My neighbour, The Tokyo Rose

I have just recently learned about an amazing piece of history that has been a part of my everyday life for years! It's really an incredible story that begins in Los Angeles, California back in 1941 when a Japanese-American woman named Toguri Ikuko (戸栗郁子) sailed to Japan to visit with a sick relative. Because Toguri-san needed to leave quickly, she had to depart without a passport, obtaining a Certificate of Identification from the U.S. State Department instead. When it came time to return to the U.S., she applied for a U.S. passport but was unable to obtain it before the attack on Pearl Harbour on 07-Dec-1941.

Now stranded in Japan with no chance of departure, Toguri Ikuko was declared an enemy alien by Tōjō Hideki (東條 英機) after refusing to give up her U.S. citizenship. She took a low-paying job in a Japanese news agency to support herself. She gained the trust of Allied forces by smuggling food in to P.O.W.s and by refusing to broadcast Anti-American propaganda of any kind. After becoming experienced in news media, Toguri-san was selected by Allied P.O.W.s to host portions of their radio show, "The Zero Hour," completing a total of 340 broadcasts. She directed much of her broadcast material to her fellow Americans by using American slang, especially that which was popular with Marine and Naval forces stationed in the Pacific.

On 05-Sep-1945, just a few weeks after Japan's surrender, the press had reported that Toguri-san was “Tokyo Rose,” and she was arrested by U.S. Army authorities in Yokohama. A month later, she was released after authorities were unable to uncover any evidence that she supported the Axis forces. After the U.S. Dept. of Justice was able to bring in new evidence and witnesses to her Radio Tokyo (NHK) broadcasts, Toguri-san was brought to San Francisco, on 25-Sep-1948 and detained by the FBI on several counts of treason.

On 05-Jul-1949, Toguri Ikuko was brought to trial before a grand jury, into what was, then, the costliest trial in American history, costing more than $500,000 and included the presentation of 46 witnesses. Toguri-san stated in court that she actually contributed to the sabotage of the Japanese war effort. A box of broadcast tapes was brought to the trial by prosecutors, but not one of them was presented as evidence or played for the jury. After two and a half months of deliberation, despite court testimonials in her favour, she was found guilty on ONE count of treason, having to do with the broadcast of a message about a loss of American ships. She was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment and fined $10,000.

After 6 years and 2 months of serving her sentence, Toguri Ikuko was released on parole. She then moved to Chicago to work at her father's store, J. Toguri Mercantile at 851 W Belmont Ave (just 2 blocks away from my home). On 19-Jan-1977, after learning that individuals who delivered the most damaging testimony at Toguri's trial had lied under oath, President Gerald Ford issued her a full pardon. Later, in January 2006, Toguri-san was given the Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award for "her indomitable spirit, love of country, and the example of courage she has given her fellow Americans." Toguri-san described the day as most memorable day of her life.

Toguri Ikuko continued to work at her family's store on Belmont avenue until 8 months later when, on 26-Sep-2006, she died of natural causes. When I think of all the times I visited J. Toguri Mercantile-- all the gifts I bought there for my family and friends, the books and snacks I bought for myself, including the Japanese language textbook I now study, it blows my mind to know that I was so close to such an amazing and important part of history. I never knew that the little old lady who helped my wife and I choose a wedding gift for our friends, who helped me with the Japanese paper collection, was The Tokyo Rose-- who made am amazing contribution to the efforts against the crazed and power-hungry Tōjō Hideki and Emperor Shōwa (昭和天皇 - "Hirohito").

I only wish I had known about her earlier so I could have appreciated her when she was still alive. I think I will stop in to J. Toguri this weekend and ask her family about her. I think that she should not be forgotten and deserves to live on in our hearts and minds.


Feature Foto #4

Tonight my feature photo is Sensō-ji (淺草寺), located in Tokyo's (東京) Asakusa (淺草) neighbourhood. My regular readers might remember that I wrote about Sensō-ji last autumn when I was in Japan. A few of you might also know that this is where I proposed to my wife in 2007! Sensō-ji has two religious sites-- a Buddhist Temple and a Shinto Shrine. The Buddhist temple was built in devotion to Kannon, and was first constructed in 628 A.D. making it Tokyo's oldest temple.

Sensō-ji is one of my most cherished sites on Earth and I usually like to begin every visit to Tokyo by going there. The grounds surrounding the buildings are just beautiful and are surrounded by the most enjoyable and down-to-earth shops, cafes, restaurants and people. I honestly don't mind just hanging around there all day long.

If you have Google Earth, download Sensō-ji's place marker.


London to host "Tokyo Day"

On 31-Jan-09, one week from this Saturday, London will host a special "Tokyo Day" celebration at Lawrence Hall in southwest central London. The event is sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and will feature a full schedule of traditional arts, crafts, performances, food and music as well as some anime showings and hands-on activities. This is sure to be an enjoyable day for anyone who can make it. If I were still living in London there is absolutely no question about it-- I would be there. To my readers who are based in London or will be traveling there next week-- this looks like a great time. I'd love to hear about it if you go!


