Discover Nikkei

Part 4: World War I - Japanese Loyalty to the US

A Pageant of All Nations, US Government War Exposition Photo Album 1918. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum, ICHI-088630.

Read Part 3 >>

Although they were not US citizens and could not get involved in political matters, as assimilated immigrants, Japanese were very eager to show their loyalty and contributions to the US, as well as to American society in general. This demonstration of loyalty was common on the West Coast as well. One Chicago newspaper reported the following message from Japanese in San Francisco with some surprise:

“‘Our present duty is to help the United States with all our might and with the genuine spirit of loyalty which has been characteristic of our people throughout the ages’ said a ‘Manifesto to the Japanese People’ in the US, printed by the New World, a Japanese daily newspaper here today. It is a stirring appeal to the Nipponese residing under American flag to help the land of their adoption.”1

In Chicago, local Japanese participated in various events held to inspire American patriotism during the War. Yone and other members of the Japanese Women’s club supported their spouses in public and behind the scenes.   

The first Japanese participation on record was in the American Preparedness Parade on June 3, 1916. On the day before the parade, the Chicago Tribune had printed an anti-Japanese “letter to the editor” which contained the following:

“The Japanese business men of Chicago, are proprietors of stores which are stationary, do almost no business at al—hardly enough to pay the rent, but are nevertheless always there—hundreds of them....Why in the name of Americans should the Japanese in this country be interested in our spirit of preparedness?”2

Regardless, some Japanese businessmen did not hesitate to participate in the parade3 and marched with M. Kuroda as Marshall.4

From 1916 to 1919, Japanese participated in multiple campaigns and parades for the Red Cross, multiple subscription campaigns for liberty loans/bonds, the War Exposition in September 1918, the Victory Parade in April 1919, and the All-American Exhibition in September 1919. In addition to those war-related patriotic events, the annual of Independence Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day parades were also good opportunities for Japanese to show their loyalty and contributions as members of American society.

When the big Red Cross membership and donation drive started in May 19175 some Japanese sent messages to other local Japanese urging them to join the Red Cross: “Let’s demonstrate our sincerity fully”6 and “If the Red Cross opens their door to anyone, regardless of race and citizenship, all of us should join and show our duty to the US.”7

Their vigorous efforts even invited competition with the Chinese community to the extent that the Chicago Tribune reported the following: “A race is being conducted between the Japanese and Chinese of Chicago and the Chinese are slightly ahead in memberships. Ninety-four Japanese have joined and it is expected fifty more will join at a meeting today. The Chinese have about 100 membership and expect to get 100 more.”8

Mrs. Tomihei Maruyama (Ogawa in the photo is her maiden name), Chicago Tribune, August 18, 1912.

In June 1918, under the leadership of Alice Kurusu, wife of Consul Kurusu and president of the Japanese Women’s Club, and Mrs. Maruyama, wife of Tomihei Maruyama, a successful Japanese art goods importer and president of the Japanese Association of Chicago, Japanese women continued to call for donations to the Red Cross. They sent invitations to all Japanese living in Chicago, asking them not only to donate, but also to participate in the Memorial Day parade, held downtown on May 30.

For the parade, they instructed women to wear white skirts and panama hats with three colored, red, white, and green ribbons and the US flag, and carry a Japanese parasol. Men were free to choose their clothing but were asked to wear a soft hat with a headband provided by the Japanese Association of Chicago. Yone Shimazu and Mrs. Maruyama marched at the head of the Japanese section. The reported reason for Japanese participation in the parade was to express their sincere gratitude to the US.9

As part of a city-wide Red Cross donation drive for an orphanage in Belgium, Mrs. Maruyama, Mrs. Maeyama and Miss Mary Matsuo sold flowers, earning a surprising amount from the sale.10 Mrs. Maruyama and Mrs. Maeyama were wives of successful Japanese businessmen, and Mary Matsuo was the daughter of Ichiro Matsuo, a painter who was one of the earliest Japanese residents of Chicago.

Selling liberty bonds to support the war was also a very important task assigned to foreign language groups in Chicago, to show their loyalty. There were thirty foreign groups, including Belgians, Bohemians, Serbians, Germans, Italians, Danish, Norwegians, Jewish, Lithuanians, Swedish, Assyrians, Hungarians, Greeks, French, Russians,andmany others. Misaki Shimazu was sent to weekly planning sessions as the delegate for the Japanese group.11

Tsune Watanabe, Life and Light for Women, April 1918.

