Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, numbering an estimate of more than 1.5 million (including those of mixed-race or mixed-ethnicity), more than that of the 1.2 million in the United States. The Nisei Japanese Brazilians are an important part of the ethnic minority in that South American nation.
In the United States, two representative Nisei are Daniel Inouye and Fred Korematsu, but the individual life histories of all the Neisei are cumulatively creating a more complex tapestry than can be too casually summarized. Hawaiian-born was one of many young Nisei men who volunteered to fight in the nation's military when restrictions against Japanese-American enlistment were removed in 1943. was one of the many Japanese-American citizens living on the West Coast who resisted internment during World War II.
The Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military honor in the United States, was awarded to Inouye in 2000. The citation explains
"Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, was awarded to Korematsu in 1998. Korematsu, who lost a Supreme Court challenge in 1944 to the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans but gained vindication decades later. At the White House award ceremonies, the President explained, In the long history of our country's constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls. Plessy, Brown, Parks ... to that distinguished list, today we add the name of Fred Korematsu.
The overwhelming majority of Japanese-Americans had reacted to the internment by acquiescing to the government's order, hoping to prove their loyalty as Americans. To them, Korematsu's opposition was treacherous to both his country and his community. Across the span of decades, he was seen as a traitor, a test case, an embarrassment and, finally, a hero.
The term Nikkei (日系) was coined by a multinational group of sociologists and encompasses all of the world's Japanese immigrants across generations. The collective memory of the Issei and older Nisei was an image of Meiji Japan from 1870 through 1911, which contrasted sharply with the Japan that newer immigrants had more recently left. These differing attitudes, social values and associations with Japan were often incompatible with each other. In this context, the significant differences in post-war experiences and opportunities did nothing to mitigate the gaps which separated the lives of Issei, Nisei and Sansei.
Since the redress victory in 1988 nisei are changing the way they look at themselves and their pattern of accommodation to the non-Japanese majority.
Issei settled in close ethnic communities, and therefore did not learn English. They endured great economic and social losses during the early years of World War II, and they were not able to rebuild their lost businesses and savings. The external circumstances tended to reinforce the pattern of Issei being predominantly friends with other Issei.
Unlike their children, the tend to rely primarily on Japanese language media (newspapers, television, movies), and in some senses, they tend to think of themselves as more Japanese than Canadian or American.
Issei women's lives were somewhat similar, despite differences in context, because they were structured within interlocking webs of patriarchal relationships, and that consistent subordination was experienced both as oppressive and as a source of happiness. The Issei women lived lives of transition which were affected by three common factors: the dominant ideology of late Meiji Japan, which advanced the economic objectives of the Japanese state; the patriarchal traditions of the agricultural village, which arose partly as a form of adjustment to national objectives and the adjustment to changes imposed by modernization; and the constraints which arose within a Canadian or American society dominated by racist ideology. Substantive evidence of the working lives of Issei women is very difficult to find, partly for lack of data and partly because the data that do exist are influenced by their implicit ideological definition of women.
Within the framework of environmental contradictions, the narratives of these women revealed a surprisingly shared sense of inevitability, a perception that the events of life are beyond the control of the individual, which accounts for the consistency in the way in which Issei women, different and individual in many ways, seem to have structured their emotions -- and this quality of emotional control was passed to their Nisei children.
Most Nisei were educated in Canadian or American school systems where they were taught Western values of individualism and citizenship. When these were taken away in the early 1940s, the Nisei confronted great difficulty in accepting or coming to terms with internment and forced resettlement. Older Nisei tended to identify more closely with the Issei, sharing similar economic and social characteristics. Older Nisei who had been employed in small businesses, in farming, in fishing or in semi-skilled occupations, tended to remain in blue-color work. In contrast, the younger Nisei attended university and college and entered various professions and white-color employment after the war. This sharp division in post-war experiences and opportunities exacerbated the gaps between these Nisei.
An illustrative point-of-view, as revealed in the poetry of an Issei woman:
In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) The commission report, Personal Justice Denied, condemned the internment as "unjust and motivated by racism rather than real military necessity".
In 1988, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided for a formal apology and payments of $20,000 for each survivor. The legislation stated that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership". The Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992, appropriating an additional $400 million in order to ensure that all remaining internees received their $20,000 redress payments, was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government.
Japanese and Japanese Americans who were relocated during WWII were compensated for direct property losses in 1948. These payments were awarded to 82,210 Japanese Americans or their heirs at a cost of $1.6 billion; the program's final disbursement occurred in 1999.
In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave that long-awaited formal apology and the Canadian government began to make good on a compensation package -- including $21,000 to all surviving internees, and the re-instatement of Canadian citizenship to those who were deported to Japan.