Tokyo Rose Biography

Iva Toguri, more commonly known as Tokyo Rose, (1916–2006) was the first woman in the United States to be tried and convicted for treason. American prosecutors accused her of being "Tokyo Rose," an infamous Japanese-American radio personality who broadcast Japanese propaganda intended to demoralize American troops stationed in the Pacific during World War II.

Although Toguri did indeed work for Radio Tokyo during the war, her profession was by circumstance rather than by choice, and her later prosecution has come to be viewed as persecution. Charged with eight counts of treason, she was convicted in 1949 on only one count and was sentenced to ten years in prison. She was found guilty despite the fact that no written or recorded evidence existed to prove her guilt. Throughout her highly publicized trial, and in subsequent years, she adamantly proclaimed her innocence as well as her loyalty to the United States. She eventually received a presidential pardon.

Ironically enough, accused traitor Iva Toguri was born on the fourth of July, specifically on July 4, 1916. Born in Los Angeles, California, she was the second of four children of Jun and Fumi Toguri, Japanese immigrants who operated a small import business.

Though she was a nisei, a Japanese term that indicates the first generation born to parents who have left Japan, Toguri's childhood reflected the typical middle-American experience. She was popular in school, attended church, became a Girl Scout, played on the high school tennis team, took piano lessons, and enjoyed hiking. She liked to listen to swing music and popular radio programs such as "The Shadow" and "Little Orphan Annie."

Her father wanted his family to become as Americanized as possible. He discouraged his children from learning to speak or write Japanese. Intent on having his family assimilate into the American culture, he even forbade his offspring to use chopsticks. The Toguri children were raised as Methodists and grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, enjoying a comfortable middle income lifestyle. Iva Toguri flourished under her father's influence. A caring child, she took care of her mother, who was disabled by diabetes. She was also responsible and mature. After high school Toguri attended Compton Junior College and then entered the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), graduating in 1941 with a bachelor's degree in zoology and ambitions of practicing medicine.

Became Stranded in Japan

Toguri's trajectory toward negative notoriety began in 1941. That year her family learned that a relative in Japan, her Aunt Shizu, was seriously ill. As Toguri's mother was too sick to travel, Toguri was sent by her family to visit her aunt. Toguri did not have a passport, but the U.S. State Department gave her a certificate of identification that allowed her to travel. She left the United States for Japan on July 5, 1941, the day after her 25th birthday.

When she arrived, she immediately had trouble adjusting to the Japanese society. She could not speak the language, found people to be rude, and disliked the food (especially rice). In a letter home she wrote, "I have finally gotten around to eating rice three times a day. It's killing me, but what can I do?"

Toguri's aunt soon recovered, but Toguri had unwittingly placed herself in a precarious situation. The world's Allied powers were coming up against the Axis powers. Tensions were running high between the United States and Japan, and in Europe, Hitler's army was on the march. As Toguri could not read Japanese, she was not able to keep abreast of world affairs as reported in local papers. However, by November of 1941, she had become fully aware of the mounting international crisis and had decided to go home. She was to sail on December 2, but passport problems forced her to miss her ship.

Only five days later, on December 7, 1941, "Day of Infamy," Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States officially entered World War II. Toguri now found herself stranded in Tokyo with nearly 10,000 fellow Japanese-Americans. Japanese officials considered her an enemy alien, and they demanded that she renounce her U.S. citizenship. She adamantly refused and asked to be interned with other foreign nationals, a request that the government denied because of Toguri's gender and her Japanese heritage. The government also denied her a food ration card, which later led to her near starvation. In addition, because of her enemy status Koguri endured constant surveillance and even harassment by the Kempeitai, Japan's military police.

Her troubles compounded when her aunt and uncle turned Toguri out of their home because of her pro-American sentiments. Essentially all alone in a hostile environment, Toguri had to struggle to survive. She scrambled to find work, and eventually found positions as a piano teacher and later as a typist at the Domei News Agency, where she transcribed English-language news broadcasts. Through her Agency work, she learned that her family had been placed in a Japanese-American internment camp in the United States. Later, she would learn that her mother died during relocation.

While working at the Agency, Toguri found a sympathetic friend in Felipe d'Aquino, a Portuguese national with a Japanese heritage who also became trapped in Japan during the war. After she became ill from malnutrition, he loaned her money to cover her hospital expenses. To repay d'Aquino, Toguri took on a second job with Radio Tokyo, typing English-language scripts written by Japanese officials for broadcast to Allied troops. Through this job she made another friend: Major Charles Cousens, who had been a famous radio personality in Australia before the war. Cousens had been captured by the Japanese in the Philippines and was forced to produce a radio propaganda show, "Zero Hour," intended to harm the morale of Allied soldiers.