Around this time the Woman’s Liberty Loan Committee was also organized; this group’s goal was to reach out to all Americans of foreign birth and descent for the purpose of selling bonds through their foreign language division. Yone Shimazu was chosen as a foreign language delegate,12 and, with Tsune Watanabe, both representing the Japanese group, participated in the women’s mass meeting for the Third Liberty Loan Drive, which began in April 1918.13

Tsune Watanabe, a member of the first class to graduate from Kobe College in 1882, and 1891 graduate of Carleton College in Minnesota, was the national superintendent of the Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction for Japan and also president of the Kobe WCTU (Woman’s Christian Temperance Union). Watanabe must have been in Chicago on her way back to Japan from the December 1917 WCTU National Convention in Washington DC. She had made a speech at the Convention and then visited Rest Cottage and the National WCTU Headquarters in Evanston in April 1918.14

As of May 1918, Japanese had demonstrated their loyalty to the US by buying up bonds totaling $8500. Japan was the only Asian country whose bond subscription totals were reported in newspapers.15

When Chicago held its big Liberty Day Parade on April 26, 1918, an event observed by schools and public offices with a half-day holiday,16 a Japanese woman in kimono appeared on a float “on which rode the women of thirty nationalities.” In front of the float was a banner which read: “Thirty languages, One flag.”17

Liberty Day Parade, Chicago Herald, April 27, 1918  

Japanese also participated in that year’s July 4th celebration; it was reported that “Several hundred Japs took part in the city-wide demonstration.”18 They met at the Japanese pavilion on Wooded Island in Jackson Park, where Kiichiro Kawabe of the University of Chicago and Saburo Kurusu, Japanese Consul, gave speeches before the Japanese paraded from Wooded Island to Washington Park.19

After the celebration, “All races on the Committee” had a meeting at which Reverend Misaki Shimazu, representative of the Japanese Association, reported that six Japanese women had sold 600 dollars in War Savings Stamps in ten minutes. His report was greeted with unanimous applause.20

When the US Government War Exposition was held in Grant Park from September 2 to 15, 1918, the Japanese Association of Chicago was given 500 admission tickets to sell. The tickets sold out almost immediately, due to the efforts of Mrs. Jinichiro Otsuka.21 Yone’s daughter, Fumiko Shimazu, and Chiyoko Maeyama, daughter of Sentaro Maeyama, a Japanese goods importer, wore kimono and helped to sell entrance tickets at the corner of Adams Street and Michigan Avenue under the supervision of Yone and Mrs. Maruyama, wife of Japanese businessman Tomihei Maruyama. Their appearance was very popular among Americans and they were able to sell 25-cent tickets worth 70 dollars in less than two hours. The next day May Yamada and Kumako Ohi raised another 140 dollars.

Chicago Herald, August 30, 1918

Their pictures were featured in various newspapers and contributed to promoting a higher image of Japanese.22 The caption for the photo of one of the Japanese girls, Chiyo Maruyama, read as follows: “Chinese Girl selling war exposition tickets to a young sailor —She is Chiyo Macyama and one of the most enthusiastic young war workers in Chicago. She says America is her country and she wants to do her bit in the defeat of prusianism.”23 

But since the newspaper could not tell Chinese from Japanese, the Japanese hope that through their activity they could promote “a higher image of Japanese” might have been more of a self-satisfying illusion. 

Japanese women sold about 900 tickets in total for the War Exposition and held a celebration at the Exposition called “Japan Night” on September 4. Although it was a rainy night, a thirty-five member choir sponsored by the JYMCI and a sword dance by Mr. Kametoku thrilled the audience.24 

When “A Pageant of All Nations” was held at the exposition, about thirty girls in their ethnic costumes participated in the pageant, including one Asian girl. It is very possible that she was Japanese, but, since her costume was not visible in the photo, we can see only her face as she stood at the very back, as if overwhelmed by the crowd of white girls in front of her and hiding herself behind them.25

Liberty Loan Drive Parade, Chicago Evening American, October 14, 1918  

When another Liberty Loan Parade was held on October 12, 1918, Japanese did not miss out on participating as part of the Chicago Foreign Language Division.26 The Chicago Foreign Language Division had 40,000 representatives of thirty-seven different nationalities27 and they made elaborate floats for the parade.28

The Japanese float, “trudged by in an enthusiasm for Uncle Sam and the war,”29 was decorated with a US flag and a Japanese Navy flag, and the Japanese men on the float wore outfits that looked like military uniforms. It was reported that “their banner proudly proclaims, [that Japanese] already have subscribed 200 percent of their quota to the loan.”30 In addition, Tamaki Miura, a world-renowned Japanese opera singer who sang to entertain US soldiers, was featured in the parade as a Japanese contribution to the war effort.31

