Born in Los Angeles on July 4, 1916, Iva Toguri was the daughter of Japanese American migrants, Jun and Fumi Toguri. Jun Toguri had migrated to the United States in 1899, and Toguri's mother, Fumi, arrived in 1913. Toguri was reared a Methodist, and she joined the Girl Scout as a child. She attended school in Mexico and San Diego before returning to her family in Los Angeles. After high school, Toguri attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and graduated with a degree in zoology.
Toguri was caught in Japan at the outbreak of World War II. She had left the United States for Japan in June 1941 about six months before the war to tend to an ill aunt. Toguri did not have a passport but a certificate of identification, which allowed her to stay for six months in Japan. While caring for her aunt, Toguri visited the U.S. consulate in Tokyo to submit a passport application, which was rejected for lack of documentation. She was thus denied passage to the United States in October 1941, and on the first repatriation ship that left shortly after Pearl Harbor. She tried again about a year later in September 1942 but was unable to pay the passage after having been hospitalized for malnutrition. Consequently, Toguri, like many other Japanese Americans, spent the duration of the war in Japan.
The Japanese Security Police harassed Toguri because she was an American. Friends and family members urged her to become a Japanese citizen but she refused. She was classified as an “enemy alien,” and was denied a war ration card. To sustain herself, Toguri worked as a part-time typist for the Overseas Bureau of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in August 1943. A few months later, because of her skills in English language, the Japanese government ordered her to broadcast on Radio Tokyo like other Allied prisoners of war. Some of them assured Toguri she could actually help the U.S. war effort by comforting U.S. troops with American music and softening Japan's propaganda. While working for the Domei News Agency, Toguri met Filipe J. D'Aquino, a Japanese and Portuguese biracial citizen of Portugal, and they were married in April 1945. Toguri converted to Catholicism but declined her husband's Portuguese citizenship.
Toguri was one of 14 English-speaking radio announcers at Radio Tokyo, yet she alone was accused and tried for treason. She was, according to her accusers, Tokyo Rose, a name invented by U.S. soldiers for the alluring woman whose voice on the radio seduced them. In fact, Toguri hosted about 340 shows of The Zero Hour under the name “Ann” for announcer and later, “Orphan Annie” for the comic strip or a reference to orphans, the name given to troops separated from their units in battle. Toguri performed comedy sketches and introduced musical
recordings. For her 20-minute broadcasts, Toguri earned 150 yen or about seven dollars a month. She used some of her earnings to buy and smuggle in food to Allied prisoners of war.
After Japan's surrender and during the U.S. Occupation of that country, Toguri was entrapped by an offer of $2,000, the equivalent of a year's wage in Occupied Japan, to sell her story as “Tokyo Rose.” In October 1945, the U.S. military promptly arrested her for trying to demoralize U.S. troops during the war. After spending a year in jail, she was released because the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and military investigators found no evidence to sustain the charge. Still, a prominent journalist, Walter Winchell, a member of the racist Native
Sons of the Golden West, pressured the U.S. State Department to charge Toguri for treason. In Japan, the United States rearrested Toguri and imprisoned her in August 1948, and the following month sent her to San Francisco to stand trial in the United States.
The trial, begun in July 1949, was, at the time, the longest and costliest in U.S. history. San Francisco attorney Wayne Collins served on the team that defended Toguri, and she and her witnesses claimed her broadcasts aided the U.S. cause. In September 1949, despite an exhaustive five-year FBI investigation, which decided the evidence failed to warrant a prosecution, the San Francisco grand jury found Toguri guilty of speaking “into the microphone concerning the loss of [U.S.] ships” (Hirose, 149). For that, she was convicted of treason, had her citizenship revoked, fined $10,000, and sentenced to a 10-year term in prison. Collins, her attorney, remarked that the verdict was guilt “without evidence.”
Toguri spent over six years in the Federal Reformatory for Women in West Virginia, was released in January 1956, and moved to Chicago where her father had begun a Japanese import business after his release from Gila River concentration camp in Arizona. The government continued to pursue Toguri when in April 1956 the Immigration and Naturalization Service tried to deport her to Japan. She, with the help of attorney Collins, fought the order successfully. She worked quietly in
Chicago to 1975 when Clifford Uyeda and the Japanese American Citizens League lobbied for a presidential pardon for her. The campaign succeeded in 1977 when President Gerald Ford pardoned her and thereby restored her U.S. citizenship. Investigations had found some of her key accusers had lied under oath when they testified and the FBI and the army pressured them into offering perjured testimony. In 2006, the World War II Veterans Committee awarded Toguri its annual Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award, citing “her indomitable spirit, love of country, and the example of courage she has given her fellow Americans.”