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.

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