Issei picnic(1918) Seattle, Washington. Courtesy of Densho, the Okawa Family Collection
The Issei and Early Immigration

The Issei were the first generation of Japanese immigrants who came to the United States. Between 1861 and 1940, some 275,000 Japanese people moved to Hawaii and to the U.S. mainland. Culturally, the Issei retained strong ties to their native Japan, even though they lived in an adopted country for decades. The first phase of male migrant workers evolved into settled communities with the immigration of wives. The American experience of the Issei was defined by racial prejudice and legal discrimination. The most critical restriction was being denied the right to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. After war with Japan was declared, the entire generation immediately became enemy aliens, legally subject to internment. Not until immigration reform in 1952 could Issei finally become U.S. citizens. Issei men lost their status as family providers and community leaders when they were forcibly removed and confined. When they were released from confinement in their senior years, many did not recover financially or psychologically.



Issei picnic(1918)
Seattle, Washington
Courtesy of Densho, the Okawa Family Collection

Excerpt from Densho Archive

My father was an Issei. He wasn't educated other than the ninth-grade mandatory education, but he used to think, and he used to have his drinks with the Buddhist ministers. He would get into philosophical issues. I used to go with him once in a while-- just sit there and wonder. He would say things like respect your parents. And you come into the world naked and you're going to leave naked, so you might as well try to do something good. Things like that. He’d say, "You have to treat your customer well so they'll come back." Nothing profound, nothing he's trying to teach you, but those are just thoughts that came to his mind. He said the world is a big place. You have to travel. Traveling is broadening

Tomio Moriguchi

Nisei owner of grocery stores named for ancestral village of Uwajimaya, Shikoku