Once the war was over Chicago was all about celebrating victory and the Japanese continued to be part of celebrations, including Victory Parades and the Victory Loan Drive which started in April 1919. For entertainment during the Victory Loan Drive, an “All American Chorus” of Chicago girls in costumes representing twenty-eight countries was organized, and included a Japanese girl as one of the singers.32 

All-American-Chorus Victory Drive, Chicago Herald, August 2, 1919

In the midst of all the excitement about the war victory, along with other foreign-born women, Yone started visiting injured and sick soldiers every Saturday at Fort Sheridan with her daughter, Fumiko.33

The All-American Exposition opened with a parade at the Coliseum on August 30, 1919. The exposition was called “A Gorgeous Miniature World’s Fair” and its purpose was “to bring about a closer permanent unity between the foreign-born and the native-born of our population” under the glorious theme of “One country, One flag, and One purpose.” “Tens of thousands of representatives of forty different racial groups” participated in the Exposition.34

The Japanese group exhibited more than 120 items in the art and handicraft show and Yone Shimazu worked for the Japan Exhibit with Japanese businessmen including Seijiro Ogasawara and Jitsuzo Harada. September 9 was Japan Day and featured Japanese children born in the US, including Fumiko Shimazu (Yone and Misaki’s daughter), who sang songs, Kuma Ohi (who later became the first Japanese American female lawyer in the US), who played the piano, Chiyoko Maeyama, who played koto, and Tokuko Ikeuchi, who danced to the folk song “Harusame” (Spring rain).35

Part 5 >>


1. The Day Book, April 11, 1917.

2. Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1916.

3. Nichibei Shuho, June 17, 1916.

4. Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1916.

5. Chicago Record-Herald, May 3, 1917.

6. Nichibei Shuho, April 21, 1917.

7. Nichibei Shuho, May 12, 1917.

8. Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1917.

9. Nichibei Shuho, June 1, 1918.

10. Nichibei Shuho ,August 31, 1918.

11. Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1918.

12. Ibid.

13. Chicago Tribune, March 29, 1918.

14. Union Signal, April 25, 1918. Life and Light for woman, April 1918.

15. Chicago Daily News, May 8, 1918.

16. Chicago Tribune, April 26, 1918.

17. Chicago Herald, April 27. 1918.

18. Chicago Tribune, July 5, 1918.

19. Chicago Herald, July 4, 1918.

20. Nichibei Shuho, September 7, 1918.

21. Nichibei Shuho, August 31, 1918.

22. Nichibei Shuho, July 20, 1918.

23. Chicago Herald, August 30, 1918.

24. Nichibei Shuho, September 21, 1918.

25. US Government War Exposition Album, Souvenir Program, Chicago History Museum.

26. Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1918.

27. Chicago Daily News, October 12, 1918.

28. Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1918.

29. Chicago Tribune, October 13, 1918.

30. Chicago Evening American, October 14, 1918.

31. Chcago Daily News, October 12, 1918.

32. Chicago Record-Herald, April 2, 1919.

33. Nichibei Jiho, May 10, 1919.

34. Chicago Evening Post, August 30, 1919.

35. Nichibei Jiho, September 3, 1919.


© 2023 Takako Day

American Red Cross Chicago Illinois United States World War I
About this series

Throughout the history of Japanese immigrants/immigration to the US, women have been treated as secondary citizens, existing only in the shadows of men. This series describes the Japanese women's community in pre-war Chicago, Illinois, a community that was organized by a bilingual Japanese Christian woman, that involved various kinds of women in Chicago and from Japan, and made significant contributions to the larger Chicago community.  

Learn More
About the Author

Takako Day, originally from Kobe, Japan, is an award-winning freelance writer and independent researcher who has published seven books and hundreds of articles in the Japanese and English languages. Her latest book, SHOW ME THE WAY TO GO HOME: The Moral Dilemma of Kibei No No Boys in World War Two Incarceration Camps is her first book in English. 

Relocating from Japan to Berkeley in 1986 and working as a reporter at the Nichibei Times in San Francisco first opened Day’s eyes to social and cultural issues in multicultural America. Since then, she has written from the perspective of a cultural minority for more than 30 years on such subjects as Japanese and Asian American issues in San Francisco, Native American issues in South Dakota (where she lived for seven years) and most recently (since 1999), the history of little known Japanese Americans in pre-war Chicago. Her piece on Michitaro Ongawa is born of her love of Chicago.

Updated December 2016

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More