The Issei immigrants had never before experienced the racial discrimination or segregation that awaited them in the new world. After settling in the United States, they now had to endure many tragedies and hardships due to their skin color and physical features. The harder they worked, the more it seemed that they were persecuted.

Rev. Ken Kawata was murdered by a gang in Santa Barbara at the age of thirty-seven. Rev. Kumamoto rescued a lady who was kidnapped in Los Angeles and hidden in Fresno. A gang killed Mr. Takeda of Stockton due to his anti-gambling activities (Horikoshi 1977:37).

America was considered a Christian country, and the Issei dreamed of it as a land of opportunity, liberty, and peace. Uncertain about their future in Japan, many had emigrated hoping for a better life in the United States. Unfortunately, soon after their arrival much of that dream dissipated: in spite of new opportunities, many hardships awaited them. These Japanese immigrants had been nurtured by Shinto or Buddhist traditions. In the United States, the culture was grounded in centuries of Christian tradition. The immigrants saw towns and cities centered around churches, and Christian festivals on the calendar. American education, clothing, food, and social relations were all new experiences for them.

In spite of living in a Christian-oriented society, the Japanese faced fear, dissatisfaction, homesickness, and disappointment, in addition to the segregation and prejudice which surrounded their everyday lives. On the other hand, there were a few who positively enjoyed the new American way of life, thanks to the warm help of American church members. No matter what they encountered, these few were active in community life, helping others to follow.
The immigrants, who had to spend many hours laboring for survival, found very little time to enjoy family life. Because the immigrants only spoke Japanese at home, their children had trouble communicating with teachers and friends when they began attending school. These parents had no time to learn English at institutions, but could learn through their children. They also learned Western social customs and the American way of life in this same way.
Prior to the war, the proliferation of Japanese language schools and judo and kendo clubs in the Japanese communities helped foster the culture of the parents. However, their children were quickly adopting the English language and adapting to the American way of life. As is typical of Japanese nature, they did not want to stand out and be seen as different from others. Consequently, these children quickly learned English and the American way of life, but they did not learn Japanese from their parents.

Many of the new arrivals found a better life in this country when they embraced a new faith—their salvation in Jesus Christ. Bill Hosokawa (Hosokawa quoted in Kimura 1973:134) lists what he believes were the reasons for the success of the early Japanese churches: the physical appearance of the church buildings, the attractiveness of the minister, the programs offered by the churches, and the desire for friends. He confirms this view:

The significance of this social welfare work launched by the Christian churches, lies in the fact that by this work they were playing directly upon the most deeply laid collectivistic sentiments of the Japanese people, and it is little wonder that these sentiments formed a favorable attitude toward Christianity. Nothing in Japan is more sacred than the helpfulness of one member of society toward another, and the Christian missionaries with their practice of benevolence to the young immigrants arriving on these shores must have endeared themselves to these people (Hosokawa quoted in Kimura 1973:134).

Hosokawa’s view is confirmed by Table 1, which shows the means through which certain Issei were brought into the Christian faith and the Church. These statistics are derived from testimonies recorded in a book issued by the Northern California Church Federation, and refer to fifty Issei who had no Christian background before arriving in the United States. These Issei became Christians mainly through their study of English, visitations, and their relationships with the Sunday schools which their children attended.

According to Rev. John Mizuki (1978:100), a Brazilian who continues to be a Christian leader among Japanese-Americans in both North and South America, the Issei in Brazil became Christians mainly through evangelistic campaigns, visitations, and home services. This is shown in Table 2.

In Brazil, the majority of Japanese Protestants (83.7%) come from non-Protestant backgrounds. This means that the Japanese Protestant Churches in Brazil are growing mainly by conversion, and not by biological growth or by transfers (Mizuki 1978:97). The majority of American Issei have become Christians by converting from non-Christian backgrounds as well.

Significantly, the Japanese in Brazil became Christians most often through evangelical campaigns and home meetings, while in the United States they became Christians through English study and their children’s attendance at Sunday school. In the United States, the Issei had to study English in order to survive; however, in Brazil the Issei did not need to make as many adjustments to survive.