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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tokyo Rose

In the year 2016, many of us older folk with a bit of education for history may have actually heard of a woman nicknamed by Allied GI's serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

She was supposedly a radio announcer on Japanese radio who would speak English to the GIs who could only pick up Japanese broadcasts as American ones et al were simply too far away.... it meant that soldiers were at the mercy of Japan for radio entertainment.

Hazy memory from people of my generation believe that Tokyo Rose would come on the radio from time to time to taunt Allied soldiers, encouraging them to give up because they were losing the war... that it was all done by the Japanese as an act of propaganda.

But that's the problem with my generation. We aren't old enough to know the truth, and we're not smart enough to find it out. Of course, I am really just talking about myself. Past self, actually... I found out.

So... was Tokyo Rose a prop for Japanese propaganda? Who was Tokyo Rose? What happened to her after the war? Did she survive it?

Tokyo Rose was a nickname given to the female radio broadcaster on Japanese radio who spoke English.... it was a nickname given not merely to one woman, but to several women who performed the task for Japan... and either few GIs realized different women did the announcing or more than likely, fewer cared.

During WWII, it is supposed that there were no less than 12 women who performed the taunting duty that were uniformly called Tokyo Rose. It should be noted that NOT ONE of these 'performers' actually referred to themselves as Tokyo Rose.

Despite GI imagination, this is not THE Tokyo Rose of WWII infamy.  
I'll also add here, that the usual way the name was pronounced was the malapropism Tokio (toe-key-oh) Rose, rather than the proper pronunciation of Toe-kyo Rose.

The most famous version of Tokyo Rose was performed by a woman named Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino... D'Aquino being her married name. In Japan, it's surname first, so she would be Toguri Ikuko Iva (戸栗郁子 アィバ).

And... she was an American. That's the Iva part of her name, despite it not seeming to be a so-called "American" name in my head, but what do I know. Eva, sure... but Iva?

Born on July 4 (U.S. Independence Day), 1916 in Los Angeles California, Toguri was like any kid growing up—well, one growing up as a visible minority, anyways—she just wanted to be an American. And she was.

Her parents had emigrated from Japan to the U.S. in 1899.

She was a Girls Scout growing up, and was raised a Methodist. She eventually graduated from the University of California with a degree in zoology, which was something I thought I wanted while still in high school. As a registered Republican, she voted for Wendell Wilkie in the 1940 presidential election. Not her first mistake.

And then... her life turned upside down.

As a graduation gift, and because her mom's sister was ill, she was sent to Japan for a visit.

On July 5, 1941, Toguri sailed for Japan from San Pedro, California, without a U.S. passport. In subsequent years, she gave two reasons for her trip: to visit a sick aunt, and to study medicine.

In September of that year, Toguri appeared before the U.S. Vice Consul in Japan to obtain a passport, stating she wished to return to the U.S. for permanent residence. Because she left the U.S. without a passport, her application was forwarded to the Department of State for consideration.

She was a young American girl who didn't care much for the Japanese food, and despite having Japanese origins, being raised American made her stand out like a sore thumb in Japan as something definitely not Japanese.

From the time she arrived in Japan, tensions were already strained between the U.S. and Japan, as there were constant rumblings about Japan attacking. The attack on Pearl Harbor in December was devastating, and put Japan in America's very capable warpath.

The Pearl Harbor attack occurred before Toguri could receive a new passport, and thus she was stranded in Japan and unable to book ship passage back home to the U.S.

As an American gaijin in Japan, the Japanese secret police eventually paid her a visit at her aunt's place and demanded she renounce her American citizenship—she refused, but was now considered an enemy alien.

Not wanting to bring undue treatment upon her aunt, Toguri left to live in a boarding house.

Things weren't much better for her family back in the U.S., as soon all Japanese and Americans of Japanese stock were essentially rounded up and moved to internment camps around the country - including her family.

Anyhow, no longer able to communicate with her family back in the U.S. and not wanting to have her Japanese aunt caught up in her enemy of the state status, Toguri did what anyone in her situation would have done.

Knowing she had to make money, she enrolled in a Japanese language and culture school to improve her language skills, and from mid-1942 until late 1943, Toguri worked as a typist for the Domei News Agency; in August 1943, she obtained a second job as a typist for Radio Tokyo.

At Radio Tokyo, she helped type out scripts for radio programs broadcast to Japanese GI’s in Southeast Asia.
Toguri at the Radio Tokyo offices, December 1944.
For whatever reason, in November of 1943, Japan forced captured enemies to work on radio broadcasts... with Toguri called upon to host a show called the “Zero Hour” - an entertainment program for Japanese propaganda versus the U.S. soldiers.

With her soft female American vocals, it was meant, as you can suspect, to demoralize the Allied soldiers by saying, amongst many things, that their girls back home were seeing other men, maybe occasionally calling the American troops "boneheads", but that was the extent of the propaganda.

Toguri never referred to herself as Tokyo Rose. None of the other women acting as Tokyo Rose did.

