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Nisei Journalists and the Occupation of China: Buddy Uno and Bill Hosokawa Compared - Part 1 of 3

One of the difficulties of doing Japanese American history is maintaining a balanced perspective in the face of politically and ideologically-charged debates. Many chroniclers of Japanese Americans, in trying to debunk racist wartime images of Nisei as disloyal and pro-Japanese, have perhaps gone rather too far in the other direction.

Eric Muller, the distinguished legal scholar and historian, has eloquently complained that books, plays, and exhibits have largely erased the Japanese connections of prewar Nisei, and have tended to portray them in almost Hollywood-style terms as assimilated small-town Americans, as “a group composed entirely of bobby-soxers drinking malteds, jitterbugging, and reading comic books.”1

Eric’s point is well taken. Though such stereotypes are not altogether without foundation, they reduce and distort a complex reality. In fact, the mass of prewar Nisei maintained close connections to various aspects of Japanese culture, as well as to American. They ate Japanese food, performed Japanese plays, learned Japanese arts and crafts, watched Japanese films, and cheered Japanese athletes in international competitions. They attended Japanese schools—willingly or unwillingly—and while most youngsters spoke Japanese poorly, their lingo was studded with Nihongo.

The community press, both English- and Japanese-language, featured extensive coverage of news from Japan. Numerous Nisei traveled back to their ancestral homeland for visits or education, although they often faced prejudice and isolation as Americans there. Quite a number moved there permanently—according to one estimate at the time, there were 1,500 Nisei students in Tokyo alone in 1940, and there may have been 5,000 total Nisei residents in the capital. Others settled in Japanese-controlled Korea and Manchuria.

As a result of both their grounding in Japanese culture and the influence of their Issei parents, many Nisei, perhaps most, felt some sense of identification with the Japanese nation during the 1930s. This feeling, in turn, translated into (widely) varying degrees of support for Tokyo’s foreign policy.

Acting out of a blend of sentimental attachment to family, self-interest, political analysis, racial pride, and at times professional duty, the mass of Nisei journalists and public speakers defended Japanese expansionism and the occupation of China after 1937. This did not mean, though, that they ceased regarding themselves as Americans—any more than did other Americans of all stripes who favored Japan over China. Rather, as Tokyo and Washington moved toward confrontation at the end of the decade, the Nisei were caught between the two and felt pressure to choose sides.

While a fraction of the group continued to offer inner support to their ancestral homeland—especially those who had lived in the Japanese empire in those years and absorbed some of the dominant militarist philosophy—the large majority reaffirmed their first attachment to America.

The dilemma over taking a position was especially keen for the phalanx of educated adult Nisei, blocked by racial discrimination from taking jobs with American companies, who were hired by Japanese consulates and businesses in the United States and abroad. Nisei such as T. Scott Miyakawa, an agent of the Japan-dominated Southern Manchuria Railroad, or Larry Tajiri, a correspondent for Japan’s Asahi news empire, tried to avoid taking sides openly until imperatively necessary, then sought to distance themselves from their Japanese sponsors without giving up their employment. In some cases, Nisei could not easily temporize, and made principled or tactical decisions to follow Tokyo’s line.

Buddy Uno. ca. 1930s (Gift of Shuichi Miho, Japanese American National Museum [99.132.9])

A revealing, if possibly extreme, case study of this complex reality lies in the contrasting careers of a pair of notable Nisei journalists, Buddy Uno and Bill Hosokawa. Both were hired for work in Asia in the late 1930s, and both reported back from Japanese-occupied China. Both also were recruited as contributors by a pro-Tokyo newspaper, the Far Eastern Review. Yet their paths were later to diverge in striking fashion after Pearl Harbor. Buddy Uno ended up casting his lot with Japan during World War II, while Bill Hosokawa returned to the United States, and proclaimed his support for America even after being confined by the government at the Heart Mountain camp.

Kazumaro “Buddy” Uno’s career has been extensively studied by the late Yuji Ichioka.2 He was born in 1913, the eldest of ten children (among his siblings were the future journalist Robert Uno and activists Edison Uno and Amy Uno Ishii). In the early 1930s he became a well-regarded writer for the West Coast Nisei press, both as a feature writer and as author of the column “A Nisei Melodrama.”

In 1937, following the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, Uno traveled to Japan, where he secured permission to visit China as an accredited war correspondent. After touring the battlefront for several weeks, the young reporter published a series of pro-Japanese dispatches in the Nisei press, which according to Ichioka consisted largely of Japanese Army press releases, slightly altered. On the strength of these acounts, Uno was invited to make a second tour of the front in 1938.

Following his tours, Uno returned to the United States, where he made lecture tours up and down the West Coast, speaking of his experiences and defending Tokyo. Uno appeared in numerous Japanese communities (often with the support of local branches of the Japanese American Citizens League) and participated in public debates over the war with Chinese Americans.

