JICA: Japanese Overseas Migration Museum “Are you Nikkei?” by Chantelle Sonoda

What is a Nikkei?

      Up until the 2nd day of our trip, a lot of us haven’t even heard of this term till our lecture with Shigeru Kojima, a graduate of Sophia University and a recipient of a Master’s degree in history from Federal University (Parana, Brazil). Kojima researches and focuses on immigrant history and immigrants, taking part in helping to establish the JICA: Japanese Overseas Migration Museum.

When looking at the word Nikkei or Nikkei-Jin, we can break it down into three characters:   

= Japan

= Family Line; Lineage

= Person

      Which translates to: “Japanese immigrants and their descendants.”

      This concept intrigued me due to the fact that Nikkei-jin have created their own identity in which even though he or she may have Japanese ancestry, be mixed, or not have one drop of Japanese blood within them, they are considered Nikkei-jin if they carry on Japanese identity and tradition. But the more I heard the word Nikkei, the more confused I got. As Kojima put it simply, “where could I place myself?” What takes more precedence over the other? Would I call myself “American-Japanese,” “Japanese-American,” or “Nikkei-Jin?”

       In the end, it all came down to Identity. To think that if you identify yourself as Nikkei,

“For what reason do you consider yourself Nikkei?”

“What is the basis (backbone) for having the identity of Nikkei?”

      For me and maybe some of the other scholars, weren’t sure whether or not to quickly define ourselves as Nikkei or not. But, we remember our ancestors who came before us, showing the reason behind both Kojima’s lecture and the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum; “Okage Sama De: I am what I am, because of you.” We define our identity through our ancestors and our culture; carrying on their legacy by keeping them alive through recorded history, cultural traditions, and their stories. Through this visit to the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum, we carry on the legacy of the late Daniel Inouye to help preserve the ideas and connection between the two places of Japan and Hawai’i; creating a stronger Kakehashi as time goes on.

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A float that was for a Festival in Oregon, created by Japanese migrant farmers. Displaying the Japanese flag on one side of the roof and the American flag on the other side of the roof.

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A map that displays how many immigrants came from each prefecture. (My family immigrated from Hiroshima and Niigata).

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Thank you to the Shigeru Kojima and the JICA: Japanese Overseas Migration Museum staff.

I would like to sincerely thank the JICA: Japanese Overseas Migration Museum staff and Shigeru Kojima for taking time out of their busy schedules to teach us more about migration history and culture. Before this trip, I considered myself as only Japanese-American, but now (coming back from the trip), I consider my myself not only a Japanese-American but a Nikkei-jin as well. This specific experience has broadened my horizons through having to reevaluate my identity as a fourth generation Japanese-American and learning that anyone can be considered Nikkei, as long as he or she would like to spread and continue on the Japanese traditions, culture, and history. Through this experience, I learned that Japanese culture is very open to other people of different nationalities who would like to learn and experience it. As Japanese culture is open to those who are willing to learn, Hawai’i is also open to those who

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