Home > Resources > Vocabulary

Vocabulary

Some vocabulary found within the content of this database may be unfamiliar. Below is a short list of some of the more common terms of Japanese American and United States World War II military vernaculars. 

AJA 

Americans of Japanese Ancestry. 

Alien Land Laws 

Laws enacted by various states that prohibited Japanese immigrants from purchasing land. 

Allies 

Join in mutually supportive association. To join or enlist somebody, in an association with one or more other states, organizations, or individuals for mutual help and support or the achievement of a common purpose. During World War II, the allied forces included the United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia. 

Antitank Company 

Part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that provided artillery support using 57 mm AT guns, while helping secure positions at night, chose selections of routes of approach and withdrawal, air reconnaissance and support of columns on the march. Most recognized for its aid in the Southern France glider invasion. 

API 

Asian Pacific Islanders. Also called APA or Asian Pacific Americans. 

Artillery 

Weapons for discharging missiles. 

Assembly Centers 

Temporary detention centers that housed Americans of Japanese Ancestry who had been forcibly removed from the west coast in the early months of World War II. 

ATIS 

Allied Translator and Interpreter Section. Located in Indooroopilly, Australia in the Southwest Pacific area commanded by General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. ATIS acted as one of the intelligence centers where military intelligence officers worked. 

Axis 

The military and political alliance of Germany, Italy, and later Japan that fought the Allies in World War II. 

 

B-29 

Boeing's B-29 Superfortress was the most sophisticated, propeller-driven bomber to fly during World War II. During the war in the Pacific Theater, the B-29 delivered the only nuclear weapons used in combat. 

Battalion 

Composed of 4 or more companies, commanded by Major or Lieutenant Colonel. Usually includes three rifle companies and one heavy weapons company. Identified by 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Battalion. Consistent with all regiments. 

Battle 

A general encounter between armies, ships of war, or aircraft. 

Bronze Star 

U.S. military decoration awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the military of the United States after December 6, 1941, distinguished himself of herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving aerial flights. 

Buddhahead 

Slightly derogatory term to denote Japanese Americans from Hawaii. 

 

Cable Act 

Legislation that deprived citizenship to female citizens who married aliens. The legislation, which repealed Section 47 of the Immigration Act of 1917, was sponsored by Congressman John L. Cable of Ohio and passed Congress on September 22, 1922. Had a severe effect on Nisei women who married Issei men. While the act allowed women who had lost their citizenship through marriage to an alien to regain it through naturalization upon the ending of that marriage through death or divorce, Nisei women who had lost their citizenship were ineligible for naturalization on account of their race. 

Campaign 

A connected series of military operations forming a distinct phase of war. 

Captain 

A commissioned officer commanding a company. Ranking above a First Lieutenant and below a Major. Primary task to command units, provide tactical plans and make decisions. 

Casualty 

A military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment, capture, or missing in action. 

Cave flushing 

Term that refers to the evacuation of people from caves. The MIS flushed out enemy soldiers and civilians in such places as Okinawa and Iwo Jima during World War II. 

Civilian 

One not on active duty in a military, police, or fire-fighting force. 

Colonel 

A commissioned officer commanding a regiment. Ranking above a Lieutenant Colonel. Primary task to command units, provide tactical plans and make decisions. 

Combat Engineer Company 

Those engineering tasks that assist the tactical and/or operational commander to "shape" the battle space by enhancing mobility to create the space and time necessary to generate mass and speed while protecting the force and denying mobility and key terrain to the enemy. These tasks include breaching, bridging, and emplacement of obstacles to deny mobility to the enemy. 

Combatant 

One that is engaged in or ready to engage in combat. 

Commander 

One in an official position of command or control. 

Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) 

A Congressional commission charged with studying the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and recommending an appropriate remedy. 

Commissioned Officer 

A military officer who holds rank by appointment at or above the rank of Second Lieutenant or Ensign. 

Company 

Composed of three or more platoons, commanded by Captain. Contains a Headquarters (administrative) detachment. Generally three rifle platoons and one heavy weapons platoon. Identified by letters, A Co, B Co, etc. 

Concentration Camps 

Known also as “relocation centers” or “internment camps,” they were facilities for housing Americans of Japanese Ancestry that were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses during World War II. 

Convoy 

A group of vehicles organized for the purpose of control or orderly movement with or without escort protection. 

Corporal 

A noncommissioned officer ranking in the army above Private First Class and below Sergeant. 

 

Day of Remembrance 

An annual ceremony held around February 19 in most major cities with a significant Japanese American population to commemorate the signing of Executive Order 9066. 

Decoration 

A badge of honor. 

