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Sansei (三世?, "third generation") is a Japanese and American English term[1] used in parts of the world such as South America and North America to specify the children of children born to Japanese people in the new country. The nisei are considered the second generation, grandchildren of the Japanese-born immigrants are called Sansei and the fourth generation yonsei.[2] The children of at least one nisei parent are called Sansei.[3]

The character and uniqueness of the sansei is recognized in its social history.[4]


The grandchildren of these Japanese-Brazilian (Nipo-brasileiros) immigrants would be called Sansei.

Although the earliest organized group of Japanese emigrants settled in Mexico in 1897,[5] the four largest populations of Japanese and descendants of Japanese immigrants live in Brazil, the United States, Canada and Peru.

Brazilian Sansei

Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, numbering an estimate of more than 1.5 million (including those of mixed-race or mixed-ethnicity),[6] more than that of the 1.2 million in the United States.[7] The Sansei Japanese Brazilians are an important part of that ethnic minority in that South American nation.[8]

American Sansei

The majority of American Sansei were born during the Baby Boom after the end of World War II; but older Sansei who were living in the western United States during WWII were forcibly interned with their parents (Nisei) and grandparents (Issei) after Executive Order 9066 was promulgated to exclude everyone of Japanese descent from large parts of the Western states. The Sansei were forceful activists in the redress movement, which resulted in an official apology to the internees.[9] In some senses, the Sansei seem to feel they are caught in a dilemma between their "quiet" Nisei parents and their other identity model of "verbal" Americans.[10]

In the United States, a representative Sansei is General Eric Shinseki (born November 28, 1942), the 34th Chief of Staff of the United States Army (1999–2003) and former United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He is the first Asian American in U.S. history to be a four-star general, and the first to lead one of the four U.S. military services.[11] The Sansei Japanese Americans (三世 lit. third generation) are American-born Japanese Americans citizens of the United States, the children of the Nisei Japanese Americans.

Canadian Sansei

Within Japanese-Canadian communities across Canada, three distinct subgroups developed, each with different sociocultural referents, generational identity, and wartime experiences.[12]

Peruvian Sansei

Among the approximately 80,000 Peruvians of Japanese descent, the Sansei Japanese Peruvians comprise the largest number.

Cultural profile


Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Canadians have special names for each of their generations in North America. These are formed by combining one of the Japanese numbers corresponding to the generation with the Japanese word for generation (sei 世). The Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian communities have themselves distinguished their members with terms like Issei, Nisei, and Sansei which describe the first, second and third generation of immigrants. The fourth generation is called Yonsei (四世) and the fifth is called Gosei (五世). The Issei, Nisei and Sansei generations reflect distinctly different attitudes to authority, gender, non- Japanese involvement, and religious belief and practice, and other matters.[13] The age when individuals faced the wartime evacuation and internment is the single, most significant factor which explains these variations in their experiences, attitudes and behaviour patterns.[12] The term Nikkei (日系) was coined by a multinational group of sociologists and encompasses all of the world's Japanese immigrants across generations.[14] The collective memory of the Issei and older Nisei was an image of Meiji Japan from 1870 through 1911, which contrasted sharply with the Japan that newer immigrants had more recently left. These differing attitudes, social values and associations with Japan were often incompatible with each other.[15] In this context, the significant differences in post-war experiences and opportunities did nothing to mitigate the gaps which separated generational perspectives.

Generation Cohort description
Issei (一世) The generation of people born in Japan who later immigrated to another country.
Nisei (二世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Australia, Hawaii, or any country outside of Japan either to at least one Issei or one non-immigrant Japanese parent.
Sansei (三世) The generation of people born to at least one Nisei parent.
Yonsei (四世) The generation of people born to at least one Sansei parent.
Gosei (五世) The generation of people born to at least one Yonsei parent.[16]

In North America since the redress victory in 1988, a significant evolutionary change has occurred. The Sansei, their parents, their grandparents, and their children are changing the way they look at themselves and their pattern of accommodation to the non-Japanese majority.[17]

There are currently just over one hundred thousand British Japanese, mostly in London; but unlike other Nikkei communities elsewhere in the world, these Britons do not conventionally parse their communities in generational terms as Issei, Nisei, or Sansei.[18]


