Nikkei Chronicles #5—Nikkei-go: The Language of Family, Community, and Culture

Arigato, baka, sushi, benjo, and shoyu—how often have you used these words? In an informal survey conducted in 2010, we found that these were the most frequently used Japanese words among Japanese Americans living in Southern California.

In Nikkei communities around the world, the Japanese language symbolizes the culture of one’s ancestors, or the culture that was left behind. Japanese words often get mixed in with the language of the adopted country, creating a fluid, hybrid way of communicating.

For this series, we asked our Nima-kai community to vote for their favorite stories and an editorial committee to pick their favorites. In total, five favorite stories were selected.

Here are the selected favorite stories.

  Editorial Committee’s Selections:

    By Heriete Setsuko Shimabukuro Takeda

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >>

identity en ja es pt


I couldn’t understand my friend Emília. I brought her along to spend the holidays at my grandmother's house in Santos, hoping she would put to use her knowledge of the Japanese language, since I had almost none. Or rather, none at all.

But after a few minutes of conversation, she calls me aside and confesses: I can’t understand what your grandmother says!

- What do you mean? You told me you could speak Japanese!

- I know, but I can’t understand anything that she says!”

Emília was right: my grandmother spoke uchinaguchi, the Okinawa dialect. Only some time later …

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identity en ja es pt

Daikon, Kabu, Akadaikon, Akakabu

After starting to cook in a slightly more conscious manner (living with Bia, my girlfriend, I’ve naturally left behind those university days when I thought that adding garlic to the Fugini tomato sauce was a great culinary feat), I began shopping weekly at the street market in my area, thinking a little about my physical health and a lot about my financial health.

Born and raised in a typical Japanese–Brazilian family in the interior of São Paulo, for a long time my culinary repertoire consisted of Japanese recipes living in perfect harmony with genuinely Brazilian dishes, such as beans and …

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community en ja es pt

The Japanese language in the daily lives of the members of the Hikari Group of Londrina

We belong to a generation of children, youths, adults, and seniors who are descendants of Japanese immigrants who came to Brazil in the years before World War II. Some are children, others are grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren of these immigrants. 

After leaving Japan, our ancestors gradually began to absorb Western culture, although the influence of Japanese culture has been preserved in many families, especially when the younger generations come in contact with older people who pass on to the younger ones the values, the customs, the cuisine, and the Japanese language. 

In Brazil, the largest Japanese colony is found in …

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identity en ja es pt

Brazil Is My Second Home—Japan Is My Spiritual Home

My mother is Japanese Brazilian, and my father is Japanese. I was born in Japan and lived there until I was nine years old.

My parents spoke to me only in Japanese. When one or both parent is Brazilian, some children go to Brazilian schools, but I went to Japanese school every year from preschool to 4th grade. Água and obrigado were the only two words I knew in Portuguese back then, and I can’t even remember when I used them.

The only time when I had a chance to meet Brazilians was when I went to Brazilian Evangelical Church. …

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identity en ja es pt

How I Found Out I Was Uchinānchu (Okinawan)

I lived a peaceful life with my grandparents on the 11th block of Arnaldo Márquez street in the Jesús María District of Lima (where “anyone who didn’t have Inca blood, had African blood”1), when my parents decided to send me to school. Going to Jishuryo (Santa Beatriz School) and realizing quickly that I was surrounded by “chinos”2 was such a shock that it took me a while to recover (until that time all of my friends had been Peruvian, despite my obā’s warnings not to be friends with “dojin3).

At recess one …

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bon odori Brazil dekasegi family festival food Grupo Hikari identity Japan Japanese language Londrina migration Mochitsuki Nikkei Chronicles Nikkei-go okinawa Parana peru uchinanchu Uchināguchi vegetables