When Radio Tokyo officials wanted to add a woman's voice to the "Zero Hour" show, Cousens recommended Toguri. She joined the broadcasting lineup in November of 1943, calling herself "Orphan Ann," a broadcast name that subtly suggested her status as an American refugee. During her broadcasts, which lasted 20 minutes each day, Toguri played popular records and spoke to the Allied soldiers, whom she also considered "orphans." As Toguri's approach suggests, the intent was to subtly and playfully undermine Radio Tokyo's propagandistic message. The nuanced delivery and double entendres went over the heads of the Japanese officials, who felt Toguri was an effective broadcaster.

The Myth of "Tokyo Rose"

In 1945, while still working for Radio Tokyo, Toguri married d'Aquino and moved in with his family. That same year World War II ended, but Japan's defeat would provide Toguri with little cause for celebration. Subsequent events in her life would lead to personal tragedy and a travesty of justice.

After the war, a myth circulated about the existence of a so-called "Tokyo Rose," supposedly a treasonous, English-speaking female broadcaster in Japan who taunted American soldiers stationed in the Pacific. Reporters searched the defeated country, hoping to secure an exclusive interview with this shadowy, notorious broadcaster. However, they discovered that several women worked as on-air personalities for Radio Tokyo, although none called themselves "Tokyo Rose." Indeed, a "Tokyo Rose" never existed. In his introduction to Masayo Duus's 1979 book, "Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific," Edwin O. Reischauer, the American Ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966 and a scholar at Harvard specializing in East Asian affairs, wrote, "A mere wartime myth, Tokyo Rose was to become a disgrace to American justice." Even before the war had ended, the U.S. Office of War Information concluded that the name "Tokyo Rose" was only a G.I. invention. Moreover, the Office reported that U.S. counterintelligence monitors who listened to Far East radio broadcasts 24 hours a day never heard the name even mentioned. But at the time, ambitious reporters were unwilling to accept the apparent truth. The myth had become too big and they did not want to loose a potential "scoop."

Reporters then offered a reward to anyone who could help them track down "Tokyo Rose." Subsequently, a Radio Tokyo employee named Kenkiichi Oki, who had married one of the other English-speaking Japanese broadcasters, indicated that Toguri was "Tokyo Rose." Of course, Toguri denied that she was "Tokyo Rose," as no such person existed. However, two reporters, Clark Lee of International News Service and Harry Brundidge of Cosmopolitan magazine, offered her $2,000 if she would admit that she was "Tokyo Rose" and sit down for an exclusive interview. Toguri accepted the offer, after her husband convinced her that an exclusive interview might force other reporters to leave her alone.

Arrested in Japan

On September 1, 1945, Toguri did the interview. To receive payment, she needed to sign a statement that said she was "Tokyo Rose." She complied, somewhat blithely, but at the time she didn't realize that the subtly coerced gesture would later lead to treason charges, or that the reporters would characterize the interview as her "confession." U.S. Army officials took notice, and on October 17, 1945, they arrested Toguri and placed her in a six-by-nine-foot cell in Sugamo Prison, where her treatment was abusive. She was only allowed to wash every three days (and curious civilian visitors were allowed to watch her emerge from a shower naked); guards kept her cell light on until she agreed to sign autographs, and she was only allowed one 20-minute visit a month with her husband (she was incarcerated for a year). While in prison, she learned that her mother had died.

Soon, the press had characterized this confinement as the "capture" of the infamous "Tokyo Rose." However, six months after Toguri was imprisoned, the U.S. Army reported that no evidence indicated she had committed treason during her broadcasts—that is, she didn't identify names and locations of Allied units, warn of attacks, broadcast any military secrets, or engage in any similar activities that could have been officially designated as treasonous. As such, no charges were brought against her. Still, Toguri remained in prison, as the military feared a public and political backlash if they set her free. She was finally released on October 25, 1946.

The following year, she became pregnant. Wanting her child to be born in the United States, Toguri applied for a passport, but her request was hindered because she lacked proper documentation. The male child was born in Japan but died shortly after birth, in January of 1948. Soon after, the U.S. State Department enabled her to obtain a passport.

Tried for Treason

News of Toguri's imminent return created an uproar of protest in the United States. The American Legion was outspoken in its outrage. Walter Winchell, an influential newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster with strong right wing leanings, used his powerful position to call for Toguri's prosecution.

