Monday, January 26, 2015

The Story of Tokyo Rose

 A multitude of Tokyo Roses in Miwa Yanagi's Zero Hour. (c) Naoshi Hatori 

Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Japan Society launches its Stories from the War programming series this week with Miwa Yanagi's Zero Hour, a theatrical retelling of the legend of Tokyo Rose. Hayley Valk, a recent intern for Japan Society's Performing Arts Program, reports from Frederick P. Close's seminal book on the subject, Tokyo Rose / An American Patriot: A Dual Biography (Scarecrow, 2010).

Born on the Fourth of July

An immigrant to Los Angeles from Yamanashi Prefecture, Jun Toguri was overjoyed when his daughter Iva was born on Independence Day, 1916. Iva was American through and through – she loved baseball, had no taste for Japanese music but loved Big Band, and her extroverted personality won her many Caucasian friends but clashed with her father’s conservative Japanese style. Her childhood was spent in various cities in Southern California, as her father moved through the import-export business and eventually came to own grocery stores. Iva graduated with a degree in zoology from UCLA, but without many career prospects due to her gender and Japanese heritage.

In June 1941, Iva’s aunt fell ill in Tokyo. Since Iva’s mother Fumi also suffered from failing health, Iva decided to pay a visit in her place and travel to Japan for the first time. She boarded a ship with her friend Chiyeko Ito, not knowing that she wouldn’t return to the U.S. for another seven years.

An American in Tokyo

Six months after arriving in Tokyo, Iva heard the shocking news: Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. She struggled to book passage on a ship leaving the country but, without the appropriate passport or funds, was stranded. The police regularly came knocking at her door to harass Iva and convince her to renounce her U.S. citizenship, but she refused again and again. Though she lived with her aunt for a time, this unyielding support of the enemy made Iva’s relatives and neighbors uncomfortable and in time resentful, and she ultimately decided to move into a boarding house found with the help of her Japanese language school. Meanwhile, her family back home had been interned.

Realizing that she would have to make her own way in Japan for some time to come, Iva continued learning Japanese, improving on the very little knowledge she possessed before arriving in Japan. She found several small jobs in these years, transcribing English for Domei News Agency, teaching piano to children from wealthy families, and doing office work for the Danish Minister. As Japan struggled in a time of severe rationing, Iva actively traded on the black market and smuggled goods to POWs, saving Allied lives. Finally, she began part-time work as a typist at Radio Tokyo.

Zero Hour

Early in Japan’s propaganda effort, three English-speaking POWs with broadcasting experience were brought to Radio Tokyo to develop programming. Charles Cousens, Ted Ince, and Norman Reyes were forced by the Japanese government to oversee an hour-long radio show called Zero Hour, containing music, skits, censored news, and POW messages. They searched for a female broadcaster to introduce the jazz music segments and deliver short scripted announcements, and came across typist Iva Toguri; fluent in English and with a raspy, unalluring voice, she was exactly what the program needed. Facing government threats, she was given little choice but to accept the position.

As the primary of multiple women broadcasting for Zero Hour, Iva became established under the identity “Orphan Ann.” She could sympathize with the stranded GIs as she greeted them, “my fellow orphans in the Pacific.” Though these comments ostensibly served the Japanese government’s objective of weakening the Allied forces’ morale, the POWs carefully scripted the show to subvert the negativity in favor of cleverly-worded encouragement. The preserved records of Iva’s Zero Hour broadcasts reveal that, in fact, she did little more than entertain GI listeners and announce the upcoming music selections.

Will the Real Tokyo Rose Please Stand Up?

Meanwhile, from very early in the war talk was flying about a radio personality known only as “Tokyo Rose.” According to GIs in the Pacific, Tokyo Rose was famous for demoralizing comments, rumors of unfaithful girlfriends back home, and leaking military secrets. She was described as a seductress with an English accent. Impossible to pin on any one broadcaster, the name was attributed in rumors to other broadcasters such as Radio Manilla’s Myrtle Lipton or even to Amelia Earhart. The popularity of the Tokyo Rose legend became so widespread that she was even common vocabulary back in the U.S., encouraged by movies, cartoons, and articles.

To this day, no records exist of any broadcaster introducing herself as “Tokyo Rose” on the air. Furthermore, no one woman’s voice or broadcast contents perfectly match all the myriad qualities and statements attributed to her. With the information available at this point, it is safe to say that no single Tokyo Rose ever existed. Rather, she existed as an amalgamation of various broadcasters born to fill a void in the GIs lives left by homesickness, hopelessness, and sexual frustration. A figment of collective imagination, she became all too real when successively propagated by GIs and the media.

Suspect Treason

Given these facts, the next mystery is why Iva Toguri ever claimed to be the “one and original ‘Tokyo Rose’” in the confusion that followed the war. Possibly out of a desire for the money to return home or the promise of fame, or perhaps just out of ignorance, Iva quickly dug herself into a hole she couldn’t escape from. After being promised $2,000 for the first interview as “Tokyo Rose,” Iva agreed to give many more, and signed her name over and over as “Iva Toguri/Tokyo Rose," which would cause her trouble for years to come.

