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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Japanese Spy And Pearl Harbor

Hitler said “thank-you” to Yoshikawa Takeo.

Yoshikawa (surname) was a Japanese spy who not only helped Germany destroy many British transport ships on a mission, he played a huge role in helping the Japanese plan out their attack on Pearl Harbor in the months before their attack on the U.S. naval base on Oahu, Hawaii.

Born Yoshikawa Takeo (吉川 猛夫) on March 17, 1914 in Matsuyama-shi, Ehime-ken, after graduating top of his class rom the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy (海軍兵学校 Kaigun Heigakkō situated in Etajima, Hiroshima) in 1933, he was posted aboard the lead armored cruisers Asama for training, along with various submarines.

After beginning training as a naval pilot in 1934 Yoshikawa developed some sort of stomach ailment (ulcers, maybe?) that halted his training, eventually causing his discharge from the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1936.

As a patriot, not being able to serve his country left Yoshikawa despondent and suicidal―but that all changed in 1937.

Working at Navy Headquarters in Tokyo, Yoshikawa became involved in Intelligence work, quickly becoming an expert in all things U.S.Navy, and, of course, studying English. He also immersed himself in Jane’s Fighting Ships―like its yearly reports on aviation, this book was and is the be-all for naval data, including sizes, armaments, personnel, etc. He also memorized the silhouettes of all U.S. ships. 

Yashikawa said: “Since I had been studying English, I was assigned to the sections dealing with the British and American navies. I became the Japanese navy’s expert on the American navy. I read everything; diplomatic reports from our attachés, secret reports from our agents around the world. I read military commentators like [New York Times military affairs editor] Hanson Baldwin. I read history too. Like the works of Mahan, the famous American admiral.”

See, kids? Figure out what you want to do and learn all you can on the subject.

It was while at the Naval intelligence unit that Yashikawa intercepted a shortwave message in early 1940―in non-scrambled English―noting that 17 British troop ships had moved past Freetown, Sierra Leone in west Africa and were sailing back to port in England.

Because Germany was already at war with Great Britain, and Japan was already on friendly terms with the Nazi regime, he passed the information along to the German Embassy in Tokyo.

After the Germans destroyed many of these waylaid British transports, Adolf Hitler sent Yoshikawa a letter of thanks.

Japan, seeing Yoshikawa’s potential decided to send him to send him to Hawaii to do some work there.

Except… he didn’t go as Yoshikawa, he went as Morimura Tadashi (surname first), arriving on March 27, 1941 aboard the Nitta Maru liner at Pier 8 in Oahu, Hawaii.

Described as being of medium height and slim, with long combed back black hair, the 29-year-old Morimura/Yoshikawa had a lei of welcome placed around his shoulders by Japanese Consulate vice-consul Okuda Otojiro, rather than some sexy Hawaiian babe in a grass skirt.

After a visit to the consulate, Morimura/Yoshikawa talked to consul general Kita Nagao (surname first), who made introductions around the place, explaining that he was the new chancellor―a cover, of course, known only by Morimura/Yoshikawa, Kita and Okuda.

Japan Consulate General in Honolulu (today).
At that time, Hawaii was home to some 160,000 people of Japanese descent, and despite Hawaii being a protectorate nation under the United States and still its own country, it was incredibly easy for Morimura/Yoshikawa to blend in to do his real work as a spy.

Now, you might think that with so many people of Japanese-origin then living in Hawaii, it would have been easy for Morimura/Yoshikawa to coerce the locals for information, but he says that the “men of influence and character who might have assisted me in my secret mission were unanimously uncooperative.” (Takeo Yoshikawa and Norman Stanford (December 1960). "Top Secret Assignment". U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.) 

So… he couldn’t find anyone willing to do his dirty work for him. He pretty much did it all himself.

I say pretty much, because it is known that we did work alongside Bernard Kuehn of German military intelligence group the Abwehr, as well as Seki Kokichi (surname first) who worked as the Japanese consulate treasurer who doubled as an untrained spy.

After being supplied with a second-story apartment over looking Pearl Harbor,  Morimura/Yoshikawa began scouting the island of Oahu making notes of the U.S. Navy’s fleet movements, as well as its security measures.

He even rented small airplanes from the local John Ridgers Airport and flew around the island to check out U.S. installations.

Did you know he even went swimming in Pearl Harbor’s harbor, using a hollow reed as a breathing device?