She called herself Ann, and later Orphan Ann, but never Tokyo Rose. Orphan Ann was meant to be a play on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie. Arf-arf.

The Allied GI's out in the Pacific were the ones who coined the term "Tokyo Rose", figuring that despite the occasional lies, she was some sort of exotic Japanese geisha girl with a sexy voice.

Toguri did a total of 340 radio broadcasts over a three-year period.

Here's a partial transcript example of one of her broadcasts:

Tokyo Rose: Hello you fighting orphans in the Pacific. How’s tricks? This is “After her weekend, and oooh, back on the air, strictly under union hours.” Reception okay? Why, it better be, because this is All-Requests night. And I’ve got a pretty nice program for my favorite little family, the wandering boneheads of the Pacific Islands. The first request is made by none other than the boss. And guess what? He wants Bonnie Baker in “My Resistance is Low.” My, what taste you have, sir, she says.

"You say you want to see me every night,
But every time you see me, you want to only fight,
I have to say no . . ."

Tokyo Rose: ... According to union hours, we’re all through today. We close up another chapter of sweet propaganda in the form of music for you, for my dear little orphans wandering in the Pacific. There are plenty of non-union hours coming around the corner, so being see you tomorrow. But in the meanwhile, always remember to be good, and so . . .

"Good-bye now, Good-bye now, Good-bye now, Good-bye
In just a moment . . ."

Source: (U.S.) National Archives and Records Administration, Recorded Sound Division.

Wow... that's just awful. Not.

Here's the song, My Resistance Is Low, by the aforementioned Bonnie Baker and the Orrin Tucker Orchestra from 1940:

Uh... the song lyrics do NOT match the official National Archives documentation lyrics...

The opening lines in the song state: "... But every time you see me, you wanna hold me tight."

While it's true one or two soldiers might have heard the broadcast and felt a bit homesick, but everyone was homesick. I think some soldiers found her annoying, others amusing... amusing at the Japanese attempt to demoralize troops... figuring if they have to stoop to such propaganda, things couldn't be all bad for the Allies. Half full vs. half empty.

Now Toguri wasn't alone as a non-Japanese person coerced to creating Zero Hour.

Her producer was the captured Aussie Army Major Charles Cousens (who had pre-war radio broadcast experience), and assisted by captured U.S. Army Captain Wallace Ince and Philippine Army Lieutenant Normando Idelfonso Reyes.

Toguri says she refused to do the show if there was anti-American propaganda in it, but both Cousens and Ince said they would not write scripts that had her say anything against the U.S.

She said later that she still wanted to get back home to the U.S., but while in Japan she fell in love with and married a Japanese-Puerto Rican man in 1945.

When the war ended in August of 1945, there were the war crimes tribunals for Germany, Italy and Japan. Although there wasn't an official tribunal for the Italians, quite a few were executed by locals.

But... for the woman known as Tokyo Rose, as an American working for Japan, her participation in passing along propaganda was an act of treason.

She actually spent one year in jail before being released owing to a lack of evidence—there were quite a few women who were though to be Tokyo Rose, plus, there was the fact that it appears as though she was coerced in to her role.

But, famed American journalist Walter Winchell wasn't buying any of that. He wanted her brought back to U.S. soil so she could be tried for treason, bringing national attention to Tokyo Rose.

As THE voice of the American media, Winchell's influence helped force the hand of U.S. president Harry Truman, who had her charged with treason and shipped back to the U.S. as a prisoner.

Depending on what source you read, Toguri wanted to come back to have her child on U.S. soil (I believe the child died before birth, however). This is possible, because why would she want to remain in Japan?

On July 5, 1949 (four years after the war), Toguri's U.S. trial opened.

While one might think it prudent that a jury actually hear/read transcripts of what Toguri as Tokyo Rose was supposed to have said on air that was actually blatant treasonous propaganda, none of the broadcast transits were ever seen by the jury.

After much deliberation, Toguri was found guilty of treason and sentenced in September 29, 1949 to imprisonment for 10 years.

Toguri being interviewed by the press in September of 1945.
She served her time, and moved back in with her family in Chicago, living there as a stateless citizen for 20 years until...

U.S. president Gerald Ford wrote an executive pardon for Toguri in 1976, as it was felt that during her trial, pressure was placed upon witnesses to give 'certain' testimony in an effort to seem like an evil treasonous rhymes with witch.

You can check out the declassified FBI documents on Toguri HERE.

American once more, though why after all that she would want to be—it's to her credit that she did not appear bitter—Toguri passed away on September 26, 2006.

And now you know a bit about Tokyo Rose.

Andrew "My Resistance Is Low" Joseph


  1. Sad. She was a victim of circumstance and a Winchell scapegoat. Bad combination. (I'm going to ask the old man if heard the broadcasts during his guerrilla days. I have to imagine he did.)

    1. I would be curious to know if he and the other troops heard a different voice doing the broadcasts, or did they all sound alike to him... also, did he take offense to anything she/they said on air.
      Yes, a sad time when people can pervert justice to suit their own whims. Glad she was able to clear her name, tell her story and become an American once more.