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Japanese Americans in World War II

Glossary of Terms

The language we use to tell a story becomes part of the story itself. The government euphemistically referred to the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II as an “evacuation,” suggesting their compulsory exclusion was to protect them, rather than the result of prejudice and wartime hysteria. Similarly, the government officially called the camps where Japanese Americans were sent “Relocation Centers,” even though leaders including President Roosevelt referred to them as “concentration camps.”

Since at least the mid-1990s, scholars, educators, and Japanese Americans have debated about terms to use in public discourse that more accurately capture the motivations for, and impacts of, the government’s wartime actions towards Japanese Americans. No clear consensus has emerged.

These definitions will help your understanding of 9066: Japanese American Voices from the Inside.

  • The 442nd: The 442nd Regimental Combat Team consisted of more than 4,000 Japanese American volunteers from Hawaii and the continental U.S. Many served while their families were incarcerated in American concentration camps. The 442nd incorporated the 100th Battalion, a company of Japanese American soldiers from Hawaii already in the army prior to World War II. The 442nd – which fought major battles in Italy, France, and Germany and helped liberate Dachau, the Nazi death camp – became the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in U.S. military history.
  • Assembly center: The government’s official term for temporary camps run by the military, often constructed in race tracks or fair grounds, where Japanese Americans were incarcerated in early 1942 before being transferred to relocation centers (American concentration camps) administered by the War Relocation Authority.
  • Concentration camp: A camp established by a government to confine political prisoners or members of national or minority groups. The prisoners are usually selected by executive decree or military order.
  • Confinement site: A term used by Congress today to incorporate all of the locations where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.
  • Exclusion Zone: Between the spring of 1942 and the beginning of 1945, the U.S. military’s Western Defense Command excluded all people of Japanese ancestry, including U.S. citizens, from this area (known as “Military Area 1”) covering the western halves of Washington, Oregon, California and the southern half of Arizona, unless they were incarcerated in a government-run concentration camp.
  • Chick sexing:  To determine the gender of hatchlings. Some Japanese Americans were professional chick sexers, because they had methods to determine chick gender much earlier than traditional methods. Chick sexing was done for various reasons, depending upon the end product. For example, if the farm was mainly raising chickens for eggs, they wanted more female chicks (pullets, young hens who will lay eggs).
  • The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (Pub. L. 100–383, title I, August 10, 1988, 102 Stat. 904, 50a U.S.C. § 1989b et seq.): A United States federal law that granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II.

Comment: While most families appreciated the apology and the $20,000 reparations, for many it came too late for the adults most affected by the sudden, forced incarceration: the Issei. By the time the reparations came (40 years after the fact), most of the Issei and over half of those imprisoned had already died. The $20,000 was nowhere near enough to compensate for the value of the houses and property internees lost (and the appreciation over time), much less the years of imprisonment, deprivation, and dehumanizing conditions they suffered. While the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was a success for American civil rights, it was considered a weak attempt at righting an enormous wrong from the past. Because of this, some individuals would accept neither the apology nor the money.

