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Mitsu 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 machine.

"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 Overtures."

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 declined.

"I felt some conflict about the war at first," she said, but she was eventually won over by the kindness of Americans.

"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

 

 

 

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