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Radio History: Tokyo Rose Broadcasts

by James Wood

image of Tokyo Rose

"Tokyo Rose"
[source and copyright unknown]

Major Cousens had become friendly with Iva Togura, a Japanese-American girl, who, stranded and unable to return to California, had found some suitable typing work with NHK. Iva was pro-American. Cousens selected Iva to work as an announcer on his radio show, though meeting with a little opposition initially from his Japanese superiors. Cousens knew what he was doing, he wanted a genuine American female voice to join his team, which now comprised eight in all.

Cousens said later at the trial that he had chosen her because of her attractive voice with a touch of WAC officer quality about it. Iva Togura accepted the job at a rate of 100 Yen per month. By do doing, she had taken the first step along the road to being branded as a traitor.

By mid-1944, NHK overseas broadcasting bureau had honed and crafted its skills in making authentic American-style radio programs. By patience and dedication, the Japanese had overcome all initial problems and were setting a new standard in radio propaganda, which was unequalled by anything existing.

Although not modelled on the broadcasting stations of the German Afrika Korps, which broadcast Lili Marlene to both German and British forces, it had achieved the same kind of universal popularity.

Zero Hour was as good as anything that came out of America - it was well produced and directed. A typical hour's program included the following features:

  • loud opening number Strike Up the Band by the Boston Pops Orchestra
  • Messages from POW's: 'Hi mom, this is Corporal X, we are OK but we need socks and food
  • The Orphan Annie Show: 20 minutes of high quality American jazz and semi-classical records introduced by Annie
  • American home-front news: titbits picked up from America by Japanese monitoring stations
  • 'Juke Box' 15-20 minutes of popular jazz
  • 'Ted's news highlight tonight': more news from overseas SW broadcasts
  • News summary: sometimes read by Charles Yoshii, the Japanese 'Lord Haw Haw'
  • Military marches

These programs were said to have been skilfully put together by Cousens, taking advantage of slang, jokes and puns to get across his hidden message, that Zero Hour was really coming from one American soldier to another. The program originated in NHK studios in Japan, and was beamed to different theaters of war over NHK SW transmitters.

The official view of the US government was that these programs were propaganda. This view was not always shared by its armed forces: reports from the US Navy in the Pacific thought that the Japanese broadcasts did a lot for the American soldier on the Pacific atolls. This view was certainly shared by the US Army, and the enlisted men who huddled around at the time of sunset to hear their favorite announcer.

When the Japanese announcers did not reveal their name, they were quickly dubbed by the American troops: Tokyo Rose, Orphan Annie, Manila Rose, The Nightingale of Nanking and others became talked of as actual persons. There can be no doubt that many a soldier or marine fell in love with a woman they had never seen, nor were ever likely to. They did not know the age of the announcers, nor what they looked like. None of this mattered to the love-lorn soldier, who created in his own mind the picture of the female form.
image of Tokyo Rose

"Tokyo Rose" broadcasting from studios of Radio Tokyo.
[source and copyright unknown]

Of all the female announcers of NHK overseas broadcasting bureau, the one that stood out from the rest was Tokyo Rose. Some names evoke beautiful thought, and the word Rose has few equals. Tokyo Rose became known to all Americans in the South Pacific. But did such a person exist?

Thousands of GI's claimed to have heard her broadcasts, and many said she had actually introduced herself to listeners by that name. Thousands more could remember details of her broadcasts. Her voice had become a sexually charged symbol of someone far more beautiful than any of her rivals from Hollywood, from Betty Grable down. Legends have a way of becoming more powerful than truth, and it would seem this was the case with Tokyo Rose.

A book entitled Tokyo Rose has tried to trace the history of this siren of the South Pacific. The American FBIS closely monitored Japanese propaganda broadcasts, and many recordings were taken for archival purposes; yet not one of these has the name Tokyo Rose, nor is the name found in NHK broadcasts.

There are however, some recordings of an announcer calling herself Orphan Annie. The word 'orphan' was often used in Japanese broadcasts to describe the fate of the Australian forces, caught up in a war not of their own making, sent to defend Singapore, captured and abandoned to their fate by the British. NHK itself has no record of any person by that name in its employ. NHK is said to have first heard of Tokyo Rose in a report from, of all places, neutral Sweden during the war. But legends die hard, and indeed in the case of Tokyo Rose they gathered more momentum as the Pacific war progressed to its conclusion.

From 1944, the US government took some steps to combat the effects of Japanese propaganda programs by setting up radio shows of a comparable quality and style. 'Voice of America' SW transmitters beamed such programs to its troops in the Pacific zone. The highly successful Command Performance scripted and produced by Hollywood specialists, employed a galaxy of stars to entertain the troops.

As America's sheer military, economic and industrial might began to tell, the US forces slowly rolled the Japanese back across the Pacific. As they gained ground, the US forces were able to fly into the recaptured islands, stars from Hollywood to entertain the marines. This service was co-ordinated by the Armed Forces Radio Service, which had taken over responsibility from voice of America to combat Japanese propaganda broadcasting.

By the end of 1944, America was firmly dictating the war. Japan's defeat was only a matter of time. From this point on, the Japanese propaganda content increased, while the entertainment content began to lose a little of its magic.

And yet, for many of the veteran US marines who had crouched in their foxholes to escape the nightly bombing from Japanese planes, Tokyo Rose was still the one they could never forget, the one who had cried over them. Any one of a dozen female announcers could have been the one they listened to: Ruth Hayaka, June Suyama, Margaret Yaeko Kato, Katherine Fugiwara, Katherine Morooka, Mieko Furova, Mary Ishiti, Iva Togura and Myrtle Lipton, who broadcast from the Manila studio. Yet the legend of the real Tokyo Rose lived on.

After the war, the US government embarked on a witch hunt to find the siren of the Pacific. In June 1949, Iva Togura was indicted on a charge of treason against the United States.

A typical 'Orphan Annie' broadcast, August 14, 1944: 'Hello you fighting orphans of the Pacific. How's tricks? This is after her weekend off, Annie is back on the air, strictly under union hours. Reception OK? Well, it better be, because this is all request night and I've got a pretty nice program for all my favorite little family, the wandering boneheads of the Pacific Islands. The first request is for none other than the boss, and guess what? - he wants Ronnie Baker and 'My resistance is low'. My, what taste you have sir, she said….

This is your little playmate Orphan Annie, and by the way, wasn't that a lousy program we had last night? It was almost bad enough to be the BBC, or its little sister ABC. (Following the news section read by Ince)…Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now, let's have some real listening music - you can have your swing when I turn you over to Zero Hour. Right now my little orphans, do what mama tells you. Listen to this, Fritz Kreisler playing 'Indian Love Call'…..boy oh boy, it stirs your memories doesn't it? Or haven't you boneheads any memories to stir? You have? Well, here's music 'In a Persian Market' played especially for you by the Boston Pops Orchestra…Orphan to orphan-over'

These broadcasts are believed to be scripted by Major Cousens, who coached Iva Togura in reading technique. The scripted words 'thank you, thank you, thank you' are a deliberate 'wipe out' device to clear the listeners mind of what has gone before.

Text is an excerpt from 'Japanese War Time Broadcasting' in the book 'History of International Broadcasting, Vol.1. Published by and © The Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1992 and included with permission of the publisher.

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