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:

    By Heriete Setsuko Shimabukuro Takeda

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >>

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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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, also …

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community en ja es pt


Even though there are many words and expressions that characterize them for Brazilians—hai, banzai, and arigatô—the interjection [Portuguese-language contraction of não [not] + é [is], meaning “isn’t it?”], of course, is the one that most relates to Japanese.

That is evidenced by the fact that there isn’t a single jokester who has never teased a Japanese person, saying things like, “It’s expensive, ?,” “the Japanese have the slanted eye, ?,” and “the Japanese eat raranges, ?”.

Note #1: When Brazilians say “Japanese,” they may be referring to either a de facto …

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identity en ja es pt

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 own house …

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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. When …

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accent agriculture American South Brazil california culture daruma family farm gaman hapa hinamatsuri holidays identity Japanese japanese american japanese language school language language school Los Angeles memphis minato gakuen Nikkei Chronicles Nikkei-go oshogatsu