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
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.
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.
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
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.