Yashima — A U.S. Heroine
While Japan's Tokyo
Rose has become part of the history of World War
11, few people know about the Japanese woman who
was America's "Tokyo Rose." For six months
in 1944-45, Mitsu Yashima was the voice urging Japanese
women to commit acts of sabotage and do everything
in their power to help stop the Japanese military
"I knew I was doing the right thing," she
says softly about the days she worked for the U.S.
Office of Strategic Services. "I felt that Japan
had to be defeated because they didn't treat the
Japanese people right or the Chinese or the Korean
people. That kind of power had to be destroyed."
Today, Mrs. Yashima lives alone in a small apartment
in Bernal Heights, teaches art in the Japanese community
and will make her screen debut as the grandmother
in John Korty's "Farewell to Manzanar, a two-hour
film about the wartime relocation of the Japanese
in the U.S. The movie which also features her son
Mako and daughter Momo, will be shown on NBC-TV next
year. Meanwile, Mako — who won an Academy Award nomination
for his role in ŒThe Sand Pebbles" — is rehearsing
for his first starring role on Broadway in the musical, "Pacific
Mrs. Yashima tells her own dramatic story matter-of-factly
and with a shyly warm, still youthful smile. After
losing her first-born child and becoming pregnant
with Mako, she spent nearly nine months in a Japanese
jail as a political prisoner. She was never brought
before a judge, but suffered many beatings in the
six-foot square cell she shared with from five to
15 other prisoners.
The daughter of a shipbuilding company executive,
she was one of the few Japanese women to attend college,
but when Japan outlawed the study of social science,
she joined a young Marxist study group in the 30's
to learn about these forbidden topics and met her
future husband , Taro, also an artist there. He was
jailed by the Japanese secret police at the same
time as Mitsu.
Later, as Japan increased its military aggression,
the couple decided to go to the United States.She
tearfully left Mako, then five, behind with her mother,
afraid to subject him to the rigors of the 27-day
sea voyage to New York.
On December 7, 1941, the Yashimas were living a
precarious existence in Manhattan as art students.
A Japanese newspaperman called and told them about
the bombing of Pearl Harbor. "I was dismayed
and didn't know what to do," Mrs. Yashima recalled. "My
first thought was when could I see my son again and
how could he run away from these troubles. But I
was glad I could stay in the United States and be
with my husband." They didn't see Mako again
for ten more years.
When the FBI asked the Yashimas if they wanted to
be repatriated in a civilian exchange program, they
"I felt some conflict about the war at first," she
said, but she was eventually won over by the kindness
"The people's kindness," she later wrote
in the Ladies Home Journal, "was like meeting
Buddha in hell."
Her husband was sketching and writing a book about
their prison experiences, "The New Sun," which
was published in 1943 and about their decision to
emigrate in "Horizon is Calling." Later,
he went to work for the Office of War Information
and for the OSS in India.
Mrs.Yashima herself spent two years in the Washington
office of OSS, working on American propaganda aimed
at the Japanese. Then she was sent to San Francisco
to broadcast to Japanese women. The broadcasts were
recorded and shipped to Saipan for beaming to Japan.
"My job was to talk to the women in Japan and
urge them to run away from the war effort. Yes, I
knew about Tokyo Rose and what she was saying to
the American soldiers. I hated her because I thought
how could anybody help the Japanese army?
"I talked abut how terrible the food situation
was. The Japanese women were prohibited from wearing
makeup or pretty clothes and I talked about how there
wasn't even time to comb one's hair . I urged them
to run away from the cities because of the danger
of bombing. I told them not to save money because
money would be like a wastepaper thing."
Mrs. Yashima's feelings about the necessity for
the defeat of Japan haven't softened with time. Although
she is pleased that "Farewell to Manzanar" points
out the discrimination inflicted on Japanese _Americans,
she doesn't think the authors really understand what
the war was about.
"If they knew then they could compare it with
what the Japanese army did to the Chinese people
and all those conquered places. The Japanese-Americans
don't have so much to complain about. Well, we should
complain, I know, but not so much.
"I feel the same way when people complain about
the U.S. throwing that bomb in Hiroshima. After all,
who started the war?
"But it should never be used again. NEVER!"
San Francisco Chronicle. December 4,1975