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Sansei (三世, third generation) is a Japanese language term used in countries in South America,North America and Australia 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 called Sansei and the fourth generation Yonsei. (In Japanese counting, "one, two, three" is "ichi, ni, san." See: Japanese numerals).

Brazilian, American, Canadian and Peruvian citizens

Although the earliest organized group of Japanese emigrants settled in Mexicomarker in 1897, the four largest populations of Japanese and descendants of Japanese immigrants live in Brazilmarker, the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker and Perumarker.

Brazilian Sansei

The first Japanese Brazilian immigrants arriving aboard the Kassato Maru in 1908.

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

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. 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.

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 current 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.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.

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. 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.The term Nikkei (日系) was coined by a multinational group of sociologists and encompasses all of the world's Japanese immigrants across generations. 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. In this context, the significant differences in post-war experiences and opportunities did nothing to mitigate the gaps which separated generational perspectives.

Generation Summary
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, 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 in North America, Latin America, Australia, or any country outside of Japan to at least one Nisei parent.
Yonsei (四世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Australia, or any country outside of Japan to at least one Sansei parent.

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.

There are currently just over one hundred thousand British Japanese, mostly in Londonmarker; 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.


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.


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.


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.

Life under United States policies before and after World War II


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 Argentinamarker, Boliviamarker, Brazilmarker, Chilemarker, Colombiamarker, Mexicomarker, Paraguaymarker, Perumarker, Uruguaymarker, in addition to the English-speaking United Statesmarker and Canadamarker.


  1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Japan-Mexico Foreign Relations
  2. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Japan-Brazil Relations
  3. US Census data 2005
  4. Sowell, Thomas. (1981). Ethnic America: A History, p. 176.
  5. Miyoshi, Nobu. (1978). "Identity Crisis of the Sansei and the Concentration Camp," NIMH Grant No. 1 R13 MH25655-01.
  6. Zweigenhaft, Richard L. and G. William Domhoff. (2006). Diversity in the Power Elite: How it Happened, why it Matters, pp. 191-192; U.S. Army bio
  7. McLellan, Janet. (1999). Many Petals of the Lotus: Five Asian Buddhist Communities in Toronto, p. 36.
  8. McLellan, p. 59.
  9. "What is Nikkei?" Japanese American National Museum.
  10. McLellan, p. 37.
  11. McLellan, p. 68.
  12. Itoh, p. 7.
  13. Doi, Mary L. "A Transformation of Ritual: The Nisei 60th Birthday." Journal Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology. Vol. 6, No. 2 (April, 1991).
  14. PBS: "Oregon Laureate Reflects on Japanese Internment," NewsHour. October 3, 2008.
  15. National Association of Japanese Canadians: PANA
  16. Galang, M. Evelina et al. (2003). Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images, p. 121.
  17. Discover Nikkei: Fukuyama bio
  18. Japanese American National Museum (JANM): Civil Liberties Act of 1988
  19. DiscoverNikkei: Honda bio
  20. DiscoverNikkei: Matsui bio
  21. Minami, Dale. (2005). University of Washington Law School, Commencement Address; Discover Nikkei: Minami bio
  22. Zia, Helen et al. (1995). Notable Asian Americans, p. .
  23. C-SPAN/Book TV: 3-hour interview, 1 March 2009.

See also


Further reading

  • Armbruster, Shirley. (1998-3-1). "Melding into the melting pot Third-generation Japanese-Americans who intermarry want their children to remember and honor their heritage", The Fresno Bee.
  • Gehrie, Mark Joshua. (1973). Sansei: An Ethnography of Experience. Ph.D. (Anthropology)--Northwestern University, 1973. OCLC: 71849646
  • Hosokawa, Fumiko. (1978). The Sansei: Social Interaction and Ethnic Identification Among the Third Generation Japanese. San Francisco : R & E Research Associates. 10-ISBN 0-882-47490-1; 13-ISBN 978-0-882-47490-8
  • Kaihara, Rodney and Patricia Morgan. (1973). Sansei Experience. San Fullerton, Calif. : Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton. OCLC 23352676
  • Makabe, Tomoko. (1998). The Canadian Sansei. Toronto ; Buffalo : University of Toronto Press. 10-ISBN 0-802-04179-5; 13-ISBN 978-0-802-04179-1
  • Oana, Leilani Kyoko. (1984). Ethnocultural Identification in Sansei (Third Generation Japanese American) Females: An Evaluation of Alternative Measures. Thesis (M.A.)--George Washington University. OCLC: 12726534
  • Okamura, Randall F. (1973). The Contemporary Sansei. Thesis (M.A., Community Development and Public Service)--Lone Mountain College, 1978. OCLC: 13182634
  • Takahashi, Jere. (1997). Nisei Sansei: Shifting Japanese American Identities and Politics. Philadelphia : Temple University Press. 10-ISBN 1-566-39550-X; 13-ISBN 978-1-566-39550-2
  • Tanaka, Shaun Naomi. (2003). Ethnic Identity in the Absence of Propinquity Sansei and the Transformation of the Japanese-Canadian Community. Thesis (M.A.)--Queen's University at Kingston 10-ISBN 0-612-86193-7; 13-ISBN 978-0-612-86193-0
  • Yamada, Joyce. (1984). Contemporary Asian American Culture in the United States : Sansei, a Search for Identity. Thesis (M.A.)--George Washington University. OCLC: 12726534

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