The third generation of immigrants, born in the United States or Canada to parents born in the United States or Canada, is called Sansei (三世). Children born to the Nisei were generally born after 1945. They speak English as their first language and are completely acculturized in the contexts of Canadian or American society. They tend to identify with Canadian or American values, norms and expectations. Few speak Japanese, and most tend to express their identity as Canadian or American rather than Japanese. Among the Sansei there is an overwhelming percentage of marriages to persons of non-Japanese ancestry.[15]


The kanreki (還暦), a traditional, pre-modern Japanese rite of passage to old age at 60, was sometimes celebrated by the Issei and is now being celebrated by increasing numbers of Nisei and a few Sansei. Rituals are enactments of shared meanings, norms, and values; and this Japanese rite of passage highlights a collective response among the Nisei to the conventional dilemmas of growing older.[19]


Internment and redress

Some responded to internment with lawsuits and political action; and for others, poetry became an unplanned consequence:

With new hope.
We build new lives.
Why complain when it rains?
This is what it means to be free.
-- Lawson Fusao Inada, Japanese American Historical Plaza, Portland, Oregon.[20]

Life under United States policies before and after World War II


The sansei became known as the "activist generation"[21] because of their large hand in the redress movement and individuals that have become a part of the American mainstream political landscape.

Notable individuals

The numbers of sansei who have earned some degree of public recognition has continued to increase over time; but the quiet lives of those whose names are known only to family and friends are no less important in understanding the broader narrative of the Nikkei. Although the names highlighted here are over-represented by sansei from North America, the Latin American member countries of the Pan American Nikkei Association (PANA) include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, in addition to the English-speaking United States and Canada.[22]

