Encyclopedia Womannica

Mavericks & Legends: Iva Toguri

Episode Summary

Iva Toguri (1916-2006), a.k.a. "Tokyo Rose," was a Japanese-American broadcaster who was jailed as a traitor against the United States, before eventually being lauded as a hero.

Episode Notes

Become a Womanniac!: https://glow.fm/womannica

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

Follow Wonder Media Network:

Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s legend was a Japanese-American broadcaster who was jailed as a traitor against the United States. She came to be known as “Tokyo Rose.” Let’s talk about Iva Toguri.

Iva Ikuko Toguri was born in 1916 to Japanese Immigrants in Los Angeles, California. Growing up, she was a popular student and played on her high school’s varsity tennis team. In 1940, Iva graduated from UCLA with a degree in zoology and a plan to become a doctor. 

A year later in 1941, Iva reluctantly sailed to Tokyo to look after her ailing aunt. She was unable to get a passport and traveled on a Certificate of Identification, which the U.S. State Department promised would be sufficient ID for her return. In August, she applied for a passport, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the State department refused to grant it, questioning her citizenship. Iva was trapped in Japan.

The United States and Japan were at war, and the Japanese government pressured Iva to renounce her U.S. citizenship. When she refused, she was declared an enemy alien and was left to support herself. She taught piano lessons and used the money to pay for culture lessons to better communicate. But tensions with neighbors grew as Iva maintained her pro-American attitude, and she moved out of her aunt’s house to protect her family.

In 1942, the U.S. government incarcerated Japanese-Americans in internment camps. Iva lost contact with her family and did not know that they had been sent to Gila River in Arizona. Her mother died shortly after arrival. 

Iva found work as an English typist at a news agency where she met Portuguese Citizen Felipe Aquino, whom she would later marry. In 1943, Iva took a second job at Radio Tokyo, where allied prisoners of war were forced to broadcast Japanese propaganda targeted at American Servicemen. She hosted a program called the “Zero Hour.” 

The producer knew Iva from her work smuggling food to POWS and respected her wish to not voice anti-American sentiment. He wrote her farcical scripts that slipped past Japanese censors. She gave her income--$7 a month—to feed prisoners. Iva called herself Ann and later Orphan Ann. And though she only spoke 2-3 minutes an episode, she participated in 340 broadcasts. 

American service men called all the Japanese women broadcasters “Tokyo Rose,” a moniker which took on a mythical status during and after the war. “Tokyo Rose” was sexualized in the media and portrayed as a femme fatale seeking to undermine America. 

In 1945, after Japan surrendered to the United States, journalists offered Iva $2,000 for an exclusive interview with Tokyo Rose. The money was a year’s worth of wages, and Iva agreed, but the journalist attempted to sell the interview as a confession. Iva was arrested for her role in broadcasting propaganda, but was released a year later for lack of evidence. 

Iva tried again to return to the United States so she could give birth in her home country. But the press lobbied against her. Her baby was born in Japan and died soon after its birth. 

U.S. military authorities arrested Iva again, and sent her to San Francisco, where she was charged with assisting the Japanese Government during World War II. Her husband was not granted permission to visit America, and she never saw him again.

At the time, Iva’s trial was the longest and most expensive in American history. Eight counts of treason were brought against her. She was found guilty of one, for saying “Orphans of the pacific, how will you get home now that your ships are sunk?” Iva was fined 10,000 dollars and served six years of a ten year sentence. After her release, she moved to Chicago, where she lived for fifty years.

In 1976, two of Iva’s accusers admitted that their false testimony was coerced by the FBI. A year later, President Gerald Ford pardoned Iva and restored her U.S. citizenship. 

Though her father died before she was pardoned, he was proud of her, and said to Iva: "You were like a tiger, you never changed your stripes, you stayed American through and through."

In 2005, Iva was given the 2005 Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award by the World’s War II Veterans Committee for her courage, and love of the United States. Later that year, Iva died in 2006. She was 90 years old. 

Though Iva was vilified as a traitor, she was fiercely patriotic throughout her life. Decades after her conviction, Iva was recognized as a hero.

All May, we’re talking about Mavericks and Legends. We’re highlighting women who went against prescribed gender norms to make a name for themselves -- for better or for worse. Some of these women did incredible things for society and should be celebrated, others had a big impact that was not quite so rosy. The collection of women we’re featuring this month is complex and nuanced, much like all women are. 

For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our newsletter, Womannica Weekly. You can also follow us on facebook and instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator, and special thanks to all the Womanniacs out there. To join our brand new membership program go to glow.fm/womannica. It really means a lot to us. You’ll be supporting the work that goes into Encyclopedia Womannica and you’ll get special access to biweekly live events and you’ll be able to help shape future content. 

Talk to you tomorrow!