  • Issei: Japanese immigrants to the U.S.; first generation Japanese Americans. Issei were not allowed to buy or own property or become naturalized citizens until 1952.
  • Japanese American: A collective term referring to Japanese immigrants to the U.S. who were not legally permitted to gain U.S. citizenship before 1952 and their descendants who are American citizens by birth.
  • Gaman: Persevering through a seemingly unbearable situation with dignity and patience.
  • Gambaru: also romanized as ganbaru, is a ubiquitous Japanese word which roughly means to slog on tenaciously through tough times. The word ganbaru is often translated to mean "doing one's best," but in practice, it means doing more than one's best. Ganbatte is a term commonly used to encourage someone to do one’s best, go for it and don’t give up!
  • Gosei: Children of the Yonsei; fifth generation Japanese Americans.
  • Haji: Shame.  Said to be the core of the Japanese mentality, along with the preservation of Wa  (social harmony) and the maintenance of a "public face."   (From Japan: Asahi to Zen,
  • This is part of the reason why so many incarcerated Japanese Americans never spoke about their experiences, even to their families and closest friends, not even among each other. They were ashamed of being considered “the enemy” because they are Japanese and just wanted to forget and move on.
  • Hakujin: Caucasian. An American in Japan would be called, America-jin.
  • Honne: a person's true feelings and desires, in contrast to tatemae, the behavior and opinions one displays in public. This is an often misunderstood trait among non-Asians.  (definition from:
  • Incarceration: In a state of forced detention or confinement.
  • Internment: Detention of enemy aliens during war. Although commonly used to describe the indefinite detention of Japanese Americans during World War II, it is an inaccurate term when applied to U.S. citizens of Japanese descent
  • Kibei: A subset of Nisei who spent a significant part of their youth in Japan, usually for education, and then returned to the U.S.  Many Kibei got trapped in Japan when war broke out between Japan and the U.S.  In a sense, they became stateless because they were Americans living in Japan, labeled as the “enemy” in both places.  Many Kibei felt they did not “fit” in either country.
  • MIS: Military Intelligence Service. MIS Japanese Units were mainly Nisei soldiers trained as linguists to provide translation, interrogation, and interpretation services.
  • Naturalized citizen: One who, being born an alien, has lawfully become a citizen of the United States Under the constitution and laws. 2. He has all the rights of a natural born citizen, except that of being eligible as president or vice-president of the United States. (definition from
  • Nikkei: Japanese emigrants and their descendants who have created communities throughout the world. The term Nikkei has multiple and diverse meanings depending on situations, places, and environments. Nikkei also include people of mixed racial descent who identify themselves as Nikkei. (definition from
  • Nisei: Children of the Issei; second generation Japanese Americans who are U.S. citizens by birth.
  • “No-Nos”:  All incarcerated Japanese Americans 17 years of age and older had to take the “Loyalty Questionnaire” to determine their loyalty. Question 27 asked about willingness to serve in the armed forces. Question 28 asked people to foreswear allegiance to Japan and swear unqualified allegiance to the U.S. The majority of incarcerees answered “yes” to both questions, but some were wary of responding “yes” to Question 27, unsure whether it was the equivalent of volunteering for the army. Question 28 also posed difficulties. Foreswearing allegiance to Japan could imply that Nisei had been loyal to Japan. Issei, who were barred by law from becoming U.S. citizens, feared answering “yes” might mean renouncing their Japanese citizenship, leaving them nationless. Those who refused to complete the form, gave qualified answers, or responded “no” to one or both of the two troublesome questions were dubbed “No-Nos,” and were considered disloyal to the U.S. and were thus sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center, which had the largest percentage of incarcerees whom the government considered “disloyal.”
  • Non-aliens: Term that the U.S. government used during World War II to describe Nisei, thus obscuring the fact that they were U.S. citizens.
  • Picture Brides: Issei women who immigrated through arranged marriages that involved the exchange of photos between the prospective spouses before they met in the U.S.
  • Quakers: Members of the Religious Society of Friends, a Christian group. One of the main historic threads, related to World War II and the Japanese Americanincarceration, is the Peace Testimony: as a whole, Quakers are usually opposed to war and seek peace and social justice. The Quakers helped many Japanese Americans relocate to the East Coast and Midwest to restart their lives.
  • Redress: The Redress Movement refers to efforts to obtain the restitution of civil rights, an apology, and/or monetary compensation from the U.S. government during the four decades that followed the World War II mass removal and confinement of Japanese Americans. Early campaigns emphasized the violation of constitutional rights, lost property, and the repeal of anti-Japanese legislation. In the late 1970s three organizations pursued redress in court and in Congress, culminating in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing a national apology and individual payments of $20,000 to surviving detainees. (from
  • Sansei: Children of the Nisei; third generation Japanese Americans.
  • Segregation center: After incarcerating Japanese Americans during World War II, the government sought to segregate those it considered disloyal or troublemakers and detain them in one camp. Tule Lake became the government’s official segregation center.
  • Shikata ga nai: A common belief and coping mechanism among the Japanese that one must quietly endure in a dignified manner what cannot be helped since nothing can be done about it.
  • Tulean: A Japanese American who was incarcerated at Tule Lake during World War II.
  • Truck farming: Small scale farming of fruits and vegetables grown to be sold locally. Because Issei farmers were not allowed to own land, they often leased land no one else wanted and sold their produce out the back of a truck.
  • Yonsei: Children of the Sansei; fourth generation Japanese Americans.


ACLU-NC: The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California investigated conditions at Tule Lake Segregation Center and brought the landmark case of Korematsu v. U.S. to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans.

JACL: The Japanese American Citizens League is a civil rights organization founded in 1929 by Nisei.

WRA: The War Relocation Authority was the federal agency that administered 10 American concentration camps in which Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.



Many of the terms in this glossary were copied, with permission, from The Art of Survival: Enduring the Turmoil of Tule Lake: Exhibition Manual, by Exhibit Envoy, San Francisco, California. Additional words were added to the glossary (cited as appropriate) to help visitors understand the 9066 Japanese American Voices from the Inside exhibition as a whole.  The Art of Survival is one of the traveling exhibits within the 9066 Japanese American Voices from the Inside exhibition at the Library at California State University, Fresno.