Yonsei (四世 lit. fourth generation?) is a Japanese diasporic term used in countries, particularly in North America and in Latin America, to specify the great-grandchildren of Japanese immigrants (Issei). The children of Issei are Nisei (the second generation). Sansei are the third generation, and their offspring are Yonsei. (In Japanese counting, "one, two, three, four" is "ichi, ni, san, yon." See: Japanese numerals). For the vast majority of Yonsei in the Western hemisphere, their Issei ancestors emigrated from Japan between the 1880s and 1924.

Brazilian, American, Canadian and Peruvian citizens

Although the earliest organized group of Japanese emigrants settled in Mexico in 1897,[1] the four largest populations of Japanese and descendants of Japanese immigrants live in Brazil, the United States, Canada and Peru.

Yonsei is a term used in geographic areas outside of Japan to specify the child of at least one Sansei (third generation) parent, who is the child of at least one Nisei (second generation), who is the child of at least one Issei parent. An Issei is a Japanese person who emigrated from Japan. Typically, if a person is Yonsei, more than one of his or her great-grandparents were born in Japan.

Brazilian Yonsei

File:Japoneses no brasil.jpg
Main article: Japanese Brazilians

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),[2] more than that of the 1.2 million in the United States.[3] The Yonsei Japanese Brazilians are statistically significant component of that ethnic minority in that South American nation, comprising 12.95% of the Japanese Brazilian population in 1987.[4]

American Yonsei

Main article: Japanese Americans

The term Yonsei Japanese American refers generally to Yonsei citizens of the United States,[5] but the term's usage is flexible—describing both emigrant and immigrant experiences. Most of the interned Japanese-Peruvian Nisei who were deported from Peru during World War II became naturalized American citizens; but they considered their naturalized children as Sansei, meaning three generations away from the emigrants who had sailed to South America at the turn of the century. From this perspective, the sons and daughters of these formerly stateless refugees would be Yonsei, even as offspring of parents who would be otherwise categorized as Issei or "first generation" immigrants would also be called Nisei.[6]

While the Japanese Americans were the largest ethnic group in Hawai'i for more than sixty years (1900-1960), their numbers have decreased since then.[7] The Hawaiian Yonsei don't have to be actively involved in the creation of their group ethnic identity and they tend to dichotomize their American and Japanese heritage.[8][9] As of 2008, the U.S. yonsei generation had been the subject of relatively few academic studies.[10] Notable among the literature to date on yonsei is Carrie Takahata's 2002 poem "Making Yonsei",[11] in which she compares and contrasts the yonsei generation with previous Hawai'ian Japanese generations.[10]

The yonsei differ from previous generation of Japanese-Americans in that the overt discrimination, World War II and the internment camps which overshadowed the lives of previous generations are concepts unrelated to their daily existence.[12] Due to a lack of obvious struggles or difficulties faced by previous generations of Japanese-Americans, the yonsei are sometimes called the "spoiled generation".[13] The yonsei generation in Hawai'i can be compared to white Americans in the continental U.S. The yonsei have an equal, if not higher, educational, economic and political status as their continental white counterparts, and also have a low immigration rate, as Japanese immigration has declined since 1965.[14] Also, intermarriage with non-Japanese became common in the Japanese American community in the 1960s. Intermarriage among Japanese Americans was at approximately 50% by the 1970s, and at 70% in the 1990s.[12] This cultural distance from the original homeland results in a "symbolic" expression of ethnicity seen in both the continental white and the Hawai'ian yonsei groups. Outside of the continental white population, the yonsei of Hawai'i are one of the few U.S. ethnic groups that express their ethnicity in a "symbolic" way.[14]

While members of the sansei and yonsei generation may visit Japan, they tend to see this activity only as tourism. Japanese cultural structure is generally not present among the yonsei generation.[15] According to a 2006 study of yonsei women in Hawai'i, this generation of Japanese-Americans tends to assert their ethnicity in such "symbolic" ways as the celebration of holidays and ceremonies associated with Japan, eating ethnic foods, and the use of Japanese middle-names. The study noted that the yonsei generation considered its ethnicity to be less important than did previous generations of Japanese-Americans.[16] Cheryl Lynn Sullivan, an ethnic research who specializes in the Japanese-American community of California, wrote, "It is common in the Japanese American community not to consider yonsei Japanese American -- they are 'just plain Americans.' This is especially true of children who are the offspring of Japanese American-Euro-American marriages."[12] Others celebrate their ancestry in cultural exchanges based around youth and sports events, e.g. Yonsei Basketball Association.

Canadian Yonsei

Main article: Japanese Canadians

Within Japanese-Canadian communities across Canada, distinct generational subgroups developed, each with different sociocultural referents, generational identity, and wartime experiences.[17]

Peruvian Yonsei

Main article: Japanese Peruvians

Among the approximately 80,000 Peruvians of Japanese descent, the Yonsei Japanese Peruvians are an expanding element.[18]

Cultural profile


Main article: Japanese diaspora

The term Nikkei (日系) was coined by a multinational group of sociologists and encompasses all of the world's Japanese immigrants across generations.[19] 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.[20] In this context, the significant differences in life experiences and opportunities has done little to mitigate the gaps which separated generational perspectives amongst their children and grandchildren.

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, 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 in North America, Latin America, Hawaii, 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, Hawaii, or any country outside of Japan to at least one Sansei parent.

The Yonsei, 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.[21]

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.[22]


Notable individuals

The number of yonsei 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.[23]


  1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Japan-Mexico Foreign Relations
  2. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Japan-Brazil Relations
  3. US Census data 2005
  4. Doi, Elza Takeo. "Japonês," Enciclopédia das Línguas no Brasil.
  5. Murakami-Tsuda, Vicky. "A Yonsei’s Reflections…on Unearthing My Family’s Values," Discover Nikkei. June 13, 2007.
  6. Higashide, p. 222.
  7. Okamura, Jonathan Y. (2008). Ethnicity and Inequality in Hawai'i. Temple University Press. p. 26. ISBN 1592137563. 
  8. Okamura, p. 125
  9. Okamura, p. 142
  10. 10.0 10.1 Okamura, p. 138
  11. Takahata, Carrie. (2002). "Making Yonsei" in Okamura Jonathan (ed.) The Japanese American Contemporary Experience in Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-824-82687-6
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 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.
  13. Okamura. (2008). p. 126.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Ishikawa, Juri (2006). Yonsei Japanese American Women in Hawai'i quoted in Okamura, Jonathan Y. (2008). Ethnicity and Inequality in Hawai'i, p.144.
  15. Okamura. (2008). p. 151.
  16. Ishikawa (2006). p.143-144.
  17. McLellan, Janet. (1999). Many Petals of the Lotus: Five Asian Buddhist Communities in Toronto, p. 36.
  18. Levano, Cesar. "Nikkeis: La Memorial y el Futura," Caretas. No. 1619. May 19, 2000.
  19. "What is Nikkei?" Japanese American National Museum.
  20. McLellan, p. 37.
  21. McLellan, p. 68.
  22. Itoh, p. 7.
  23. National Association of Japanese Canadians: PANA
  24. Discovering Nikkei: Furutani bio


Further reading

The specific term Yonsei is discussed in literature describing a number of immigrant populations, e.g.,

English language culture

Portuguese language culture

Spanish language culture

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