Japanese-American Genealogy
Definitions of Various Terms and Abbreviations
(copyright 2002 C.M. Brady)


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The Generations
I grew up with these terms but I know they can confuse people who do European genealogy because they consider what we call the second generation (Nisei) to be the first generation.

Issei - first generation - moved here from Japan
Nisei - second generation (first generation born in the U.S.)
Sansei - third generation (I'm at the younger end of the Sansei gang - there are plenty of Yonsei older than me! :o)
Yonsei - fourth generation
Gosei - fifth generation

Kibei - Nisei who returned to Japan to study and then came back to the U.S. (see this article at Russell Nakatsu's "Unofficial Nikkei Home Page"
Nikkei - a person of Japanese ancestry (Nikkeijin) as well as things of Japanese origin- this term covers all of the above, and can also refer to Japanese-Canadians, Japanese-Peruvians, etc.
Nihonjin - a Japanese person in Japan

For more detailed discussion and terms, check out this definition page evolved from JA*Net discussions

Japanese writing

Nihongo = Japanese language

hiragana = Japanese syllabic alphabet used for Japanese words

kanji = Japanese writing based on Chinese characters. The symbols represent different sounds or words depending on the context, and you have to look them up by the number of brushstrokes used.

katakana (also kana) = Japanese syllabic alphabet used for non-Japanese words (i.e., to spell out English words and names, etc.)

romaji = Roman alphabet (i.e, what you're reading right now)

PLEASE NOTE: Other than what little I retained from 3 semesters of Japanese in college, I don't read, speak or write Japanese. At best, I can manage a few phrases and decipher katakana and hiragana with a chart in hand. Check out the Japanese language section at About.com or wrestle with Babel Fish, Altavista's automated translating program .

Other terms you might come across:

APA = Asian-Pacific American

baishakunin = marriage arranger or go-between

hakujin - white (haku) + person (jin), from the Japanese

hapa - The definition from Hapa Issues Forum, reads "Hawaiian in origin, Hapa is a term commonly used to describe an Asian Pacific Islander of mixed heritage." In the past, many Nisei considered it derogatory, but it has now replaced "Eurasian" as the "acceptable" term. (Personally, I like it better.)

JA = Japanese American

JC = Japanese Canadian

Obaasan - grandmother ("Obaa" means grandmother, and the suffix "-san" is an honorific. - "Obaachan" is the familiar form)
not to be confused with Obasan (aunt)

Ojiisan - grandfather ("Ojiichan" is the familiar form)
not to be confused with Ojisan (uncle)

WRA = War Relocation Authority, the U.S. government office that ended up with responsibility for the internment camps during World War II

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