Nisei Samurai: Culture and Agency in Three Japanese American Lives

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2005-04-20

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Title of dissertation: NISEI SAMURAI: CULTURE AND AGENCY IN THREE JAPANESE AMERICAN LIVES

Toyoshi Kase, Doctor of Philosophy, 2005

Dissertation directed by: Professor Barbara Finkelstein

Education Policy and Leadership, College of Education

This dissertation, based upon interviews and representation, explores three lives of second generation Japanese Americans and reveals the existence of real cultural complexities among them as well as some of the diverse forms that cross-cultural adaptation might take. Their lives provide a window through which to explore processes of cross-cultural adaptation. These nisei were born and raised on U.S. soil, grew up in a deeply discriminatory society, lived through intractable war, and were deeply and simultaneously connected to Japanese traditions at home and the larger American society.

In their experiences, these three lives reveal the continuing interplay of dual cultures but, at the same time, reveal the variety of its forms. All three were invariably steeped in the past through issei parents, actively engaged in an assessment of the present, and inspiringly cast toward the future. In their histories, they were plunged into formidable reality where they acted on the present now by transforming the past as meaningfully usable to their current concern for future imperatives.

Throughout this research I will employ one basic paradigm as I explore the interactive relationship between humans and society--human agents as actors and actresses over social demands and forces. The assumption of human agency does not lead to the conclusion that the history of Japanese Americans is a great success story in the face of adversity. It does not portray people as powerless victims of a harsh environment. Rather, this is a study of Japanese American development that pays close attention to the lived human experiences of these nisei samurai moving toward new opportunities and challenges.

The ultimate power to determine one's own meaning of being relies upon humans as agents, notwithstanding the power of unalterable circumstances. People are not mindless beings whose actions and reaction have no meaning or bearing on the capacity of renewal. I, then, draw on an anthropological notion of "bricolage" to re-visit their experiences. These nisei of bricolage read or used--or re-read and re-used--a debilitating cultural situation, assigning to it their own meaning and consuming it to their own sense-making.

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