See also


  2. In Japanese counting, "one, two, three, four" is "ichi, ni, san, yon"—see Japanese numerals
  3. Nomura, Gail M. (1998). "Japanese American Women," in The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History (Mankiller, Barbara Smith, ed.), pp. 288-290., p. 288, at Google Books
  4. Numrich, Paul David. (2008). North American Buddhists in Social Context, p. 110.
  5. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japan-Mexico Relations; retrieved 2011-05-17
  6. MOFA, "Japan-Brazil Relations"; retrieved 2011-05-17
  7. US Census, "Selected Population Profile in the United States; Japanese alone or in any combination," 2005; retrieved 2011-05-17
  8. Simons, Marlise. "Japanese Gone Brazilian: Unhurried Workaholics," New York Times. May 8, 1988; retrieved 2011-05-17
  9. Sowell, Thomas. (1981). Ethnic America: A History, p. 176.
  10. Miyoshi, Nobu. (1978). "Identity Crisis of the Sansei and the Concentration Camp," Sansei Legacy Project (NIMH Grant No. 1 R13 MH25655-01); retrieved 2011-05-17
  11. Zweigenhaft, Richard L. et al. (2006). Diversity in the Power Elite: How it Happened, why it Matters, pp. 191-192, p. 191, at Google Books; US Army, Center of Military History, Eric Ken Shinksei; retrieved 2011-05-17
  12. 12.0 12.1 McLellan, Janet. (1999). Many Petals of the Lotus: Five Asian Buddhist Communities in Toronto, p. 36, p. 36, at Google Books; Ikawa, Fumiko. "Reviews: Umi o Watatta Nippon no Mura by Masao Gamo and "Steveston Monogatari: Sekai no Naka no Nipponjin" by Kazuko Tsurumi, American Anthropologist (US). New Series, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Feb., 1963), pp. 152-156; retrieved 2011-05-17
  13. McLellan, p. 59., p. 59, at Google Books
  14. Japanese American National Museum, "What is Nikkei?" retrieved 2011-05-17
  15. 15.0 15.1 McLellan, p. 37., p. 37, at Google Books
  16. Ikezoe-Halevi, Jean. "Voices of Chicago: Day of Remembrance 2006," Discover Nikkei (US). October 31, 2006.
  17. McLellan, p. 68., p. 68, at Google Books
  18. Itoh, Keiko. (2001). The Japanese Community in Pre-War Britain: From Integration to Disintegration, p. 7., p. 7, at Google Books
  19. Doi, Mary L. "A Transformation of Ritual: The Nisei 60th Birthday." Journal Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology. Vol. 6, No. 2 (April, 1991); retrieved 2011-05-17
  20. PBS: "Oregon Laureate Reflects on Japanese Internment," NewsHour. October 3, 2008; retrieved 2011-05-17
  21. US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi website: "Japantown Represents More than 100 Years of a Unique Immigrant Experience," inserted into the Congressional Record to commemorate the 100th anniversary of San Francisco's Japantown. September 19, 2006; excerpt, "... the emergence of the activist third generation — the Sansei — who are now "baby boomers" and the parents and grandparents of the fourth and fifth generations — the Yonsei and Gosei"; retrieved 2011-05-17
  22. National Association of Japanese Canadians: Pan American Nikkei Association (PANA); retrieved 2011-05-17
  23. Discover Nikkei: Francis Fukuyama bio; retrieved 2011-05-17
  24. Zweigenhaft, p. 182., p. 182, at Google Books
  25. DiscoverNikkei: Mike Honda bio; retrieved 2011-05-17
  26. DiscoverNikkei: Robert Matsui bio; retrieved 2011-05-17
  27. Minami, Dale. (2005). University of Washington Law School, Commencement Address; retrieved 2011-05-17
  28. DiscoverNikkei: Mink bio; Nomura, pp. 288-290., p. 288, at Google Books; retrieved 2011-05-17
  29. Zia, Helen et al. (1995). "Kent Nagano" in Notable Asian Americans, p. 273.
  30. Kim, Esther. (2006). A History of Asian American Theatre, p. 162., p. 162, at Google Books
  31. Willingham, Mandy. "A-bomb Legacy Fading: Steven Okazaki films hibakusha stories for future generations," Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus (US). April 16, 2006, citing Japan Times, April 15, 2006; Kamiya, Gary. "With a Japanese Heart," Mother Jones Magazine (US). Sept-Oct 1990, p. 62; retrieved 2011-05-17
  32. Murase, Kenji. "Ellison Onizuka: the First Nikkei Astronaut," Nikkei Heritage (US). Vol. XI, No. 4, Fall 1999; retrieved 2011-05-17
  33. Franke-Ruta, Garance. "Rouse hailed as first Asian American chief of staff," Washington Post (US). OCtober 1, 2010; retrieved 2011-05-17
  34. Nakagawa, Kerry Yo. "Through a Diamond: 100 years of Japanese American Baseball, p. 123.
  35. Obata, Hiroshi. 両祖父母は広島出身 ("Shinseki: both grandparents are from Hiroshima"). Hiroshima Peace Media (Japan). January 30, 2009; retrieved 2011-05-17
  36. "In Depth with Ronald Takaki". C-SPAN. 28 February 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Goad, Ben. "Congress District 41: Takano beats Tavaglione in nationally watched race," Press-Enterprise(Riverside, California). November 6, 2012; retrieved 2012-12-2.
  38. Seigel, Shizue. "Dan Tani: NASA’s Newest Japanese American Astronaut," Nikkei Heritage (US). Vol. XI, No. 4, Fall 1999; retrieved 2011-05-17


Further reading

  • Gehrie, Mark Joshua. (1973). Sansei: An Ethnography of Experience (Ph.D. thesis, Anthropology). Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University. OCLC 71849646
  • Kaihara, Rodney and Patricia Morgan. (1973). Sansei Experience. San Fullerton, Calif. : Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton. OCLC 23352676
  • Oana, Leilani Kyoko. (1984). Ethnocultural Identification in Sansei (Third Generation Japanese American) Females: An Evaluation of Alternative Measures (M.A. thesis). Washington, D.C.: George Washington University. OCLC 12726534
  • Okamura, Randall F. (1978). The Contemporary Sansei (M.A. thesis, Community Development and Public Service). San Francisco: Lone Mountain College. OCLC 13182634
  • Tanaka, Shaun Naomi. (2003). Ethnic Identity in the Absence of Propinquity Sansei and the Transformation of the Japanese-Canadian Community (M.A. thesis). Kingston, Ontario: Queen's University Press. OCLC 60673221

External links