In Fall 1939, Uno returned to Asia and published a series of articles in the Far Eastern Review, an established English-language monthly magazine, founded by an Irish-American, George Bronson Rea, and based in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. A number of historians have noted that beginning in 1919, the Review received secret subsidies from the Japanese government, and writer Peter O’Connor has termed it a “semi-official organ” for Tokyo.3

By the time Uno began writing for it, it was controlled by another old China Hand, Charlie Laval. In a multipart series, “A Nisei Visits China,” Uno described his travels around China and lauded the impressive activities of the Japanese forces. The series is remarkable for Uno’s acceptance of Japanese propaganda and his blindness about the impact of the Occupation around him, all mixed with a wide-eyed naïveté so absolute that in our current, more ironic age, it would be read automatically as satire.

In his first piece, for example, Uno describes his stay in Hangchow [i.e. Hangzhou].4 He notes excitedly how the exchange rate fostered by occupation made the prices for buying Chinese goods extremely cheap. Perhaps the highlight of the article is his description of his conversation with an American missionary, Miss A.R.V. Wilson. When Miss Wilson states that she wants nothing to do with the Japanese military, Uno insists that ever since occupying Hangchow, the Japanese soldiers have been devoting themselves to aiding war refugees by distributing food and medical care and opening an employment bureau. When she reminds him that she is prevented from traveling to her mission to aid people there, Uno closes with indignation at the idea that religious leaders are so narrow-minded that they can only see matters from a religious angle!

In a second article, “A Nisei in Hangkow,” Uno tells the story of his travels to that city [present-day Wuhan]. He lauds the enterprise of the Japanese businesses that have set up there following the strugle of the brave soldiers to take the city, and have dominated the local economy. “Expansion of Japanese business into Hangkow was only made possible at the cost of thousands of Japanese lives dedicated to peace and goodwill.”5 (The loss of life by the city’s Chinese defenders in the face of the massacres perpetrated by the agents of such “goodwill” apparently did not similarly impress him).

The two other articles in the series, describing Uno’s visits to Formosa [i.e. Taiwan] and Hainan, are similar. Both contain the author’s breathless descriptions of Japan’s efforts to unite the regions under its rule into a land where “all peoples are prospering under a single government based in freedom and justice.”6 They also feature his occasional pained incomprehension when the non-Japanese he interviews are reticent in their responses to his admiration for the Japanese occupier.

An interesting aspect of the final entries is how Uno touches on the startling news of the Germano-Soviet pact and the outbreak of War in Europe at the end of summer 1939. He cites a talk with an American customs commissioner, Mr. Groff-Smith, who relates the news of the outbreak of war, adding that the whole world will be against Germany because their cause is unjust. Uno, for his own part, states candidly that while he is uninformed on the inner causes of world events, he sympathizes with Nazi Germany. Provided the United States remains neutral, as domestic reasons will likely oblige, Germany and the Soviet Union will now “have the advantage over” Great Britain and France, whom Uno considers the true enemy.7

In January 1940, Buddy Uno joined the Press Bureau of the Japanese Army in Shanghai as a civilian journalist, and was detached as liaison for the Japan’s military with foreign correspondents. In early 1941 he was drafted into the Japanese Army. Though he was discharged after a single day to return to his Press Bureau activities, his enlistment in the Japanese military caused him to be stripped of his American citizenship. The loss was evidently a decisive step for Uno, already bitter over the discrimination he had found in the United States, and cemented his growing allegiance to Japan.

During World War II Japan’s Army Press bureau named Uno editor-in-chief of a seized newspaper, Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury, which he made into a collaborationist organ. He also edited a pro-Japanese photomagazine, ironically entitled Freedom. He subsequently served in Tokyo, where he organized pro-Japanese radio broadcasts with coerced labor by POWs, and later in similar work in Manila. Captured by Filipino forces at the end of the war, he was ultimately deported to Japan. There he spent his final years, dying in 1954.

Part 2 >>


1. Eric Muller, email to author, November 21, 2011.
2. Yuji Ichioka, “The Meaning of Loyalty : The case of Kazumaro Buddy Uno, ” Yuji Ichioka (Gordon H. Chang and Eiichiro Azuma, eds.) Before Internment: Essays in Prewar Japanese American History, (Stanford, CA, Stanford University (Press, 2006), p. 159.
3. See, for example, Peter O’Connor, “Endgame: The English-Language Press Networks of East Asia in the run-up to War, 1936-1941,” Japan Forum 13(1) (2001), pp. 63-76. Peter O’Connor, “Compromised,” Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, 2006, http://www.fccj.or.jp/node/1186, searched March 24, 2012
4. Kazumaro Uno, “A Nisei Visits China,” Far Eastern Review, August 1939, pp. 321-2.
5. Kazumaro Uno, “A Nisei Visits Hankow,” Far Eastern Review, September 1939, pp. 372.
6. Kazumaro Uno, “A Nisei in Formosa,” Far Eastern Review, October 1939, pp. 413.
7. Kazumaro Uno, “A Nisei Visits Hainan Island,” Far Eastern Review, September 1939, pp. 372.

© 2012 Greg Robinson

bill hosokawa Buddy Uno identity Japan journalists media nisei World War II