The sensationalistic publicity compelled the U.S. Justice Department to reopen the case. On August 28, 1948, Toguri was again arrested and then brought to America to stand trial, even though Assistant Attorney General L. Caudle had previously confirmed Toguri's innocence. Her on-air activity, he reported, "consisted of nothing more than the announcing of music selections." Toguri was taken to San Francisco, where she was held in a county jail for a year. Her trial began on July 5, 1949, only one day after her birthday (she was now thirty-three). She was charged with eight counts of treason.

During the three-month trial, U.S. prosecutors focused on the testimony of Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, who had worked with Toguri at Radio Tokyo. Also, Toguri's signed statement, given to reporters and claiming that she was "Tokyo Rose," came back to haunt her. Still, the government's case was not very strong. Nine out of ten reporters covering the trial even predicted that Toguri would be acquitted.

Even the jury was not totally convinced that Toguri should be convicted. After they reported that they were deadlocked on a decision, the judge presiding over the case, Michael J. Roche, pressured them to reach a verdict. Finally, on September 29, 1949, they returned a guilty verdict on one of the eight counts, a decision that came as a surprise to observers. Years later, one juror who wanted to vote for acquittal, John Mann, told the Washington Post and the CBS news program 60 Minutes that he felt pressured by Roche to return a guilty verdict and he said that he wished he had "had a little more guts to stick with my vote for acquittal." Roche later admitted his own bias in the case, revealing that he had believed that Toguri was guilty from the beginning of the trial. Also, in a 1976 interview with the Chicago Tribune , Oki said about his testimony, "We had no choice…. The FBI and U.S. Occupation police told us we would have to testify against [Toguri] or else they said Uncle Sam might arrange a trial for us, too."

Later in her life, during a 1976 interview with 60 Minutes , Toguri said, "I supposed they found someone and got the job done, they were all satisfied. It was eeny, meeny, miney and I was 'moe.'"

On October 6, Roche sentenced Toguri to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Further, he stripped her of her U.S. citizenship. She was sent to the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, where she served six years and two months of her sentence before being released on good behavior. She was set free on January 28, 1956.

Received Presidential Pardon

After her release, Toguri settled in Chicago, Illinois, where she led a relatively quiet life, helping to operate a small import business that her father had started. But a great deal of activity went on behind this seemingly quiet facade. In the two years following her release from prison, Toguri successfully battled the U.S. government's attempts to have her deported. As early as 1954, when Toguri was still imprisoned, sympathetic parties filed petitions on Toguri's behalf for a presidential pardon. Nothing came of these efforts until 1976, after news reports and the pivotal 60 Minutes segment revealed the essentially false nature of the prosecution's trial testimony. Finally, on January 19, 1977, President Gerald Ford, in one of his last acts before leaving office, pardoned Toguri and restored her U.S. citizenship. Ford's action was supported by a unanimous vote of the California State Legislature. Toguri viewed the pardon as, in her words, "an act of of vindication." Further, she expressed a desire to simply get back to work and get on with her life. She took over her father's business after he died in 1972.

Still, she continued enduring consequences from the "Tokyo Rose" myth and its promulgation: She was never able to see her husband again, as d'Aquino had been forbidden from re-entering the United States after he testified at her trial. The couple reluctantly and legally separated, finally divorcing in 1980.

In her later years she reportedly developed a tough exterior—no other emotional response could make any sense after she was geographically separated from her mother's death during her family's unjust internment; was imprisoned in a foreign land that during another time might have recognized her as one of its own; lost a child during her enforced exile; found herself unwillingly divorced from her husband; and, most significantly, suffered persecution from a nation (the United States) whose values both she and her father had enthusiastically embraced. At the same time, the friends she had made in her later life described her as an elegant, literate, and engaging woman. Following her imprisonment and release, she reportedly enjoyed the low-key pleasures of quilting (a craft she actively engaged in) and music (she appreciated concerts presented at the Chicago Lyric Opera). Until her death she remained a productive member of her community. She died on September 26, 2006, at the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, reportedly from natural causes. She was 90 years old. As a final injustice, in her printed obituaries the press continued identifying her as the notorious "Tokyo Rose," a convicted traitor.


American History , October 2002.

Chicago Sun-Times , September 28, 2006.

New York Daily News , July 3, 2006.

New York Times , September 27, 2006.

Washington Post , September 28, 2006.


"Death ends the myth of Tokyo Rose," BBC News , (December 1, 2006).

"Famous Cases: Iva Toguri d'Aquino and "Tokyo Rose," , (December 1, 2006).

"The Myth of Tokyo Rose," History News Network , (December 1, 2006).

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