Nikkei Chronicles #12—Growing Up Nikkei: Connecting with Our Heritage

There are many different ways that Nikkei around the world have connected with their heritage while growing up. How have you connected with yours? For example, 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?

Submit your stories, essays, and vignettes to this series by Tuesday, October 31, 2023 at 6 p.m. PDT.

Also, all stories in this series are eligible for selection as the Nima-kai community favorite. The story with the most stars will be translated into the site’s other three languages. If you like the story, be sure to log in and give it a star! 

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An Albuquerque Childhood

I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico during the 1960’s. My parents had grown up in Hawaii, confident in their Japanese American heritage. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was Japanese American, but I rarely saw people outside of my family who looked like me. During my early childhood, my Nikkei community consisted of my parents, younger brother, and a few others.

We were the only Asian family in our neighborhood of tract homes, surrounded by working class whites or Latinos. I was the only Japanese student at my elementary school, until my younger brother, Michael, …

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Between Two Kanji

“Nikkei” means Japanese descendants born outside Japan.

Once I taught a Japanese student at an International School and she told me I was different from her, I was a “Nikkei-jin,” a “person from the country of the Nikkei.”

Indeed, growing up Nikkei means existing between two very different worlds. Within two kanjis. Going back and forth between Brazil and Japan, Japan and Brazil.

In Brazil, to be Nikkei is to be Japanese-Brazilian. Japanese and Brazilian at the same time. How is it possible for a human to be two things? Waking up in the morning Japanese and …

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Embracing Imperfection: A Journey of Self-Exploration in Japan

In the early spring of 2023, I arrived in Tokyo, Japan along with my mom and two older sisters. It had been three years since our last visit, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, and I had felt excited to explore the city.

Every time I got a chance to visit Japan, I would admire the varying architecture and all of the stores that didn’t exist back in California. I loved Japan, truly. From the street food to the hidden alleyways that harbored antique shops to the pretty landscapes, I loved it all. During that trip, however, I discovered that loving …

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Shared Memories

I can hear the words that Mom would repeat again before she drifted into her moments of Alzheimer. She would tell me to remember and never forget the memories that we shared together. Some of her memories of the past were tragic and sad. Others were happy and hopeful. These memories were told in stories, shown in photos or kept as documents to remember.

My life started on New Years Day of 1948 in Asakusa, Japan. Mom, Yaeko Niikura, was born and raised in Gunma, Japan. Dad, Yoneto Nakata, was born in Sanger, California but raised in Hiroshima, Japan. Mom …

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Rice, Race, and Growing up Hafu

“I thought they said there would be rice,” my brother whispered to me, eyeing the bowls on the table. I pointed to a bowl full of colorful Mexican-style rice and replied, “I think that’s the rice.” He shot me a disgusted look, and I reminded him that we had to eat everything they gave us with no complaining.

Though he’s two years older than me, my brother was never as good at hiding what he was thinking as I was. The truth was that even at ages six and eight, we were both fascinated and also more than a little …

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Albuquerque Brazil childhood dekasegi Denver hafu identity Japan Japanese Brazilians mixed race Nikkei in Japan