Defense Language Institute (DLI) 

With its origins in the Military Intelligence Service Language School, the DLI was renamed and reorganized in 1963. The institute teaches more than 20 languages and sends its graduates all over the world. 

Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) 

The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to Army personnel for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force. It is the second highest Army decoration. 

Dog tag 

An identification tag for military personnel. 

Draft 

The system for or act of selecting qualified citizens to military service. 

 

Enlist 

To enroll oneself in the armed forces. 

Enryo suru 

Japanese term meaning polite restraint, polite refusal or modesty. Enryo is a form of social control that keeps one from imposing, expecting or demanding too much of another. 

Evacuation 

Forced removal of Japanese Americans in early 1942 from the West Coast. They were forbidden to return. The government called this an "evacuation," a euphemism that implies that it was done as a precaution for Japanese Americans' own safety, when in fact it was motivated by economic greed and racial prejudice. "Mass removal" and "exclusion" are better terms for the event because Japanese Americans were expelled from the West Coast and forbidden to return. 

Executive Order 9066 

Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, which led to the mass incarceration of 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast into concentration camps. 

 

Foxhole 

A small hole dug in the ground to protect a sniper or other soldier from enemy fire. 

 

Gaman 

Meaning to endure, persist or persevere - to do one's best - in times of frustration and adversity. 

Gentleman's Agreement 

1908 agreement between Japan and the United States that halted Japanese labor immigration to the United States. 

Giri 

Refers to the contractual or moral obligations one incurs as a direct result of the acceptance of favors gifts, goods or services from another. It is not contracted between parents and children but rather between relative equals. 

Gosei 

Fifth generation Japanese Americans 

 

Haji 

Term meaning shame. 

Hakujin 

Term designating a person of European descent. Literally meaning "white person," hakujin is a relatively value-neutral term that is still widely used by Japanese Americans. 

Hanashi 

Japanese term meaning "to talk" or "a story." 

Haole 

Term used in Hawaii to refer to all Caucasians other than those of Portuguese descent, especially those from the mainland United States. 

Hapa 

Of mixed race. Typically in the Nikkei community, Hapa denotes someone who is of Japanese and Caucasian ancestry. 

Heigo 

Japanese term regarding military tactics and terminology. The Military Intelligence Service Language School stressed heigo more than general Japanese in class. 

 

Immigration Act of 1924 

Legislation that ended all further Japanese immigration to the United States. 

Incarceration 

The state of being in prison, or being confined. 

Incarceration camps 

Camps administered by the U.S. War Relocation Authority to detain Japanese Americans during World War II. These were prisons surrounded by barbed wire fences and patrolled by armed guards and where inmates could not leave without permission. The U.S. War Relocation Authority called these camps "relocation centers." 

Infantry 

A branch of an army composed of soldiers trained, armed and equipped to fight on foot. 

Internment camps 

Camps administered by the Justice Department for the detention of enemy aliens (not U.S. citizens) deemed dangerous during World War II. Most of the several thousand people in these camps were Issei and Kibei who had been rounded up after the attack on Pearl Harbor because they were perceived as "dangerous." "Internment camp" is used by some to describe the "incarceration camps." The term "internment" is problematic when applied to U.S. citizens. Technically, internment refers to the detention of enemy aliens during time of war, and two-thirds of the Japanese Americans incarcerated were U.S. citizens. 

Interrogate 

To question formally and systematically. 

Inu 

"Dog" in Japanese. This term was used in the incarceration camps to refer to Japanese Americans who were suspected of informing authorities about "suspicious" incarcerees. 

Invasion 

A hostile entry of an armed force into a country's territory, especially with the intention of conquering it. 

Issei 

First generation Japanese who immigrated to the United States. 

 

Kamikaze 

"Divine wind" in Japanese. During World War II, Japan instituted Kamikaze pilots for suicide missions. Pilots would purposely ram their planes into enemy ships destroying them and losing their lives in the process. 

Kanji 

Japanese term for the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing. 

Katonk 

A term for Japanese Americans from the mainland. Also spelled "Kotonk." 

Kibei 

Japanese Americans, typically Nisei, who were educated in Japan. Many Kibei, because of their advanced Japanese and English language ability, joined the Military Intelligence Service. 

Killed in action (KIA) 

A casualty category applicable to a hostile casualty, other than the victim of a terrorist activity, who is killed outright or who dies as a result of wounds or other injuries before reaching a medical treatment facility. 

 

Liberator 

To release an individual, group, population, or country from political or military control, or from any severe physical constraint. 

Lieutenant 

A commissioned officer commanding a platoon. Ranked below Captain. Primary tasks include commanding units, providing tactical plans, and making decisions. 

