The Nisei     [ Page 1  |  Page 2 ]

"Nisei" is the most commonly used term to define Americans of Japanese ancestry born in the U.S. They are the sons and daughters of Japanese immigrants. The immigrants, born in Japan, are called Issei. Ni (nee) means two or second in Japanese, thus denoting the second generation of those of Japanese descent (although the first generation American born.)

The Issei

The Issei came to Hawaii and the mainland U.S. beginning in the late 1800s to find jobs on plantations, farms and railroads. Generally, Issei men came to work, their wives were often “picture brides” through arranged marriages who came later.

Kuroki's parents (Issei)Because of immigration restrictions imposed by the U.S. government, most of the mainland Nisei were born between 1910 and 1930.

Issei were not allowed to become U.S. citizens until 1952, when Kuroki's parents were both naturalized. The “Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 limited the immigration of the Japanese to the U.S. mainland. 1913 California Alien Land Law prohibited those ineligible for citizenship from owning land, which affected all Asian immigrants as the law would not permit them to become naturalized citizens. The Immigration Act of 1924 ended all immigration from Japan.

The West Coast

By the early 1900s the U.S. government worried too many Japanese were coming to the West Coast, primarily through San Francisco. There were about 25,000 Japanese in California at that time. An anti-Asian sentiment had already been prevalent. The Chinese immigration had already been stopped with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

By that time, some Japanese had started to see success in farming and had become a significant part of the West Coast agricultural economy. Japanese population centers in California included Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, Fresno and Stockton. Seattle and Portland also had significant numbers of Japanese.

After Pearl Harbor estimated 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Nisei sons and daughters (American citizens) were moved from the west coast by Executive Order 9066 authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt. Most were moved to internment camps in desolate areas hundreds of miles inland (see more in The Internment portion of this website).


At the time California was limiting the number of Japanese immigrants the territory of Hawaii was trying to get more to work on its sugar plantations. More than 150,000 people of Japanese descent resided on the Hawaiian Islands when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

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When to Watch

Most Honorable Son premieres
Sept. 17, 2007

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Learn about ...

• The Nisei
• The Speech
• The Internment