History Thread: The Making of Tokyo Rose

On August 30, 1945 two American war corespondents entered Tokyo. The Second World War still hadn’t formally ended – Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s surrender two days later – but Clark Lee of International News Service and Harry Brundidge of Cosmopolitan wasted no time scouring the devastated enemy capital for stories. Lee had covered the Allied landings at Guadalcanal, Sicily and Normandy and flown in B-29 raids over Tokyo; Brundidge, a former crime reporter from St. Louis, trafficked in sensational stories for the Hearst papers. Together they formed a pact, in Brundidge’s words, to uncover “the hottest story in Japan today…Who is Tokyo Rose?”

It was, indeed, an exciting prospect. “Tokyo Rose” was the nickname Marines and GIs in the Pacific gave to a Japanese lady who’d regularly greeted them over the airwaves. Her Radio Tokyo broadcast, The Zero Hour, offered a combination of popular music and cheeky jibes aimed at American servicemen. “This is your little playmate…I mean, your bitter enemy,” one widely heard program began, “with a program of dangerous and wicked propaganda for my victims in Australia and the South Pacific. Stand by, you unlucky creatures, here I go!”

Clark Lee

Rose took on an outsize importance, considering that GIs considered her “a source of amusement” with “no serious effects on the morale of…servicemen.” American intelligence officers listened intently to The Zero Hour; George Putnam, Amelia Earhart’s husband, scoured recordings to debunk rumors that Rose was actually the missing aviatrix. Mostly, however, Americans imagined her as a wicked Oriental seductress tempting GIs; both fantasy girlfriend and femme fatale, Rita Hayworth as the Dragon Lady. This phantasm fit the racial mythology of the Pacific War; as fighting ended, unmasking her seemed irresistible.

Of course, unmasking her posed many difficulties. For one, those paying attention noticed that not one, but up to a dozen women performed on Radio Tokyo. Their voices varied widely in pitch (one was described as “lilting,” another as deep and husky), accent (from American to Canadian and even British) and fluency in English; their messages, from flirtatious banter to demoralizing taunts. For that matter these broadcasters, while adopting playful monikers like Orphan Annie and The Nightingale of Nanjing, never called themselves Tokyo Rose. The Office of War Information, several days before Lee and Brundidge’s arrival, concluded that “there is no Tokyo Rose; the name is strictly a GI invention.”

Which didn’t discourage Lee and Brundidge from seeking her out. Driving around Tokyo in a beat-up Plymouth, they contacted Japanese friends and reporters for information about Rose, offering a Hawaiian-born journalist, Leslie Nakashima, $500 for information. Nakahsima in turn contacted Kenkichi Oki, a producer at Radio Tokyo who confirmed the OWI’s conclusion that Zero Hour was the product of several women, none of them named Tokyo Rose. Badgered by Nakahisma and hoping to shield his wife, also a broadcaster, from suspicion, Oki offered the name of an American-born broadcaster named Iva Toguri d’Aquino.

Iva Toguri d’Aquino

When the reporters contacted Toguri, she was living in a tiny Tokyo apartment, isolated from her neighbors due to her American sympathies. Eeking out a living as a typist, she hoped to return to Los Angeles with her Portuguese husband, Felipe d’Aquino, as soon as possible. Toguri initially refused to meet Lee and Brundidge, reiterating yet again that she was but one broadcaster of many and that she had no interest in fame. Again, cash won the day; the Americans offered her $2,000 if she’d meet them at the Imperial Hotel to tell her story.

In postwar Japan, this was no small amount of money – particularly for a woman who’d been making the equivalent of $7/month in her current job. Toguri, thinking the interview would cost nothing more than some fleeting publicity, finally agreed. Unfortunately, Yasuhide Kawashima writes, Lee and Brundidge were “the worst kind of journalists…Fame-driven, selfish and ruthless go-getters, who had no professional integrity.” They were less interested in the truth than selling a story. Together, with the connivance of the United States government, they transformed a victim of circumstance into a monstrous traitor.

On September 1st, Toguri appeared at the hotel wearing “slacks, a blouse, and a leather jacket, and…her hair in pigtails.” Her appearance disappointed the reporters: Lee found her “by no stretch of the imagination a siren,” while Brundidge pronounced her “unattractive, even for a Japanese woman.” For her part, Toguri was disconcerted to find the correspondents wearing military uniform. Before the interview commenced, Brundidge handed her a contract which identified Toguri as “the one and original Tokyo Rose” who had “no feminine assistants or substitutes.” After signing the contract, Toguri related her story to Lee and Brundidge.