Lieutenant Colonel 

A commissioned officer commanding a battalion. Ranked above Major and below Colonel. Primary tasks include commanding units, providing tactical plans, and making decisions. 

Linguists 

A person accomplished in languages. The MIS were comprised of linguists. 

Lost Battalion 

1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Texas Division that was surrounded by German troops in eastern France. Eventually rescued by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In the two week period that included the Lost Battalion campaign where it rescued 211 soldiers, the 442nd suffered more than 800 casualties. 

Loyalty questions 

Two questions on questionnaires distributed to Japanese Americans in incarceration camps. Despite serious problems with the wording and meaning of the questions, government officials and others generally considered those who answered "no" to the two questions to be "disloyal" to the United States. "Yes" answers to these questions made internees eligible for service in the U.S. Army, and some became eligible for release and resettlement in areas outside of the West Coast exclusion zones. 

 

Mainland 

Refers to the continental United States excluding Alaska and Hawaii. 

Major 

Commissioned officer commanding a battalion. Ranked below Lieutenant Colonel. Primary tasks include commanding units, providing tactical plans, and making decisions. A field grade officer who is condemned to staff positions until he gets promoted. The exception is special operations forces, where a major may be a company or detachment commander. 

Martial Law 

The law applied in occupied territory by the military authority of the occupying power. 

Master Sergeant 

A senior noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and some other military branches, ranking immediately below the most senior non-commissioned rank. 

McCarran-Walter Act 

The immigration statute passed in 1952 that gave the Issei the right to become naturalized citizens. Also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. 

Medal 

A piece of metal often resembling a coin and having a stamped design that is issued to commemorate a person or event or awarded for excellence or achievement. 

Medal of Honor 

The U.S. Army's highest honor awarded by the President in the name of Congress, for conspicuous intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in action involving actual conflict with an opposing armed force. 

Military Intelligence Service (MIS) 

A U.S. Army branch in which many Japanese Americans served during World War II, utilizing their language skills in the Pacific War. Japanese American soldiers in the MIS translated enemy documents, interrogated Japanese prisoners of war, intercepted enemy communication and persuaded enemy units to surrender. 

Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) 

With a budget of just $2,000, the school was created in 1941 to teach Japanese Americans and Caucasians the Japanese language and military terminology. More than 6,000 men graduated from the language school by the end of World War II. 

Missing in action (MIA) 

The casualty is a hostile casualty, other than the victim of a terrorist activity, who is not present at his or her duty location due to apparent involuntary reasons and whose location is unknown. 

Mission 

A duty or task assigned to an individual or unit. 

Mortar 

A muzzle-loading, indirect fire weapon with either a rifled or smooth bore. It usually has a shorter range than a howitzer, employs a higher angle of fire and has a tube with a length of 10 to 20 calibers. 

 

National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR) 

One of three major national organizations created to seek redress for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. 

National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR) 

One of three major national organizations created to seek redress for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. 

Nikkei 

Term used to distinguish any person of Japanese descent who immigrated abroad or is the descendant of such immigrants - includes Americans of Japanese ancestry, Japanese Brazilians and all other nationals of Japanese descent. 

Nisei 

Second generation Japanese American. First generation to be born in the United States. 

No-no boy 

A term that refers to Japanese Americans (both male and female) who refused to answer the "loyalty questions" or answered in the negative. Many were unfairly stigmatized as being "disloyal" to the United States and were segregated to the Tule Lake camp. 

Non-alien 

The government sometimes referred to Nisei as "non-aliens," a way of evading the fact that they were U.S. citizens. 

Non-combatant 

A member of the armed forces whose duties do not include fighting. 

Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) 

An enlisted member of the armed forces who, without being given a commission, has been appointed to a position of authority over other enlisted members. 

 

Occupation 

The holding and control of an area by a foreign military force. 

Office of Strategic Services (OSS) 

The agency was set up by the U.S. government to engage in spying and sabotage. One of the offices was stationed in Calcutta, India during World War II. 

Office of War Information (OWI) 

The OWI was established for psychological warfare and to encourage American support for the war effort. An office was stationed in Burma during World War II. 

On 

Japanese term that refers to the social and psychological obligations and debt that one acquires as the result of receiving from another a favor or gift of extraordinary proportions. On is so profound that it can never be completely repaid in one's lifetime. 

Operation 

The process of carrying on combat, including movement, supply, attack, defense, and maneuvers needed to gain the objectives of any battle or campaign. 

 

Picture brides 

Issei women who came to the United States from Japan to marry husbands they only knew from photographs. 

