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George Koshi

George Koshi with his book.

“I forgot Japanese,” George Koshi, a 92-year-old MIS veteran, modestly said in Japanese with a perfect Japanese accent.

He was the only American legal officer in Japan during its occupation period after World War II (1945-1952) who spoke Japanese. Between George and a framed picture of his late wife, Ai, smiles his daughter, Joyce, who was born during this period.

George’s parents came from Kumamoto.

“My father first came to Colorado, then my grandfather arranged a wife for him and sent her. They met for the first time.”

George talks about his parents’ picture-bride marriage with a bashful smile as though it was his own. His parents operated a sugar beet farm in Greeley, Colorado, 60 miles north of Denver, then bought a hotel in Denver accommodating Japanese visitors.

George was the third of ten children. When he was six years old, his mother took six of her children to Kumamoto, her homeland in Japan, to give them Japanese educations as Kibei. He spent ten years from elementary to high school there. He came back to the US when he was 16 and repeated his education from elementary to high school. Then he went on to the University of Denver and its law school.

In 1940, George was drafted. After six months of basic training at Camp Savage, Minnesota, followed by another six months of infantry training, he became a Japanese language instructor. He was sent to Washington, D.C. on MIS duty in April 1941.

“We received documents from Manila when they didn’t know what to do [with them]. We studied Japanese customs and history. We were sent to Japan right after the war was over in 1945.”

“[At] first, I was the only Nikkei MIS in D.C. Later on, the Pentagon sent four more guys: Jimmy Matsumura, Earnest  Yamane, Bill Kondo, and Kenjiro (last name missing) from Okinawa. We all went to Japan together,” remembers George.

Koshi was stationed as a sergeant in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, west of Yokohama. Sergeant was the highest rank a Japanese American could get at the time.

“Then, they started to commission Nisei officers including about 20 that I knew who were of lower rank.”   

In 1946, Koshi was discharged from the Army but remained as a civilian legal officer for the US Government when the Japanese war crime trials started in May of that year. He was on the defense team for war crime prisoners. There were about 20 men on the team, including Japanese defense lawyers, their translators, American lawyers, and their translators.

“The trial was in English, everything. The Japanese lawyers didn’t speak English so I was on the defense for them. It was a little strange.”

He expresses a slight wry smile.

All the Class A prisoners, including Premier Hideki Tojo, were sentenced to death by hanging. All two hundred Class B prisoners, except three, were sentenced to life in prison.

Koshi was involved in the Class B trials.

“The trials themselves were fair. Even though the defense team had a chance to say what they needed to say, they couldn’t say what they wanted to say fully, I think.”

But the trials led to a puzzling ending.

“The prisoners with the life sentences by a fair trial walked away free after the Peace Treaty in 1952,” recalls Koshi.

The treaty took effect and the same day, the men from Sugamo Prison were liberated; so they only served a few years of their life sentences.

“I worked for the United States Army and I am glad I was a MIS. It was a fair trial from America’s point of view. And we, both sides, made [a] tremendous effort. We did everything we could together,” says the retired lawyer.

He doesn’t have any regrets. Sinking into his favorite armchair, George seems to be content with his life.

“Fulfilling life?” I asked.

“I guess it was a fulfilling past life,” he answered.

“Current life,” corrected daughter Joyce with a proud smile. It was a task that only a Japanese American, an American with a Japanese heart, could perform. He published a book called “The Japanese Legal Advisor” (C. E. Tuttle, 1970, 396 pp.). And though he is modest about it, George also played an important role in drafting the post-war Japanese Constitution. For his work, he was awarded a “kunsho,” an Imperial Order of the Sacred Treasure (Zuihoushou), Third Class, from the Japanese Government in 1974.

George Koshi, daughter Joyce, and his kunsho certificate.

After retiring, he moved back to the US and settled in Seattle, the hometown of his late wife, Ai. He passed the Washington State Bar Exam in 1975 and kept practicing law until he let his license expire last year. Next to his armchair, Ai smiles from inside the picture frame as though she is saying; “George, your job is done and it was well done.”

George Koshi closed the last chapter of his life on February 26, 2004. His memorial was held on March 7, 2004 at Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church, Seattle.


*This article was originally published in the North American Post-Northwest Nikkei on March 6, 2004 and The North American Post republished it on their website on August 18, 2021.


© 2021 Mikiko Amagai

armed forces Colorado generations Nisei retired military personnel United States veterans Washington, D.C. World War II
About this series

On February 19, 1942, two months after the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. Almost 12,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were sent to concentration camps. Among them, two thirds were American-born Nisei. Many of the young men were in two groups: “No-No Boys” and volunteers (or drafted) for the U.S. Army. Now that they are aging, the quiet Nisei veterans are willing to tell their unspoken stories. Having lived through the war themselves, their wishes for peace are immense.

*The 13 articles in this series were originally published in The North American Post-Northwest Nikkei during 2003-2004. The North American Post recently edited and republished them on their website.

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About the Author

Mikiko Amagai was Managing Editor of The North American Post, the Seattle Japanese-community newspaper, from 2001 to 2005. Of her tenure, Mikiko feels that the most memorable articles she wrote were her interviews of the Seattle Nisei veterans—all but one now deceased. She obtained their stories by “just letting them talk.” She published the accounts in both English and Japanese. On November 1, 2020, Mikiko returned to Tokyo after 44 years in Seattle.

Updated January 2021

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