Iva with her father, Jun Toguri

Born in Los Angeles in 1916, Toguri was the daughter of Japanese immigrants (issei). She enjoyed a fairly mundane childhood: she attended grammar schools and a Methodist Church, served as a Girl Scout and graduated from UCLA with a degree in Zoology. In summer of 1941, just before her twenty-fifth birthday, she learned that her aunt Shizu, living in Tokyo, had fallen seriously ill with complications from diabetes. Her parents, unable to travel abroad, asked Iva to go in their place; her father arranged for a certificate of identification rather than a formal passport. So on July 5th, 1941, with suitcases full of medicine and gifts, $300 for a return ticket and a younger friend, she sailed from San Pedro to Yokohama – the last time she’d see America for seven years.

Toguri, a fully-assimilated nisei, found life in Japan a disorienting experience. Despite her relatives’ friendliness and hospitality, she spoke little Japanese and read even less, relying on a cousin to act as interpreter and enrolling in language courses at a school in Shiba-ku. Growing tensions between the US and Japan, from America’s oil embargo to the rise of hard-line Premier Hideki Tojo, further complicated her visit. Toguri, who’d received a six-month visa upon arrival, tried to secure a passport from the US Embassy but her request became snarled in red tape.

Writing to her parents in October, Toguri vented her frustrations. She disliked Japanese food (“eating rice three times a day…is killing me”) and, with her low funds, was forced to subsist on her Uncle and Aunt’s generosity. She continued to struggle with the language and was disconcerted by rumors of war with the United States. She advised her siblings to “never think of coming to Japan,” instead “to live and die in [America] which can give you so much.” Nonetheless, she tried to remain positive, assuring her parents that “it’s been very hard and discouraging…but from now on it will be alright, I’m sure.”

Hideki Tojo

Unfortunately, by November 1941 war seemed inevitable: Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, issued an ultimatum demanding that Japan withdraw from China and southeast Asia. This, in turn, led Japan to hasten their military preparations. A panicked Toguri phoned her father for assistance coming home, the Embassy having never processed her passport request. Her father arranged for a ticket on a steamer; this time, however, the Japanese government blocked her passage, and the ship sailed without her. Like 10,000 other Japanese-Americans then in Tokyo, Toguri became trapped by events beyond her control.

Pearl Harbor came, and Toguri found herself an enemy alien. She was interrogated by the Kempeitai, Japan’s secret police, who demanded that she renounce her American citizenship or life would become “very, very inconvenient.” She refused, and the Kempeitai made good on their threat. Toguri was placed under constant surveillance, her movements restricted and shadowed by policemen. Denied a ration card, she suffered from malnutrition, developing beri beri and scurvy which forced her hospitalization and prevented her from working. Sensing distrust from her relatives, Toguri moved into a boarding house where she scrounged on food from her landlord.

In August 1943, one of Toguri’s fellow tenants helped her find work at Radio Tokyo as a typist, transcribing English-language broadcasts for the government. It was a meager job (only 100 yen, or about $20, per month) but better than nothing. There Toguri heard stories of Japanese internment camps in America, which she initially refused to believe…until the Red Cross confirmed that her parents had been relocated to the Tulare Assembly Center in California, where her mother died. Still, Toguri retained faith in her homeland: she risked arrest by telling her physician that “Japan would lose the war.”

Radio Tokyo

Toguri discovered that she wasn’t the only foreigner at Radio Tokyo. She befriended Ruth S. Hayakawa, who had lived for several years in the United States, who in turn revealed that several Allied prisoners of war worked for the station. Among them were Major Charles Cousens, an Australian newscaster trapped by the fall of Singapore; Captain Ted Ince, an American captured at Corregidor; and Lieutenant Norman Reyes, a Filipino disc jockey. Through these men, Toguri sent food, clothes and tobacco to other Allied POWs interned at the nearby Bunka POW camp.

Cousens, in particular, took a shine to Toguri. The two frequently chatted about their work and prewar lives; Cousens often discussed his broadcasting work, while Toguri, a loyal UCLA Bruin, regaled her baffled friend with enthusiastic recaps of American football games. “She was very friendly,” the Australian recalled, “so much so that we were very suspicious. But by October we knew that we were on safe ground.”

