Cherry Blossoms

Forging Peace From War

Above: Amid the poverty and devastation of post-war Japan, Hawaiʻi MIS nisei “Wymo” Takaki obtained 100 cherry seedlings to help rebuild the port town of Maizuru and lift its people’s spirits. By the time the trees were planted in Kyoraku Park, Takaki had been transferred elsewhere. Not one to seek credit, Takaki nonetheless finally got to see the Aloha Sakura trees when Maizuru officials honored him in 1994. U.S. Army photo.

With hostilities over, victorious U.S. and Allied troops began pouring into Japan, and with them everywhere were MIS nisei. Thousands of these Americans of Japanese ancestry were assigned throughout Japan, using their knowledge of both languages and cultures to bridge the gulf between the victors and vanquished.

Post-war hardship in Tokyo's Shibuya district.
SHIBUYA, 1945: The end of fighting did not stop the suffering of Japanese residents, who faced a winter with little food, fuel or transportation, as this crowd in Tokyo’s Shibuya district shows. Government of Japan photo..
Hawaii's WAC volunteers assemble in Honolulu, December 1944
HONOLULU, December 1944: Fifty-nine volunteers for the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) assemble prior to departure for basic training in Georgia. Some of these women went to the MIS Language School at Fort Snelling and four were among the first group of 13 WAC linguists sent to Japan after the war. U.S. Army Signal Corps photo.

What they found was a country on the brink of starvation, its 66 largest cities bombed into ruins (with the deliberate exception of Kyoto). MIS nisei became the vital link between all levels of Japanese people and the occupying forces. Led by General Douglas MacArthur, who had been designated Supreme Commander, Allied Powers, the victors purged Japan of militarism and rebuilt it as a democracy.

Yoshiaki Fujitani, an MIS nisei from Honolulu, was assigned to cull military-related books from university libraries. Other nisei monitored and censored the press, helped draft Japan’s new constitution and land reform measures, and kept tabs on potential troublemakers for counterintelligence. The Cold War made it a priority to seek out Communists among the Japan public and the millions being repatriated from China and the Soviet Union.

MIS nisei assists in a war crimes tribunal.
JAPAN, January 1946: An MIS nisei, right center, interprets at a war crimes tribunal. National Archives photo.
MIS nisei assists in a war crimes tribunal.
KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands, November 21, 1945: Japanese Warrant Officer Tatanichi Manako demonstrates to MIS linguist Donald Okubo and a war crimes tribunal how an American prisoner sat calmly before Manako beheaded him in 1944. Manako and five other Japanese officers were sentenced to hang for the execution of five U.S. aviators. U.S. Navy photo.

The initial years in dispirited postwar Japan were marked by poverty, gang violence, inflation and black marketeering. Frictions were compounded by the return of Japanese from overseas and the new freedom of former colonial subjects.

MIS George Shiroma on break at a war trial in the Phillipines, 1946
PHILIPPINES, 1946: George Shiroma of Hawaiʻi takes a break from interpreter duties in the war crimes trial of Japanese General Masaharu Honma. Photo courtesy of George Shiroma.
MIS Jiro Arakaki quesitons a Japanese commander on Yonakuni Jima, Ryukyu Islands, October 7, 1945
RYUKYU ISLANDS, October 7, 1945: MIS linguist Jiro Arakaki, right, and Colonel M.F. Smith question an uncomfortable commander of Japanese forces on Yonakuni Jima. National Archives photo.

Army historian James McNaughton wrote in Nisei Linguists, the official U.S. Army history of the MIS, “From the first landings, nisei served as liaisons between military government officers and Japanese officials. They helped dismantle the instruments of Japanese military power and repatriate millions of Japanese servicemen from overseas. They helped censor civil communications and assisted with war crimes investigations and trials. They worked in an astonishing variety of roles to guarantee a peaceful and ultimately successful occupation during which former enemies became close allies.”

A nisei captain questions a Japanese ship master
HAKODATE, Japan, August 1948: A nisei captain, left, and another U.S. officer question the master of a Japanese ship about how many repatriates he has aboard. U.S. Army photo.

Nisei encounters with their ancestral homeland ranged widely. Countless MIS nisei provided food to starving Japanese, taught them English, showed them how to use western-style toilets. In so many small ways, the MIS nisei helped to heal the scars of wartime hatred and misunderstanding.

TOKYO, September 27, 1945: General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and Hirohito, emperor of the defeated Japan, at their first meeting, in the U.S. Embassy.
TOKYO, September 27, 1945: General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and Hirohito, emperor of the defeated Japan, at their first meeting, in the U.S. Embassy. U.S. Army photo.

After a meeting with MacArthur, Emperor Hirohito personally thanked the interpreter, Lieutenant Kan Tagami, for the work of the nisei.

CIC special agent Fujio “Wymo” Takaki in post-war Japan. Photo courtesy of Dave Takaki.

Fujio “Wymo” Takaki from Mokuleʻia, Oʻahu, was assigned to the port city of Maizuru, interviewing Japanese soldiers, one of whom turned out to be his kid brother, being repatriated from Soviet custody. To help the people of Maizuru recover from the devastation, Takaki obtained 100 cherry seedlings and gave them to city officials. The trees were planted on a hill. Today, a monument there explains the origin of the Aloha Sakura as a symbol of friendship between the people of the United States and Japan.

When war broke out in Korea in 1950, new MIS Japanese linguists and World War II veterans performed vital language work again in the former Japanese colony. Many of the MIS nisei had gone home, but hundreds stayed on in Japan, many as U.S. government employees.

The formal peace treaty ending the war with Japan was signed in 1952. That same year, the federal prohibition on naturalization of Asian immigrants was finally removed. The parents of the nisei could finally become American citizens.

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