Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The second generation Japanese Americans (Nisei) who grew up in the Los Angeles area before the Second World War had two primary cultures seemingly competing for their attention: that of their first-generation parents (Issei) and that of the dominant culture surrounding them. However, the generation gap between the Issei and Nisei was extreme, with the former being raised right in the midst of the Second Industrial Revolution in Japan while the latter was raised in the United States during the Revolution’s consolidation into the modern that stressed science over tradition, organization over instinct, and intellect over tradition. Previous studies paint many Issei as somewhat passive parents who wanted their children to simply be “American.” Similar studies define the childhoods of Nisei as one in which they were either adopted Americanness or upheld traditional Japaneseness, thereby creating second-generation Americans who demonstrated binary cultural traits that were identifiably “American” or “Japanese” who often could not clearly define their own ethnic identities or senses of self. However, an examination of the lives of Nisei who were children and adolescents before their Second World War internment demonstrates that binary enculturation greatly oversimplifies the transnational links between Japan, United States, and modernity. This is particularly true in the Greater Los Angeles region (also known as the “Southland”) which was one of the most ethnically diverse, least dense, and proudly progressive regions in the United States between 1918 and 1942, the period in which most Nisei were in their childhood and adolescent phases. Because of the accepting nature of the Southland, the children of the Issei could choose what activities to accept or deny not based on that activity’s ethnic origin, but on that activity’s utility and level of acceptableness to their parents and the larger society. Issei were far from passive and well-understood the implications of their children’s choices. Before immigrating to the United States, both male and female Issei experienced Japan’s rapid strides toward modernity and were consistently aware of the state of Japan’s modernization. After Japanese immigration was cut off and after Issei were declared ineligible for citizenship, their Nisei children—American citizens thanks to their birth—were simply too valuable to a household’s future to raise passively. Also thanks to the region’s welcoming nature, Nisei children and adolescents in the Southland were insulated from harshly overt forms of racism and felt a great degree of flexibility in defining their choices on their own terms. Consequently, Nisei were accepted into the fabric of Southland culture before World War II in a way similar to most other immigrant children during this period. This cultural history examines three larger categories of cultural affiliation presented to the Nisei and the way in which these children chose to accept and reject elements of each: Compulsory American education and Japanese language school; the sports of judo and baseball; and the faiths, Buddhism and Christianity. In a larger sense, the story of the Nisei is similar to the larger narrative of multiethnic America and a nation’s attempts to find a balance between the requirements of the dominant culture and the need for children to discover their own multiethnic self-narrative. This study also highlights the profound transnational connections between the United States and Japan during the years before the Second World War and how those transnational links affected the lives of Nisei children. In doing this, this study hopes to add to literature not only on American Nisei, but also on the research of ethnic acculturation, the effects of modernity upon immigration, and cultural responses to transnational channels of influence.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Secure the entire work for patent and/or proprietary purposes for a period of one year. Student has submitted appropriate documentation which states: During this period the copyright owner also agrees not to exercise her/his ownership rights, including public use in works, without prior authorization from LSU. At the end of the one year period, either we or LSU may request an automatic extension for one additional year. At the end of the one year secure period (or its extension, if such is requested), the work will be released for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Shindo, Charles J.



Included in

History Commons