So assured, Cousens started venting about his supervisor, Major Shigetsugu Tsuneishi. Depending on the source, Tsuneishi was either a harsh taskmaster or a reasonably fair boss who treated his foreign employees as well as wartime strictures allowed. However, he lacked any broadcasting experience, which complicated his role as director of Radio Tokyo. This, however, worked to Cousens’ advantage: he turned his program to a “complete burlesque” that ridiculed any efforts at propaganda, apparently without Tsuneishi noticing.

Charles Cousens

Soon after, Toguri’s supervisor Shiegeshika Takano assigned her to work for Cousens. Toguri resisted, noting that “I don’t know the first thing about radio”; Takano responded by threatening the American, warning her about “what will happen if you don’t do it.” To her inexperience, Cousens assured his friend that “we don’t want an experienced announcer” but “a little touch of WAC officer and a lot of cheer.” Despite skepticism from their colleagues (“why did you go and choose a peasant like Iva?” complained another broadcaster), Toguri began broadcasting on Zero Hour in November 1943.

Toguri’s performances, which aired at 7:15 pm Tokyo Time, were relatively straightforward, delivered in her deep, “gin-fog voice” hardly befitting a Japanese Mata Hari. Essentially she served as a disc jockey, playing a mixture of big band tunes, popular songs and occasionally classical music. She would introduce songs with wry, bantering commentary. She called herself “Orphan Ann,” supposedly because her script shortened “Announcer” to “Ann.”, and referred to American troops as “honorable boneheads” and “Orphans of the Pacific”; late in the war, she called them “fighting GIs” with undisguised admiration.

“Ann’s” broadcasts were, indeed, so innocuous that it’s hard to construe them as propaganda, let alone treasonous. They’re a conscious emulation of American DJs, sprinkled with saucy humor and friendly jibes. Perhaps they weren’t the subversive “burlesque” that Cousens envisioned, but neither were they anti-American. Occasionally Toguri’s sympathies showed, not only in her “fighting GIs” comments but by reading mail from Allied POWs. At least one American listener, correspondent Rex B. Gunn, recognized the game Toguri and Cousens were playing: “There was a consistent undertone of friendship, projecting herself as one of her listeners.”

Iva recreates her wartime broadcasts for a 1946 documentary

Other women hewed closer to the Tokyo Rose of myth. There was June Yoshie Suyama, the Canadian issei who regaled listeners in China as “the Nightingale of Nanjing” (though she typically broadcast in Japanese, and only occasionally in English); Margaret Yaeko Kato, a London-born nisei with a pronounced English accent; Mieko Furuya, another American who often substituted for Iva; or Toguri’s friend Ruth Hayakawa, a news broadcaster. Most of their work, however, was easily distinguished from Toguri’s; their English broadcasts were sloppily translated from Japanese, riddled with transparent propaganda and grammatical errors, whereas Toguri and Cousens’ scripts were fluent, friendly and familiar.

By November 1944, Toguri began appearing on air less and less frequently. She balked as superiors pressed her to include propaganda in her broadcasts (“Who do these people think they’re kidding?” she wondered, listening to a General’s gung-ho briefing). She took leave to visit friends and POWs: in March 1945 she married Felipe d’Aquino, a businessman with dual citizenship in Japan and Portugal, and began working at the Danish consulate. Japanese authorities became suspicious of her; Katsuo Okada, a Sergeant with the Kempeitai, threatened to arrest her for “her habit of saying Japan would lose the war.” Still, she escaped arrest even after Radio Tokyo was shut down in August 1945.

This wasn’t the story Clark Lee and Harry Brundidge told. Five days after interviewing Toguri, Lee filed an article with the Los Angeles Examiner headlined “TRAITOR’S PAY: TOKYO ROSE GOT 100 YEN A MONTH.” Lee identified Toguri as “the one and only Tokyo Rose,” attributing to her false statements that she knowingly broadcast anti-American propaganda. Brundidge went even further, presenting his notes to a military officer with the flat declaration that “she’s a traitor and here’s her confession.” As a final insult, the journalists never paid Toguri the promised $2,000.

