Term for Japanese immigrants originating from the Japanese language term for “first generation.” In the American context, the term is generally understood to apply to those who migrated prior to the cessation of Japanese immigration to the U.S. under the dictates of the Immigration Act of 1924, the bulk arriving after 1885. The vast majority of Issei were thus middle-aged or older during World War II.
Other generational terms include Nisei (second generation) for the American born children of the Issei, Sansei (third generation) for the grandchildren of the Issei and Yonsei (fourth generation) for their great-grandchildren. Postwar immigrants from Japan are understood to be a distinct group sometimes referred to as Shin-Issei, the prefex “shin” being “new” in Japanese.
[Some Japanese-American institutions, such as Densho Encyclopedia, the digital educational resource on Japanese American internment and Japanese incarceration, capitalize the first letter of Issei, Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei, Gosei, etc. Others capitalize the words when they are used in a generational context, but lowercase those same words when referring to an individual. For example, “Nisei soldiers of World War II” has a generational context. However, you might say, “My uncle, a nisei, served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.” Some institutions lowercase the words unless they are part of a proper noun, such as Nisei Farmers League.]