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Who Was Tokyo Rose?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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During World War II, Tokyo Rose was the name given to numerous female radio presenters who broadcast on Japanese radio. The radio programs were intended to broadcast anti-American propaganda. Although Tokyo Rose was a fictitious character, one woman was thought to be the original Tokyo Rose, and her story is one of heroism and betrayal.

This woman, Iva Ikuko Toguri, was eventually tried and sentenced to ten years imprisonment by the US government. When World War II broke out, Toguri, who was visiting relatives, became trapped in Japan. Toguri was an American citizen born in Los Angeles, California in 1916. The Japanese government did their best to try and make Toguri refute her American citizenship.

Despite the pressure Toguri was under, including daily harassment from the military police, she refused to give up her US citizenship. Trapped in Japan, Toguri found two jobs as a means of supporting herself while she tried to return to the US. While working as a secretary for Radio Tokyo, she met American and Australian prisoners of war (POWs) who were forced by the Japanese to broadcast propaganda.

Radio Tokyo wanted a female voice to broadcast its shows, and when asked, the POWs selected Toguri. Using the name of Orphan Ann, Toguri was one of many English speaking women who were made to broadcast Japanese propaganda. The POWs wrote the scripts for the radio shows, including many hidden pro-American sentiments and messages that Toguri would read. The English speaking women became collectively known as Tokyo Rose, and Toguri was instrumental in boosting American troops' morale.

It was after the war that Toguri's involvement in the radio broadcasts was turned against her. Reporters traveled to Japan in order to interview Toguri and prove she was Tokyo Rose. At one point, reports stated that Toguri signed a statement saying that she was Tokyo Rose. In 1945, Toguri was arrested and imprisoned in Japan by the US government. She was released after a year, but in 1948, she was again arrested and taken to the US to stand trial for treason.

In 1949, Toguri was convicted on eight counts of treason. The original Tokyo Rose was sentenced to ten years in prison and a 10,000 US dollars (USD) fine. She was released after six years and moved to Chicago. Reporter Ron Yates went on to investigate the charges that were brought against Toguri. Two of the key witnesses, Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, were found to have lied under oath.

Oki and Mitsushio claimed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tutored them on what to say just hours before the trial. Ironically, Oki and Mitsushio were two Radio Tokyo workers who had given up their American citizenship during the war. Due to the trial and conviction, Toguri was stripped of the US citizenship she had fought so hard to keep.

In 1976, the television show 60 Minutes told Toguri's story, and she was subsequently given a full pardon from President Ford in 1977. Toguri's full American citizenship was also restored. In 2006, at the age of 90, Iva Toguri, the original Tokyo Rose, died in a Chicago hospital of natural causes.

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Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On May 28, 2014

I had no idea at least one of the Tokyo Rose broadcasters was forced to make the broadcasts! I also don't remember President Ford pardoning Toguri and restoring her citizenship. I'm glad he did that, though. Anyone who has seen any movie about the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II has a pretty god idea of what happened to people who opposed the Japanese military machine.

I also didn't know the POWs wrote the scripts, or that they included pro-America messages. That is incredible! I can see where it would be possible though, since English is such a highly idiomatic language and some things would not translate literally as being pro-Allies.

The story behind the story is always the most fascinating one, and this is a great one.

By Grivusangel — On May 27, 2014

I don't know that I've ever heard an actual Tokyo Rose broadcast, although I'm sure many are available online now. I need to check that out. She was certainly a well-known pop culture character, though. One of my favorite movies is "Operation Petticoat" and there's a scene where the sailors are listening to the radio and there's a brief couple of lines from the character. My dad knew many World War II veterans and they said they generally just laughed at her and listened because she played all the popular music, and they liked listening to the music.

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