Harry Brundidge

At the Army’s behest, Toguri held a press conference. The bewildered woman assured reporters that “I didn’t think I was doing anything disloyal to America” and repudiated Lee and Brundidge’s slanders. Arrested by military police, she was interned in a hotel in Yokohama where another reporter, Dale Kramer of Yank magazine, interviewed her. Kramer was far more sympathetic to Toguri, printing detailed accounts of her broadcasts and noting that American and Australian intelligence officers, comparing her voice to the mythic “Tokyo Rose,” denied that Toguri was her.

Nonetheless, Toguri spent twelve months in Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison, alongside Hideki Tojo and other war criminals. She was “never informed of the charges against her,” an historian writes, “denied legal counsel…[and] a speedy trial” and separated from her family. Army intelligence and FBI agents interrogated her constantly; her husband was allowed only infrequent visits, and her American family could only contact her through the Red Cross. Perhaps the ultimate indignity came in July 1946, when a team of congressmen visited the prison. Toguri was taking a shower when she noticed her distinguished guests “sticking their noses through the door.”

Despite these violations of her rights and dignity, Toguri was released in October 1946. The Justice Department finally satisfied themselves that “evidence [is] adequate” and recommended a “treason prosecution be declined.” Assistant Attorney General Theron L. Caudle wrote Attorney General Tom Clark that “her activities consisted of nothing more than the announcing of musical selections.” Yet another official, Thomas DeWolfe, lambasted Lee and Brundidge’s unethical treatment of Toguri and labeled her broadcasts “totally innocuous.”

Tom Clark

Toguri tried rebuilding her life, moving back in with her husband and becoming pregnant with their first child. The State Department responded positively to her request for an American passport; she wanted her child to be born in the United States, she said. Yet this ignited a firestorm: Los Angeles’s City Council passed a resolution opposing her return, while the American Legion and the Native Sons of the Golden West (whose president, during the 1920s debate over immigration policy, vowed that “California was given by God to a white people, and with God’s strength we want to keep it as He gave it to us”) agitated for her prosecution.

More powerful were the complaints of Walter Winchell, the columnist and radio broadcaster. Winchell had heroically exposed fascist groups like the German-American Bund in the ’30s and ’40s; perhaps this reflexive anti-fascism accounted for his excess of zeal. Perhaps there was truth to his claim that the mother of a GI killed in action convinced him to attack Tokyo Rose. Possibly it was his friendships with J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy, who during the Red Scare gave weight to the flimsiest treason accusations. Or perhaps, as Stanley Kutler supposes, Winchell’s “monumental dose of vanity and a swollen ego” demanded that he take center stage.

Regardless, in January 1948 Winchell excoriated Harry Truman for peopling his cabinet with “Emperor-lovers and friends of the Zaibatsu” who refused to prosecute Toguri. This was an incredible characterization of the man who’d obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs. And of his Attorney General, Tom Clark, who had overseen wartime internment of Japanese-Americans. But 1948 was an election year and Truman, facing heat over the escalating Cold War and the Alger Hiss case, felt little compunction to resist.

Walter Winchell

Clark now assured the press that he’d consider reopening the case against Toguri if they could procure two witnesses to corroborate her treason. Here again, Harry Brundidge entered the picture. Smarting that Cosmopolitan rejected his article about Toguri, and that Winchell and others had stolen the story, he made Hoover an irresistible offer. “Give me five days in Tokyo,” he told the FBI Director, “and I will get the signature” of Iva Toguri. He proved as good as his word, meeting Toguri in March and tricking her into signing another confession.

Despite the continued protests of Justice Department officials, Toguri was rearrested in August 1948. Her infant child had recently died, and Toguri was in no condition to defend herself. The following month, US Marshals escorted her to San Francisco, where she was formally indicted for eight overt acts of treason. Thomas DeWolfe, who’d earlier criticized efforts to prosecute Toguri, became the prosecutor. Toguri enlisted Wayne M. Collins, recently the defender of Fred Korematsu, as her attorney.

That the odds were stacked against Toguri became obvious. DeWolfe blocked Collins’ efforts to change the trial’s venue and objected to seven prospective jurors, all of them black, Asian or Hispanic, on the grounds that they’d be prejudiced in Toguri’s favor. The Judge assigned to the case, Michael Cochrane, further denied Collins’ right to subpoena witnesses. He had no problem allowing DeWolfe to subpoena Toguri’s Japanese colleagues: although Ruth Hayakawa and others refused to sell out their friend, not all were so scrupulous.

