Togo Tanaka

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Togo W. Tanaka (January 7, 1916 – May 21, 2009) was an American newspaper journalist and editor who reported on the difficult conditions in the Manzanar internment camp, where he was one of 110,000 Japanese Americans who had been relocated after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Early life and education[edit]

Tanaka was born on January 7, 1916, in Portland, Oregon to Japanese Issei parents. He grew up in Los Angeles, where his parents operated a vegetable market, and graduated there from Hollywood High School at age 16. he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he wrote for the Daily Bruin, graduating in 1936 with a bachelor's degree in political science.[1]

He was hired by the Japanese-American newspaper Rafu Shimpo while he was still in college, where he edited the paper's English language content, writing editorials encouraging Nisei, those born in the United States to Japanese immigrant parents, to be loyal Americans. During a pre-War trip to Washington, D.C. arranged by the newspaper's publisher, Tanaka tried to ensure that the paper would be able to continue publishing in the event that hostilities broke out with Japan, and was interrogated by officials from the Department of War who challenged his allegiance to his home country.[1]

Arrest and internment[edit]

Tanaka was one of the few American-born individuals arrested as enemy aliens on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. No explanation was offered for his arrest, and he was held incommunicado for 11 days, forbidden even to contact his pregnant wife, and was released without being charged.[1] In a newspaper interview conducted the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks, Tanaka described how the local Japanese community had "not been in sympathy with Japan's expansion program" and had worked with the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence for the preceding several years. He stated that "We think the Japanese Government is stupid and has embarked on a campaign it has absolutely no chance of winning."[2]

Together with his family, Tanaka was sent to the Manzanar detention camp on April 23, 1942, under the terms of Japanese American internment that took place under Executive Order 9066 signed by President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was the editor of the last issue of Rafu Shimpo published before the forced relocation took place. Tanaka characterized the facility as an "outdoor jail", in which he was one of what would eventually be 10,000 Japanese Americans, mostly from the Los Angeles area. These Japanese Americans were people of Japanese descent, most of whom were U.S. citizens from Los Angeles County. Located in California's arid Owens Valley in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, those moved there lived in crude barracks that did little to protect them from dust storms. Tanaka reported that "I cannot see how it is possible for any human being of normal impulses to be cooped up within limited confines of barbed wires, watchtowers, and all the atmosphere of internment and not be touched by the bitterness and disillusionment all around him."[1]

Using his background in journalism, Tanaka documented the conditions and experiences in the camp for the War Relocation Authority and sent reports to be included in a study of the internment policy performed at the University of California, Berkeley. His details reports on the factional divisions within the camp and his advocacy for cooperation with authorities, put him into what his son later described as "a no man's land" in which he had lost his rights as an American and was not trusted by other Japanese internees in the camp.[1]

In rioting that took place on the 1942 anniversary of Pearl Harbor, two protesters were killed. Tanaka was targeted by the protesters, who were critical of his support for cooperation with the military authorities that operated the camp and was able to avoid attack by donning a disguise. He was moved with his family after the incident, along with others labeled as collaborators, to another internment facility in Death Valley. He was released in 1943 and moved to Chicago, where he worked with a Quaker group that assisted other former Japanese internees and refugees from Nazi Germany to find employment and housing.[1]

Post-war experiences[edit]

Tanaka left journalism after the war, and worked at a textbook publisher in Chicago. He also edited "Scene, The Pictorial Magazine", a Life-type periodical for Japanese-Americans which ran from 1949 to 1954. He moved back to California in 1955 and went into the business of creating trade journals. He started a real estate venture in 1963, and retired from the company in 1985 as chairman.[1]

In a 2005 visit to the exhibit at Manzanar, he saw his own desk and typewriter on permanent display. A park ranger who had prepared the display described the visit by Tanaka as being "like history walking in the front door."[1]


Tanaka died at age 93 on May 21, 2009, at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was survived by his wife, to whom he had been married for 68 years, as well as three children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.[1]

TOGO TANAKA Copied from Togo's biosketch 4/27/88 15:35 fax Chairman, Gramercy Enterprises, 1980--,President 1963-1980, Director, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco 1983-1989 (end of second term) Director, Federal Reserve Bank, Los Angeles Branch 1979-1983, President, Rossmore Management Company, President, T.W. Tanaka Co., Inc., Director, L.A. Wholesale Produce Market Development Corporation, Advisory Council Member, California State World Trade Commission, Member Los Angeles Rotary Club 1972—President 1983-84, Member Stock Exchange Club of Los Angeles, Mason, 32nd Degree, Beverly Hills Lodge No. 528, Al Malaikah Shrine, Member,

Member Board of Directors: American Red Cross, LA Chapter: American Heart Association, Constitutional Rights Foundation, Goodwill Industries of Southern California, Greater Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau, Director, Methodist Hospital of Southern California

Formerly: Commissioner, Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, 1975–76; Director, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, 1973–75; Citizens Management Review Committee of Los Angeles Unified School District 1974-75

Born Portland, Oregon January 7, 1916 Hollywood High School '32 California Scholarship Federation, Ephebian Ucla '36 Phi Gamma Mu, Phi Sigma Alpha, Phi Beta Kappa University of Chicago Graduate Studies '43; Who’s Who in Midwest '50-'55, Who’s Who in West '55--, Who’s Who in Finance and Industry ‘75—Editorial Depart., Head, American Tech (Chicago)'50-'52 President, Chicago Publishing Corp '50-'55 Editor-in-Chief, Scene Magazine (Chicago) '49-'55 President, School Industrial Press '55-'68

Married to Jean Wada 11/14/40, 3 Children, 5 grandchildren, resides in Los Angeles