Platoon 

Composed of 2-4 squads, commanded by Lieutenant. Smallest tactical unit with own weapons support. Numbered 1st, 2nd or 3rd platoon. 

Presidential Unit Citation 

The Presidential Unit Citation is awarded to units of the Armed Forces of the United States and co-belligerent nations for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy occurring on or after December 7, 1941. The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set it apart and above other units participating in the same campaign. The degree of heroism required is the same as that which would warrant award of a Distinguished Service Cross to an individual. Extended periods of combat duty or participation in a large number of operational missions, either ground or air is not sufficient. This award will normally be earned by units that have participated in single or successive actions covering relatively brief time spans. It is not reasonable to presume that entire unit can sustain Distinguished Service Cross performance for extended time periods except under the most unusual circumstances. Only on rare occasions will a unit larger than a battalion qualify for an award of this decoration.  

Prisoner of War (POW) 

A member of the armed forces of a nation who is taken by the enemy during combat. 

Purple Heart 

U.S. military decoration awarded in the name of the President, to any member of an armed force who, while serving with the U.S. Armed Services after April 7, 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died or may hereafter die after being wounded. 

 

Redress 

A compensation to remedy the unjust incarceration of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. 

Regiment 

Composed of at least 3 Battalions, commanded by a Colonel. Considered the primary infantry organization in tactical planning. Identified by number, based on Army Classification System: Regular army regiments number 1-99, National Guard regiments numbered 100-299, Conscripted or Reserve regiments numbered in 300s. Primary unit level which holds its own history and lineage. 

Relocation centers 

A term used by the U.S. War Relocation Authority to refer to the camps in which most Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. These were prisons surrounded by barbed wire fences and patrolled by armed guards, which inhabitants could not leave without permission. Because "relocation center" inadequately describes the harsh conditions and forced confinement of the camps, "incarceration camp" is more accurate. 

Resettlement 

Term used to refer to the migration of Americans of Japanese Ancestry from the concentration camps that held them during World War II. 

 

Sansei 

Third generation Japanese Americans. 

Sergeant 

In the U.S. Army or Marine Corps, the rank immediately above Corporal. 

Service Battery 

Tactical and administrative artillery unit providing logistic support of fleet operations. 

Shikata ga nai 

Japanese phrase meaning "it cannot be helped" or "it must be done." It is an expression of resignation and perseverance in the face of difficult or trying situations that are painful but inevitable. 

Soldier 

Someone who serves in the Army or other military service. Ranked below a commissioned officer. 

Squad 

Smallest tactical unit composed of 8-12 enlisted men. Led by a non-commissioned officer. Identified within a platoon as 1st, 2nd or 3rd squad. 

Staff Sergeant 

A noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, ranking above Sergeant and below Sergeant First Class. 

Surrender 

To give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another. 

 

Theatre of

War

The geographical area outside the continental United States for which a commander of a combatant command has been assigned responsibility. 

Tracers 

Ammunition containing a chemical composition to mark the flight of projectiles by a trail of smoke or fire. 

Trench foot 

A painful foot disorder resembling a frostbite resulting from exposure to cold and wet. 

Troop 

A group of soldiers. 

Two-front war 

The idea of the line of contact for two opposing forces taking place in more than one direction. During World War II, the United States fought on two fronts, one in Europe and one in the Pacific. 

 

Unit 

A part of a military establishment that has a prescribed organization (as of personnel and material). 

 

Valor 

Strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness. 

Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV) 

All Japanese American labor battalion in World War II in Hawaii. The formation of the VVV was in response to anti-Japanese prejudices in Hawaii following the Pearl Harbor attack. The Hawaii Territorial Guard was comprised of Japanese Americans who patrolled the Honolulu area to free up regular army units for other duties. But on January 19, 1942, despite their entirely satisfactory service, they were kicked out of the Territorial Guard. As a result of their "petition to do their part as loyal Americans in any possible way," the Corps of Engineers Regiment, or the VVV, was formed. Due in part to the 100th Infantry Battalion, VVV and other Japanese Americans who voluntarily helped in the war effort, the ban on Japanese Americans in the army was lifted. The VVV was disbanded on January 31, 1943 and many members went on to serve in the 442nd RCT. 

Veteran 

Someone who has served in the armed forces. 

 

War 

An armed conflict between countries or groups that involves killing and destruction. 

War Relocation Authority 

A civilian administration created by Executive order 9102, with Milton S. Eisenhower as its first director. 

 

Yellow Peril 

A term used by anti-Japanese agitators in the early 1900s to describe the "threat" of Japanese immigration as a precursor to a Japanese invasion. 

Yonsei 

Fourth generation Japanese Americans.