Go For Broke

National Education Center

After four years of fighting in Europe and the Pacific, World War II would finally come to its conclusion. On August 6, 1945, the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and then three days later, another on Nagasaki, essentially ending the war. On September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrendered.

Although the Allies and Axis powers were no longer at war, there was still much work to be done to secure peace and rebuild Japan. The American government planned for three phases of post-war efforts: the reformation of Japan, the revival of its economy, and the establishment of a peace treaty and alliance.1

Japan, circled.
(L-R) Satoshi Tomita, Steve S. Yamamoto, and Tahoe P. Tagashi check Japanese documents used in the war crimes trials. War Ministry Building, Tokyo, Japan. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
(L-R) Hidee Ikeuchi, Tom Maruyama, and Francie Nakagawa. Tokyo, Japan. September 3, 1946. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

For the Nisei in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), their work was far from over. With their language and intelligence skills, the MIS linguists were needed for the successful completion of American post-war operations. More than 5,000 MIS linguists participated in the occupation of Japan, which lasted until 1952.

Members of the WAC were not the only American Nisei women serving in the occupation of Japan - many civilians, like Yukie Kozai pictured here, worked for American government agencies. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

In preparation for the occupation, the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) located at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, accelerated its training process to meet the demand for Nisei linguists. Once the end of the war was in sight, the school shifted its focus from military to civilian Japanese language along with government terminology and policies. 

The need to learn military tactics was no longer significant, and students were taught a general knowledge of Japanese culture. An oral language component was emphasized, which was a considerable departure from previous MISLS objectives, which had stressed the learning of written Japanese.2

New replacements graduating from MISLS were immediately shipped to the Pacific for assignment in Japan. Women’s Army Corps (WAC) linguists, who had been trained at MISLS in May 1945, also served at the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Section at Camp Ritchie in Maryland, which was later moved to Washington, DC. There they provided additional assistance by translating captured documents.3 Thirteen of the WAC graduates, 11 of whom were Nisei, were assigned to Tokyo for occupation duty in January 1946.

The MIS linguists immersed themselves in every aspect of the occupation, from major assignments in military government, disarmament and intelligence, to civil affairs, land reform, education, and finance. Faced with the immense task of providing for the needs of a post-war population crippled by food shortages and the destruction of transportation networks, MIS linguists proved essential in working with local authorities to assist in the restoration of Japan. In addition to acting as liaisons between American and Japanese officials, they assisted about 3.5 million soldiers as well as three million civilians being repatriated from overseas.4 These included hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians who were held as prisoners of war in Siberia.5 Military government offices were established throughout all of Japan’s prefectures, and bilingual MIS personnel helped oversee their operations.

Fred A. Suzawana, interpreter for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, questions witness Isawa Fajita (left). War Ministry Building, Tokyo, Japan.September 3, 1946. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Such Nisei included Technician Third Grade James H. Saito, who as an interpreter for the 4th Marine Division, served at meetings between American Marine officers and Nagasaki city officials. Such meetings would review recovery efforts of the city’s infrastructure following the atomic bomb.6 Another Nisei, Technician Third Grade Saburo Kubota, went from Camp Savage to the Philippines, to Japan, where he served as an interrogator and interpreter at the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers.7

George Yamaoka, Nisei defense attorney for Admiral Hideki Tojo. Tokyo, Japan. September 3, 1946. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
In addition, many MIS linguists were also translators, interrogators, and investigators for the trials of Japanese war criminals. Some 70 Nisei were assigned to war crimes tasks.8 Those MIS personnel assigned to this duty provided processing and translation services for the war crimes tribunals that took place in Japan as well as in the Pacific Islands and China. At the trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, held in Manila in October 1945, some 20 or so Nisei served as interpreters and on both sides of the case.9 MIS Nisei Technician Third Grade Tad Ichinokuchi served as Gen. Yamashita’s interpreter at his war crimes trial in the Philippines. Later, he served as an interpreter in Japan, gathering evidence for the trial of Admiral Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan through the majority of the Pacific war.10 In Yokohama, Staff Sergeant Kiyoshi Hirano, who in 1943 had worked as a translator in support of the Manhattan Project with then Staff Sergeant Yutaka Namba, led a team of MIS interpreters in the war crimes trials of those accused of torturing B-29 pilots.1112
Intelligence was an important aspect of the occupation that MIS members also provided. Nisei linguists were involved in intelligence organizations such as the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) and the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD). These organizations played key roles in the gathering of information for General Headquarters (GHQ). The CIC’s mission was to detect and prevent subversive activities directed against the occupation forces in Japan. The CCD’s mission was to comb through telegrams, newspapers, magazines, books, and other forms of mass communication for civil intelligence. They kept abreast of public sentiment and monitored the media so that occupation policies could be implemented in an orderly manner. Hundreds of Japanese nationals who worked for the CCD were supervised by American Nisei trained at MISLS. The MISLS graduates in the CCD also included 14 Nisei women from Hawaii.13

The Nisei linguists aided in the drafting of the new constitution for Japan, and they also helped to implement the laws formulated to rebuild the nation, including the agricultural land reform law that redistributed millions of acres of land among members of the rural community.14 

Additionally, the establishment of internal security in the form of a national police reserve, which would later become the Japanese Self Defense Forces, came about partly through the help of MIS linguists.15

Because of the Nisei‘s language abilities, their intelligence skills and, on a very practical level, their own heritage and personal and physical connection to Japanese culture, the MIS served to bridge the gap between Army headquarters and Japanese civilians. They fostered understanding between the Americans and the Japanese, and for this, they were commended. Army historian James C. McNaughton writes that the MIS Nisei “worked in an astonishing variety of roles to guarantee a peaceful and ultimately successful occupation during which former enemies became close allies.”16

The MIS Nisei post-war efforts would help the United States and Japan move forward to form a strong alliance that holds to the present day.


  • 1“Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan,” US State Department, Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, accessed on January 5, 2015.
  • 2James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2006), pp. 326-329.
  • 3“Japanese American Women in World War II,” javadc.org, accessed on January 5, 2015.
  • 4McNaughton, p. 415.
  • 5Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994), p. 292.
  • 6James H. Saito, “Army of Occupation in Nagasaki,” Secret Valor: MIS Personnel World War II Pacific Theater (Honolulu, HI: Military Intelligence Service Veterans, 1993), p. 110.
  • 7Saburo Kubota, “From Philippines, to Japan, and Hawaii,” Secret Valor: MIS Personnel World War II Pacific Theater (Honolulu, HI: Military Intelligence Service Veterans, 1993), p. 90.
  • 8McNaughton, pp. 440, 448.
  • 9Ibid, p. 440.
  • 10Crost, p. 217.
  • 11Ibid, p. 291.
  • 12McNaughton, pp. 222-223.
  • 13McNaughton, p. 454.
  • 14Military Intelligence Service, Densho Encyclopedia, last updated July 12, 2014. For a detailed explanation of the land reform act, see Toshihiko Kawagoe, “Agricultural Land Reform in Postwar Japan: Experiences and Issues,” The World Bank, May 1999, accessed on January 6, 2015.
  • 15Kayoko Takeda, Interpreting the Tokyo War Crimes Trial: A Sociopolitical Analysis (Ottawa, Ontario: University of Ottawa Press, 2010), p. 76. See also Crost, p. 291
  • 16McNaughton, p. 415.
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