Who won the War on Terror?

Disclaimer: I've stayed away from expressing my fierce political opinons recently, but what I've got to say today is my own editorial that many may find to be quite controversial. Anyone who is a republican and/or a George W. Bush / John McCain supporter is likely to have a big problem with it.

Basically, the conclusion I reached just a short while ago is that the "Terrorists" won. Now-- what do I mean by this? Well, let's look at the facts. In 2001, "Al Qaeda" attacked the World Trade Centre in New York-- the ultimate symbol of financial success and prosperity in the U.S. The U.S. government, led by George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, promised that the situation would be controlled and resolved by way of an all-out "War on Terror."

What is it that really happened, however? What was the conclusion of this effort? 6 years after the start of this War on Terror, more than 4,200 U.S. soldiers have been killed, several of the country's largest and oldest financial institutions are out of business, a large percentage of U.S. citizens have lost their homes and/or are in the midst of serious financial trouble, and many of the largest, nationwide retailers are either out of business or nearing collapse. Additionally, the person recognised as the mastermind behind this destruction is still alive and in control of his international "terror" syndicate, and the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan is still going strong (despite what the media has been reporting).

How did we get into this situation? After the September 11 attacks, whether this was part of the plan or not, George Bush played right into the attackers' hands and ran up a gigantic national debt by spending money on this war at a frightening pace. This activity drove our already unsteady economy (sustained upon unjust financial practices, questionable business models and unbalanced lending methods) into a downward, unrecoverable spiral.

There are numerous harmful side-effects of this, including a lowering of our national credit rating, a severe slow-down of the national economy, a dangerous lowering of home-values across the country and record-breaking unemployment rates. So getting back to my opening statement-- although it took several years' time, the "Terrorists" ultimately got what they wanted-- to severely damage the confidence, success and comfort of American society. Indeed, the arrogance and self-righteousness that were exhibited by Bush and his cronies, on our behalf, have been humbled and downgraded.

In conclusion, I am so, SO happy that today is Bush's last day in office.

Photo: Alan Greenspan, George Bush and Ben Bernanke, courtesy of www.marketoracle.co.uk


Feature Foto #3

Photo #3 features this shot of Daibutsu (大仏), or the "Great Buddha of Kōtoku-in" (高徳院), in Hase, Kamakura. This beautiful statue of Amita-Buddha was cast in the year 1252. The statue has stood strong during several natural disasters, including a tidal wave and several earthquakes, even when the surrounding areas and temple structures were destroyed or severely damaged. Daibutsu stands about 13 1/2 m high, is nearly 10 m wide and weighs 121 tonnes despite having a hollow center!

The site of The Great Buddha is filled with peace, calmness and serenity despite drawing hundreds of visitors daily. I, personally, would be content sitting near him all day long, taking in the meditative surroundings, as well as the beauty of the city of Hase.

If you have Google Earth, download Daibutsu's place marker.


Happy MOO Year!!

I'm sorry this has taken me so long, everyone! Happy New Year! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! 2009 is the year of the Ox. To celebrate New Year, or O-shougatsu, a special meal was enjoyed at my home. The soup is called O-zouni (雑煮) and is extremely delicious clear broth with mochi rice cake, chicken and thinly-sliced naruto fish cake. Also, next to the soup, is Nori mochi-- mochi rice cakes flavoured with sweetened shoyu (soy sauce) and wrapped in nori (dried, roasted seaweed); this is also very, very tasty. After these were consumed, a wonderful dessert called Anko mochi (not pictured) made of warm sweet mochi rice cake topped with sweet red bean paste was served and this, too, was unbelievably yummy. Served along side these wonderful dishes and eaten throughout the meal and throughout the holiday is Osechi-ryouri. Each of the colourful and tasty items inside the Osechi have a specific meaning for O-shougatsu. For example, you can see the Datemaki (伊達巻き) or sweet, rolled omelette that's served in hopes that many auspicious days will come. Konbu (昆布), the green, rolled seaweed symbolises joyfulness. Kuro-mame (黒豆 - black soybeans) symbolise a wish for health in the New Year. There's a pretty decent English-language explanation of Osechi on about.com.

The serving of osechi-ryouri and these other wonderful New Year foods is a long-standing tradition dating back to the 1st century A.D. Its origins are in samurai celebration and tradition, and my wife and I are proud to participate in the continuation of these beautiful traditions. O-zouni, Nori mochi and Anko mochi courtesy of my wonderful wife, Rinko. Osechi-ryouri courtesy of Mitsuwa Marketplace, the mall of Japan, in Arlington Heights, IL.

(2009 Ox image courtesy of bouncingredball.com)