Immigration and Settlement of the Nikkei Community (4th-6th grades)

Immigration and Settlement of the Nikkei Community (4th-6th grades)

The Thought: Students will become familiar with the ‘Push-Pull’ factors of immigrant experiences including discrimination, opportunity, family and community. Each of these factors has determined policy, perception and acceptance throughout American history. These factors have also influenced how immigrant communities settle and transform their communities, the kinds of businesses they create and how they live among their neighbors.

Description: Japanese immigrants formed vibrant and thriving communities despite discriminatory attitudes and laws. Learning how their experiences differed from other immigrants allows students a deeper understanding of immigration past and present.

Student Objectives:

1. Identify various reasons Japanese immigrants settled in the United States.

2. Analyze ways Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans formed and maintained communities.

3. Explain how anti-Asian attitudes and legislation, particularly in Washington State, helped shape Japanese immigrant experiences prior to World War II.

Timeframe: This lesson is designed for 1-2 45-minute class periods depending on the time spent on Think Pair Share and What Makes You Say That activities. . An optional extension activity can be assigned as homework that will better orient students to their own family’s history and legacy in settling in the United States, as Indigenous Americans and those Americans forced here against their will and enslaved.

* It is critical to the success of this unit to encourage all students to try and understand the origins of their own American lives through the context of their ancestors’ experiences.

Materials: Human silhouette picture, Portrait Cards, Worksheet 1.1, Interview Sample Questions (for extension activity)

Readings: Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle (pg. 16-23), Meet Me at Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese-American Family (pg. 9-13)













picture bride


Additional Resources:


Asian Pacific American Timeline Handout

Asian Pacific American Timeline, A Community Grows Despite Racism (video), Chiyo’s Diary (excerpt from Meet Me at Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese-American Family by Ken Mochizuki)

Teacher Preparation: Read part 1 of Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle (through page 38) to learn more about Japanese immigration to the U.S., and Japan Lesson 1 Worksheet Japanese American communities pre-1941. Review the timeline of Japanese-American history up to 1941 [Worksheet 1.1]. If desired, read through the Asian Pacific American timeline for more information and context.

Students in 4th-6th grades may not fully understand the text of Divided Destiny. This reading is very informative for teachers looking to put the growth of the Japanese American community into perspective for their students.

Each class time is split between two activities per class.

Session 1

Activity 1: Think Pair Share

  1. Ask students what they know about immigration to the United States. Explain that immigration is the act of moving to a country you are not originally from, to permanently live in that new place.  For example, a student could write “to go to school” next to  Other examples include making more money, escaping persecution, or reuniting with family members.
  2. Each student will write down their ideas on a piece of paper. Encourage them to write as many ideas as the y can.
  3. Ask the students to turn to the classmate on their right. Have them share with each other, taking turns and drawing a check or a star next to their own answers that match their partner’s.
  4. Ask for volunteers to share their Pair’s ideas with the class. On the chalkboard or white board, write the ideas for the class to see. After each one ask the class if they too had come up with the same idea. Place a different colored dot for each group that raised their hand. Leave these ideas on the Board for the next activity.

Activity 2: Personal Connections

  1. Print the silhouette and have enough for each pair of students in the class and pass them out to each student pair.Silouette Activity Handout
  2. Using an overhead projector– or if one is not available– draw the outline of a person on the board. Remember not to erase the ideas about immigration that students already shared. Using one of those suggestions draw a line to a particular part of the body. For example, if the student idea was that someone came to the United States to go to school, draw a line to the head of the silhouette. Perhaps the person’s arms are for hugging family and keeping them safe, etc. ( *Teachers, use figure JA2 as your own reference, but keep in mind that these are merely examples of how a student may complete the activity and is only for guidance)

Silouette Slide. JA presentation

  1. Ask students to turn return to their pairs to match what part of a person’s body they agree connects with the ideas on the board.
  2. Again, ask them to share their ideas with the whole class.

After writing their names on their page, gather the worksheets and then tape them to a wall for students to look at during other class times. Teachers should summarize the activities by relating what was learned from their own readings about the specific motivations of Japanese immigrants (Issei) and the second generation (nisei) Japanese Americans.


Session 2: Activity 1

What Makes You Say That?

*Teachers, make sure you read through the Chiyo diary pages and familiarize yourself with her story. This ties directly to an education program students can engage in when they visit the museum and the neighborhood.

Interpreting images is a necessary skill for students to learn. In understanding the differences in how individuals represent themselves in photographs or drawings versus how others represent these same people. The motivation behind the image is important to understand. Additionally, there are stories that can be attached to images; what a building may have been used as, a landscape or group image that tells what a community is doing or on what they might be working, etc.

In many ways, the images of the Japanese American community before World War II show a fundamental aspect of what most people in America desire; a regular, uneventful life. When a group is able to create such a life, there is often a sense of security, or hopefulness, and despite the outer pressures of belonging to a society or seen as not belonging, a sense of building a future.

Using the thinking routine “What Makes You Say That” is a great way to breakdown an image and to encourage students to think critically about what they are seeing.

This PDF slide show is of Chiyoko ‘Chiyo’ Murakami standing at the ferry dock waiting to visit friends on Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge had a longstanding and fruitful community of farmers, fishermen and more, of Japanese descent. Her friend, Fumiko, would one day become the very image of the Japanese American Redress Movement, and a symbol for non Japanese Americans of the impact of the Incarceration on families, in particular mothers and their children.

Yet here is an image of one friend waiting to visit another. Using the slides, ask students to call out what they think the picture is showing them. Ask them to explain their answer with the question “what makes you say that?”. Each slide reveals another part of the image. Some questions you can ask might include:

  • Who is wearing this coat?
  • What do you see in the background?
  • What is this person standing on?

As the image is revealed, ask students to rethink they answers they had given before, explore with them why their answers may have remained the same or might have changed. This exercise ties in with the next activity. Students should be more attuned to looking at the images with a more critical eye.

 When the photo is fully revealed, introduce Chiyo to the class based on teacher resource readings. Tell Students you all will get to know her better later in the unit.

Session 2: Activity 2

  1. Divide students into five groups and pass out portrait cards one to each group. [Cards 1-5 focus on individual and family experiences, card 6-10 focus on community institutions] Ask each group to read the card, look at the picture, and discuss why the person or family might have immigrated to Washington State. Have groups briefly share their answers with the class. Compare the groups’ answers with each other, and emphasize that both answers may be right; families often had multiple reasons for immigrating.Portrait Cards cover image

Japanese American Portrait Cards

  • What kinds of work and activities did Japanese immigrants and their families participate in?
  • How did Japanese immigrants adapt to life in a new country?
  • How were the experiences of Japanese immigrants similar and different to other immigrants of the time?
  • How are these experiences similar and different to immigrants coming to the U.S. today?

2. Divide students into pairs and ask them identify what elements of communities were important to Japanese immigrants. Examples include churches, schools, family-run businesses, community organizations, festivals, and holidays. How are these elements related to immigrants’ reasons for coming to the U.S.? Which of these institutions and events are important to you? Why?


Extension Activity: Family Interview

Oral History Sample Interview Questions

Oral History Sample Interview Questions

Have students interview a relative, friend, or community member who has immigrated to the United States (or has a relative who immigrated). A list of suggested questions is included. Students may choose to:

Write a short essay reflecting on their experiences, and compare and contrast it to the experiences of Japanese immigrants.

Write a part of the story of the interviewee as a short piece of historical fiction.