Famous Radio Broadcasters: Tokyo Rose

Famous Radio Broadcasters: Tokyo Rose

Iva Toguri, an American citizen born to Japanese immigrants was commonly referred to as Tokyo Rose by the Allied troops during World War II. Toguri was a famous radio presenter who spread Japanese propaganda during the war. The aim of the broadcasts was to lower the morale of the Allied troops in the Pacific. The troops often listened to her broadcasts to try to read between the lines to know the effects of their military actions on the Japanese.


Iva Toguri d’Acquino was a native of Los Angeles. Toguri grew as a devoted patriot and in 1940 she earned her zoology degree from UCLA. She had begun doing graduate work when there was a fateful turn in her life. She became stranded in Japan when visiting relatives when the war broke.

Due to her prominence she became one of the war’s notorious propagandists when she took a job as a DJ for Radio Tokyo. Despite this, there is evidence that shows she was not a Japan sympathizer. When Japan surrendered, she was convicted of treason due to her vicious and conflated propaganda. In 1956 she was released and she got her presidential pardon after waiting for more than 20 years.

The Zero hour

Most of the female Japanese broadcasters were referred to as “Tokyo Rose” though the name was strongly linked to Iva Toguri. Her broadcast was during the DJ segment (15 -20 minutes) of the 75-minute program The Zero Hour broadcasted on Radio Tokyo.

The program consisted of popular American music, slanted news reports and tinged skits. Through her handle Orphan Ann, Toguri became a legend of the Pacific Theater. Thousands of GIs were regularly listening to her show by late 1943 when she played pop music between put downs and slanted battle reports that were aimed at demoralizing the US troops.

Tokyo Rose was arrested at the end of the war and detained for a year, though she was later released for lack of evidence. There was a popular uproar when she tried to go back to America as American Legion and powerful broadcasting personality Walter Winchell lobbied for a trial. This prompted the FBI to renew their investigations on her activities during the war. As a result, a 1949 trial resulted in Toguri being convicted on one of the eight counts of treason.

In 1974, investigative journalists from the Chicago Tribune found that the key trial witnesses, George Mitsushio and Kenkichi Oki had perjured themselves. They had been coached for more than two months by occupation police and the FBI on what to say or they would also be charged with treason if they failed to cooperate. In 1977, president Gerald Ford pardoned Tokyo Rose.

The main problem with Toguri’s treason case was the “Tokyo Rose” nickname. This name could have signified something or someone else other than Toguri herself. According to the author of  Domesticity During World War II, Ann Elizabeth Pfau, says it could have been  a conflation of English speaking Japanese women on radio where there were some who were subversive than the rest. Pfau also asserts that it could have also been the invention of the American Servicemen who wanted to channel their anger and fears to this disembodied voice on radio. 

Toguri died on September 26, 2006 at a Chicago hospital. She was 90.