The New Issei

Japanese Sushi Bar in Philadelphia. Photo by Sumiko Kobayashi

The first Japanese to arrive after World War II were young women who married American servicemen and civilian government workers during and after the U.S. occupation of a defeated and demoralized Japan. While many moved with their servicemen husbands from base to base, some settled with their families in the Delaware Valley and took firm root in their new homeland. Many have been here almost thirty years. These new Japanese Americans, especially those who came later, brought with them a knowledge of cultural skills, such as the tea ceremony, dance and koto playing, which could be learned only in Japan. These individuals often are called upon to demonstrate their talents at department store promotions, ethnic fairs and other community events.

As Japan recovered from the war and became a vital economic force on the international scene, a new type of Japanese began to come to America. These were the highly educated specialists, in the so-called "high tech" industries. They have taken their place in the academic and industrial world working in scientific research in fields such as biotechnical and computer engineering.

In more recent years business people as well as scientists have arrived. With the growing popularity of Japanese restaurants many have come expressly for the purpose of establishing these enterprises. Today there are about 15 Japanese restaurants in the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas. The ranks of the more permanent newcomers are augmented by a steady flow of temporary sojourners who come for a period of one or two years to study, teach, do research and engage in business. The presence of the so-called "kaisha" (Japanese company) people attests to the growing importance of Philadelphia to Japanese industry and commerce.

The Japanese Christian Church of Philadelphia serves the spiritual needs of those of the Protestant Christian faith. Earlier immigrants and newer immigrants have come together in the Church, but time has taken its toll of the older members so that only a handful of elderly widows from the first group continues to attend the services. The Church moved to its own building in Overbrook in September, 1984.

The Japanese Association of Philadelphia is an organization through which temporary and permanent residents from Japan get together. The gatherings of the two groups, which overlap in membership to some extent, draw families from as far away as Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware.

The Japanese Culture Center, which utilizes the Japanese Christian Church building, sponsors such activities as weekly Japanese movies (on videotape) and Japanese cooking classes. These activities are open to the public. The Church and the Japanese Association provide a means for the "new Issei" to get together socially and to maintain their ties to their cultural roots.

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