On October 17, 1945, Iva entered Sugamo Prison under suspicion of treason against the U.S. Facing entirely false and fabricated accusations, Iva was treated far worse by her home government than by even the Japanese military government during the war. She was alternately confirmed as a U.S. citizen and therefore capable of treason, and denied the benefits of U.S. citizenship under the false accusation that she had renounced it in favor of the Portuguese citizenship she acquired after marrying Phil d’Aquino in her Radio Tokyo years. After a year in jail full of painful investigations, a lack of substantial evidence led the CIC and FBI to drop the case, and Iva walked out of Sugamo on October 25, 1946.

In response to civilian outrage towards Iva’s release spurred by Walter Winchell’s U.S. radio show, the Truman administration sought to save face and not appear too easy on traitors. The FBI reopened the case with an open call for witnesses. The witness testimonies were censored to make the strongest case against Iva, and she was returned to Sugamo and slated to return to the U.S. for further investigation. Because her case would be under the jurisdiction of the location she first set foot on U.S. soil, her destination was set for San Francisco, where she would be likely to encounter the greatest opposition. In 1948, after seven years abroad, Iva was reunited with her father in her home country.

Iva Toguri's Sugamo mugshot. Via

The United States v. Iva Toguri

Thanks to Jun, Iva was grateful to finally have legal representation from Wayne Collins, yet was still forced to spend almost two years in jail before and during the trial without having been convicted. She was charged with eight overt acts of treason, so vague they proved no anti-U.S. crimes in and of themselves. In desperate prosecution, Thomas DeWolfe and the U.S. government went so far as to bribe and coach witnesses, spend exorbitantly to secure testimonies, sabotage the defense, destroy records, and exclude all minorities from the jury.

The deceitful actions of the U.S. government only worked to confirm the verdict of a trial that was doomed at the core. The question was never, “Did Iva Toguri commit treason?” but instead, “Is Iva Toguri truly Tokyo Rose?”, Tokyo Rose automatically assumed a guilty identity. The eight overt acts of treason were ambiguously worded and lacked concrete evidence on either side. The judge eliminated the possibility of duress and, left merely with speculations of Iva’s intention, the jury found her guilty of one overt act: “speaking into the microphone concerning the loss of ships.” After 12 weeks, 800,000 words of testimony, and $500,000 prosecution (if not five or ten times more), Iva Toguri was sentenced on October 6, 1949 to a $10,000 fine and 10 years in prison.

“Pardon me, Iva”

Iva stayed busy during her next six years in Alderson Federal Reformatory for Women. She learned and worked in coding, medicine, and dentistry, and spent free time reading and making bags and other crafts to sell. She was well-liked for her poise and generosity, and developed strong relationships with her inmates and guards.

During her time in prison, Collins attempted to appeal the court’s decision and applied to President Eisenhower for a pardon, to no avail. The day before Iva was to be released from prison, she was informed that she would be deported and forcibly expatriated for treason. On January 28, 1956 Iva left Alderson, but, rather than join her family in Chicago, had to stay in California for two and half years before the effort to deport her was dropped.

Iva returned to Chicago and lived quietly until 1973, when unexpectedly a Boston pediatrician named Dr. Clifford Uyeda read a dissertation about her trial and resolved to achieve a pardon. He spearheaded an action committee with the support of the Japanese American Citizens League, scholars, and politicians. Journalists took up the subject anew, finally acquiring truthful statements from the witnesses that had been coerced by the prosecution. GIs and the state of California even supported the effort. Finally, on January 19, 1977, Iva Toguri was overjoyed to receive word that Gerald Ford, on the final day of his presidency, had pardoned her for the charges pressed thirty years earlier.


Iva lived the rest of her life in Chicago, grateful to have finally secured her U.S. citizenship. She managed her father’s business until her final years, and spent time visiting friends across the U.S. and supporting the arts. Though memories of the war influenced the rest of her years, Iva was never bitter about what had passed. She died of a stroke at home on September 26, 2006, at age 90. Still, the legends of Orphan Ann and Tokyo Rose live on.

--Hayley Valk

Hayley Valk is a junior at Barnard College majoring in East Asian Cultures with a focus on Japan. She has also worked as Stage Manager/Producer for numerous student theater productions at Columbia University. Hayley interned at Japan Society in the Performing Arts Department from Fall 2013 through Summer 2014. She is currently studying abroad in Kyoto, Japan under the KCJS: Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies program housed at Doshisha University and recently volunteered for the Kyoto Experiment International Performing Arts Festival.


Unknown said...

Thanks, Haley, for your blog post. Having seen "Zero Hour" at the Society, I thought perhaps there were four "Roses." But as you point out, no one knows how many there were or why Toguri assumed for herself the mantle of "Tokyo Rose." A sad story of injustice, but at least it had a happy ending.

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