While Morimura/Yoshikawa did not know of any upcoming plans to attack Pearl Harbor, he still sent his reports to Japan’s Foreign Ministry and then to the Imperial Navy via the Purple encoding machine (see HERE) from the consulate… because you never know. 

Japan didn’t know, however, that the U.S. had broken the Purple code, and thus knew what was going on, but the communications between the consulate and Tokyo were still considered unimportant because none seemed to be dangerous.

But they should have been.

One message sent and intercepted on September 2, 1941 from Tokyo to the consulate asked for the location and number of warships in five distinct sectors of Pearl Harbor ( a grid).

Wow… so the U.S. knew all about the Japanese thinking about doing something nefarious as early as three months before Japan’s so-called surprise attack.

Except they didn’t know.

Despite the rest of the world being at war, the U.S. wasn’t at this time.

There were staff shortages, and other files deemed more important to decrypt that this message sent to Kita, and thus to Morimura/Yoshikawa, wasn’t actually decoded until the middle of October.

Great, so there’s still two months of advanced warning, right?

Uh… no. The message was seen as unimportant… who cares if Tokyo was asking for details on where it keeps its ships at Pearl Harbor.

Now… you might have though that the September 2, 1941 message request was just a one-off… maybe it was… but Morimura/Yoshikawa was sending twice-weekly reports back to Japan.

It was this information that Japanese Imperial Navy admiral Yamamoto Isoroku utilized to finalize his plans to attack the U.S. military installation at Pearl Harbor.

To protect their  spy, Japan sent out a code phrase within a shortwave news broadcast from Tokyo: “East win, rain”.

Whether Morimura/Yoshikawa knew that meant attack was imminent, he did mean he was supposed to destroy all evidence of what he had been up to.

On December 7, 1941 when waves of Japanese aircraft launched from aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean bombed the crap out of Pearl Harbor, its fleet and navy personnel, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) stopped by Morimura/Yoshikawa’s place to have a chat—but found nothing incriminating at his residence, or upon his person.

They let him go, without charging him—though I doubt they could have considering he would have had diplomatic immunity.

A very detailed map of Pearl Harbor and locations of its fleet, found in a captured midget Japanese submarine shortly after the attack.
Morimura/Yoshikawa stayed in Oahu until August of 1942, when he was part of a diplomat prisoner exchange with Japan.

Morimura/Yoshikawa continued to work for Japan’s naval intelligence office throughout the war, but no special mention was ever made for the unfortunately great spywork he had done and provided. He married upon his return home.

While no one in the U.S. was aware of his role in the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the war ended and U.S. forces began to occupy Japan, Morimura/Yoshikawa went into hiding—leaving his wife—for fear he would be recognized and punished for his role leading up to the U.S. inclusion in WWII.

Hiding out as a Buddhist monk in the countryside, Morimura/Yoshikawa only returned to his wife and two kids when the U.S. occupation ended on April 28, 1952. Now that was a patient wife.

By 1955, he opened up a candy business, but after rumors spread about his true role in Japan’s embarrassing war, the business quickly failed. Japanese people blamed him for the war… for their son’s and daughters having died… lives lost.

Says Yoshikawa: “They even blamed me for the atomic bomb.”

However, his role as a spy was not revealed to the U.S. until 1960. He was, by then, angry and bitter with Japan. He was broke and had to rely on the wife’s selling of insurance, as the Japanese government did not provide him with a pension, let alone any honors.

I’m unsure what was worse for him.

Knowing he was on the losing side of a war?

His country not looking after one who was dedicated to it helping give it THE major advantage in the war? Apparently when he went to apply for a pension, he was told they had never heard of him. When he explained he had been a spy working in Hawaii, he was simply informed that Japan had never spied on anyone.  

His wife having to be the breadwinner.


While Yoshikawa believed that only his wife showed him the proper respect as a hero of Japan, he did in a nursing home still bitter and still without any money, on February 20, 1993 at the age of 78.

Andrew Joseph


  1. One the one hand, he was responsible for massive loss of life when his country wasn't at war and then helped kick off a brutal campaign in the Pacific. On the other, he did his duty as a diplomat/spy correctly and cleanly.

    1. That pretty much sums up my feelings on the guy. I do think it's sad that even while the U.S. was highly suspect of Japan prior to Pearl Harbor, things were missed due to manpower shortages or someone looking at a piece of paper and making an instantaneous decision that whatever was on it wasn't important.
      I think the world is beginning to catch on, and people take every bit of data seriously with a plethora of analysts we can only hope are all properly trained.