Iva and Wayne M. Collins

The trial, which began in July 1949, proved predictable. DeWolfe presented the testimony of two Radio Tokyo employees, George Mitsushio and Kenkichi Oki, that Toguri had broadcast not only records but overt propaganda. They claimed Toguri had threatened American Marines with death, recited Allied shipping losses and joked that soldiers’ wives were cheating on them (these appear to have been culled from broadcasts by Hayakawa and others). Most damning was a claim that “Orphan Ann” cheered the losses of American ships at the October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. “You really are orphans now,” Toguri reportedly gloated, “how do you think you will ever get home?”

Wayne Collins scored points during his cross examination of these witnesses. He humiliated Mitsushio, himself a nisei, by asking him to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which he failed to do. More substantially, Collins noted that there was no transcript of this alleged broadcast; that the two men’s testimony was almost identical; that they had been approached by Harry Bundridge before the trial and possibly offered money to testify. “Are you a man or a parrot?” he asked Oki at one point. Even Judge Roche showed his disdain, asking DeWolfe “where in the world [you] got witnesses like these two?”

Collins’ efforts, and testimony of friendly witnesses like Charles Cousens (himself indicted for treason in Australia), weren’t enough. When the jury originally reached a hung verdict, Judge Roche reproached them that “the trial has been long and expensive for both the prosecution and the defense” and that the case “must be disposed of sometime.” Thus chastened, the jury agreed to reconsider; they found Toguri guilty on a single overt act, that Toguri “did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships.” She was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

Iva in prison

Toguri was remanded to Alderson Prison in West Virginia, serving her sentence quietly while her family lobbied for her release. Her husband wasn’t allowed to visit her and eventually left Iva; her brother Fred fought for clemency. Iva busied herself as a medical assistant in the prison hospital, and spent free time playing bridge. Among her partners was Mildred Gillars, the Maine woman who’d been indicted as “Axis Sally,” issuing propaganda broadcasts for the Nazis far more inflammatory than Toguri’s. Toguri admitted that after her wartime ordeal, the trial and the monstrous publicity, “I appreciated the time to myself.”

Despite continued outcry in the press (Newsweek said that Toguri “stuck a knife into the USA”), Toguri was released in January 1956. She relocated to Chicago where she lived with Fred. Asked if she’d leave the country, she indignantly responded that “I was born [in America]. I belong here. I’m going to stay.” She took pride in the words of her father Jun, who told her that “you were like a tiger – you never changed her stripes.” Iva mostly remained out of the public eye for the next few decades, occasionally contacted by journalists, more often harassed by Justice Department officials demanding that she pay the remainder of her $10,000 fine.

Vindicated: Morley Safer’s 60 Minutes segment

As memory of the war’s racial animosity faded, press coverage of Toguri grew more sympathetic. Ronald Yates of the Chicago Tribune worked longest and hardest to clear her. In 1976 he tracked down Kenkichi Oki, forcing him to admit that “the FBI and US occupation police told us we would have to testify against Iva or else Uncle Sam might arrange a trial for us too – or worse.” His reporting led to a segment on 60 Minutes, where Morley Safer interviewed Toguri on camera to recount her ordeal and confirm her innocence. The following year, following a public outcry led by Japanese-American politicians S.I. Hayakawa and Daniel Inouye, Gerald Ford pardoned Toguri.

Toguri spent the rest of her life ducking the spotlight. She died quietly in 2006, still living in Chicago with her family, having never remarried. You can either sit in a room and feel sorry for yourself or you can go outside and look ahead. I’ve tried to look ahead,” she told one interviewer.
“I try to forget the past and live with an eye to the future, trying to make a new life for myself while I forget the old one…I believe in what I did. I have no regrets, and I don’t hate anyone for what happened.”

There were many villains in the story of “Tokyo Rose,” few heroes, and one decided victim. Iva Toguri d’Aquino became a potent symbol of Japanese perfidy, even though she was at worst an unwitting tool of an oppressive regime. Tossed about by two governments and a sensationalist press, manipulated by men far craftier and more powerful than her, Toguri nonetheless maintained her dignity and strength. She remains admirable, even if the story surrounding her is sordid.

Sources and Further Reading

This article draws upon: Masayo Duus, Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific (1979); Russell Warren Howe, The Hunt for Tokyo Rose (1990); Yasuhide Kawashima, The Tokyo Rose Case: Treason on Trial (2013); and Stanley I. Kutler, The American Inquisition: Justice and Injustice in the Cold War (1982).