. Although I struggled at times, the troop always felt like something I could come back to. The friends I made in Boy Scouts are some of the most long-lasting and influential bonds I have made in the JA community. 

Eagle Scout Board of Review

Another vital part of my experience growing up Nikkei was the Japanese basketball leagues. Ever since I was little, I remember playing basketball with my pre-school friends. It started out with the mini hoop placed in my best friend’s living room. We would spend countless summer days and weekends pretending to be in the NBA. So, when my parents put me into a JA basketball league, it was a natural fit.

At first, I think the incentive for my parents was just for me to socialize and make friends while burning off some energy. However, over time, basketball became an outlet for me. I couldn’t wait for the four or five tournaments we got to play in different places all over the state. I remember driving to Sacramento, California, and going to Oto’s and piling in all the Japanese snacks I could for the ride home. I remember going to Los Angeles and seeing just how many Asian kids were playing, too. 

Youth group was the other outlet where I learned what it meant to be Nikkei, what being JA (and Asian American) meant for my own identity. 

My youth group was mostly JA, and as such participated in Asian Camp, an annual week-long summer camp for NJAUMC (National Japanese American United Methodist Caucus). In this camp, there was a night of programming in which we delved into what experiences we had as Japanese Americans and what it meant to be Asian American in general. This led me to a passionate journey in my collegiate career to find my own identity and community. 

These three co-curricular activities culminated into my involvement in Nikkei Student Union at California State University, Fullerton, both as a general member and a cabinet member. As a general member my freshman year, I was able to soak in the community I was looking for. I met my closest college friends and made lasting memories while furthering my knowledge of the Nikkei community at large.

I was so inspired by my experience my freshman year that I decided I wanted to explore what it was like to take on a leadership role in the club. So, in my sophomore year, I served as treasurer as well as the Manzanar at Dusk (MAD) Planning Committee Student Representative. As treasurer, I was thrust into a leadership role setting an example for the new members and doing my best to expand the community I found the year prior. 

As MAD Rep,  I was able to participate in the Katari program. This program was a 3-day, 2-night extensive program at the Manzanar Historic site, learning more about the forced removal and incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans. We also learned about the corollaries that can be drawn to the humanitarian issues we see today and how that affects communities outside of our own. 

A group picture from the Katari program

This experience ignited my passion to learn more, which in turn led me to the Nikkei Community Internship. This internship is where I am currently working and I am looking forward to the knowledge I will undoubtedly gain about the contemporary issues facing the community, while also developing myself into the person I need to be to address said issues. 

My experience growing up Nikkei has been a long and, at times, difficult journey. However, through the peaks and valleys, I was able to discover who I was and, hopefully, who I will one day become. 


© 2023 Drew Yamamura

Asian Camp Boy Scouts California camps communities Fresno identity Japanese American basketball leagues Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive (program) Manzanar at Dusk (program) Manzanar Committee (organization) National Japanese American United Methodist Caucus Nikkei Student Union (UC Berkeley) summer camps United States
About this series

Our theme for the 12th edition of Nikkei Chronicles—Growing Up Nikkei: Connecting with Our Heritage—asked participants to reflect upon several questions, such as: What kind of Nikkei community events did you attend? What kinds of childhood stories do you have about Nikkei food? How did you learn Japanese as a child?

Discover Nikkei accepted submissions from June to October 2023 and voting for favorite stories closed on November 30, 2023. We received 14 stories (7 English; 3 Spanish; 5 Portuguese; 0 Japanese) from Brazil, Peru, and the United States, with one submitted in multiple languages.

Thank you very much to everyone who submitted their Growing Up Nikkei stories!

We asked our editorial committee to select their favorite stories. Our Nima-kai community also voted for the stories they enjoyed. Here are their selections!

(*Translations of the selected stories are currently in progress.)

Editorial Committee’s Favorites

Nima-kai Favorite:

To learn more about this writing project >>

*This series 
is presented in partnership with:



Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >> 

*Logo design by Jay Horinouchi

Learn More
About the Author

Drew Yamamura is a rising junior studying political science at California State University Fullerton. He is originally from Fresno, California and is currently serving as the Japanese American National Museum and Japanese American Bar Association Intern as part of the Nikkei Community Internship program. He enjoys learning and writing about his own personal Asian-American experience as well as other community members. Drew hopes to continue in his passion and gain new perspectives within the Nikkei Community.

Updated July 2023

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More