Discover Nikkei


What is Nikkei?

What does Nikkei mean?

We're not talking about the Japanese stock exchange. We are talking about Nikkei people—Japanese emigrants and their descendants who have created communities throughout the world.

The term Nikkei has multiple and diverse meanings depending on situations, places, and environments. Nikkei also include people of mixed racial descent who identify themselves as Nikkei. Native Japanese also use the term Nikkei for the emigrants and their descendants who return to Japan. Many of these Nikkei live in close communities and retain identities separate from the native Japanese.

Currently there are 2.6 to 3 million people of Japanese descent living throughout the world. Most live in the Americas, where they have established families and communities and in the process transformed themselves and the societies where they have settled.


What Does it Mean to Be Nikkei?

At the Discover Nikkei website, questions regarding “What does it mean to be Nikkei” are debated and probed.

  • Is it a matter of blood, kinship, and descent?
  • Is it a matter of self-identification and affiliation?
  • Does being Nikkei mean keeping a connection to Japanese traditions? Does it mean subscribing to cultural values such as loyalty, duty, honor, and perseverance?
  • What influences do communities and geography have?
  • Does being Nikkei mean the same thing to men as well as women? To the sons and daughters of Japanese emigrants? To their sons and daughters? To generations even farther removed from Japan? Does it diminish with each passing generation?
  • What influence does mixed descent have on being Nikkei?

Nikkei identity is not static. It is a symbolic, social, historical, and political construction. It involves a dynamic process of selection, reinterpretation, and synthesis of cultural elements set within the shifting and fluid contexts of contemporary realities and relationships. These relationships have had a long history intensified within the current context of global capitalism.

As Nikkei communities form in Japan and throughout the world, the process of community formation reveals the ongoing fluidity of Nikkei populations, the evasive nature of Nikkei identity, and the transnational dimensions of their community formations and what it means to be Nikkei.

Explore Nikkei experiences in Stories

Meet Nikkei around the world in Community

Learn about Nikkei history through our Resources


Our definition of “who are the Nikkei” is based on findings of the International Nikkei Research Project, a three-year collaborative project that involved more than 100 scholars from 10 countries and 14 participating institutions. Research findings were published in two pioneering volumes:

New Worlds, New Lives: Globalization and People of Japanese Descent in the Americas and from Latin America in Japan, Lane R. Hirabayashi, Akemi Kikumura-Yano, James A. Hirabayashi, eds. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002)

Encyclopedia of Japanese Descendants in the Americas: An Illustrated History of Nikkei, Akemi Kikumura-Yano, ed. (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2002).


Illustration by Roxsy Lin

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Discover Nikkei Updates

Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
Episode 16
June 25 (US) | June 26 (Japan)
Featured Nima:
Stan Kirk
Guest Host:
Yoko Murakawa
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!