Guyo Tajiri


Guyo Tajiri (1915–2007) joined with her husband Larry Tajiri as editor and staffer of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) newspaper Pacific Citizen during World War II and the early postwar years, and kept the community informed of events through her advice columns, book reviews and reporting.

An Aspiring Journalist

She was born Tsuguyo Marion Okagaki on October 17, 1915—the second child of nine and the oldest daughter—and grew up in an integrated neighborhood in San Jose, California. Her father, Kichitaro Okagaki (1884–1947), who had come to the United States in 1904, was a reporter who covered local news for the San Francisco-based Japanese-language newspaper Shin Sekai (New World Sun). Guyo worked as an unpaid assistant for her father's newspaper during her teen years, doing writing and fact-checking—"a bit of everything," she later said—for its English-language section. Attracted by journalism, she decided to make a career of it. Upon completing high school, she was accepted by the University of Missouri's prestigious School of Journalism, where in fall 1932 she became, in all likelihood, the first Asian woman student to enroll. While she loved the journalism school, she was forced to leave after only a single semester—no doubt the Great Depression pushed tuition and board beyond the family's means. She returned home and briefly attended San José State before enrolling the following fall at UC Berkeley, where she remained for two years.

During her college years, Guyo continued to work at her father's newspaper. It was at this time that she met a young journalist visiting from Los Angeles, Larry Tajiri. Although barely older than Guyo, he had started full-time work as a columnist and assistant editor for Kashu Mainichi at age 17, and had since become a seasoned professional. Despite (or because of) his lack of formal education, he was extremely well-read, and was passionate about literature and theater. Soon after, Larry was recruited to San Francisco as columnist and coeditor of the English-language section of the Nichi Bei, whose staff Guyo also joined. In 1937 the two were married. During the next years, she kept house and wrote an occasional feature. In 1940, Larry and Guyo moved to New York, where Larry became the local correspondent for Japan's Asahi newspaper chain. Guyo enjoyed exploring Manhattan, and she served as occasional New York correspondent for the Nichi Bei.

Transforming the Pacific Citizen

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Larry and Guyo returned west. Following the promulgation of Executive Order 9066, Guyo's family was rounded up and sent to Heart Mountain. Guyo herself prepared to move to Washington DC, where Larry had been offered a job with the Office of War Information. However, in late March 1942 JACL president Saburo Kido invited both spouses to transform the Pacific Citizen, the organization's tiny monthly newsletter, into a full-fledged weekly newspaper to replace the shuttered West Coast press. Working on 48 hours notice, they packed their belongings, and on March 29, 1942—the last day before such "voluntary evacuation" was banned—they left the West Coast. Once arrived in Salt Lake City, where the JACL had moved its operations, the Tajiris rented a home from an elderly German widow, opened an office in three rooms adjoining the JACL headquarters in the downtown Beeson Building, and hired a printer. The revamped weekly (later biweekly) version of the Pacific Citizen began appearing on June 4, 1942.

From its first issue, Guyo and Larry Tajiri put together the entire Pacific Citizen by themselves. The newspaper lost money at first, and the hard-pressed JACL had no extra money for reporters or features. They soon succeeded, however, in transforming the Pacific Citizen into a newspaper of national stature. Both Tajiris read through mountains of outside reports, newspaper pieces, camp papers, and other sources for Nisei-related material to reprint, and they maintained a steady stream of correspondence to solicit information or columns. They also wrote an enormous amount of original material. In addition to doing regular book reviews and features, Guyo had her own recurring column, produced under the pen name "Ann Nisei." Guyo also was largely responsible for proofreading each issue for the printer, who had trouble spelling all the Japanese names. For this immense burden of work, Guyo was paid only $25 per month plus rent on their home—a third of what her husband received, and barely more than camp inmates earned.

As "Ann Nisei," Guyo presented information for women in camp, discussing such topics as makeup, romantic problems, and family life. Although she kept the tone of most of her columns light and cheery, she did repeatedly underline the importance of Nisei women's development. Her other journalism, especially her postwar articles, remained more heavily analytical. In a 1946 review, she commented, "For the Nisei, the evacuation was a horrible experience in humiliation. The remembering of the incredible humiliation and agony of that experience must be, to the Nisei who went through it, an experience that burns upon the heart."[1] In summer 1949, Guyo traveled to San Francisco as a special correspondent for the Pacific Citizen, reporting on Iva Toguri's "Tokyo Rose" trial. She published approximately one dozen articles about the trial. In the process, she shifted from being certain of Iva Toguri's guilt to believing her a victim of unjust treatment. In addition to writing for the Pacific Citizen, Guyo's articles appeared in The New Canadian and SCENE. Her most-reprinted contribution during these years was the lyric she penned for the JACL hymn in 1948.

Later Life

In 1952, Larry and Guyo left the Pacific Citizen, victims of burnout and an internal power struggle. They went on vacation to Mexico, a trip that prompted Guyo's last published article, "El Sur de la Frontera," in January 1953. After a short time working for a newspaper in Colorado Springs, Larry was hired by the Denver Post, where he served as columnist and drama critic until his untimely death in 1965. During these years, Guyo served briefly as a secretary for the JACL Rocky Mountain branch, then devoted herself to mastering painting. At the time Larry died, Guyo recalled, she had not worked in a long time and had no "marketable skills." Although by then in her fifties, she bravely went back to school and earned a degree in education. Settling in Berkeley, she took a job as a public school teacher in Oakland, where she remained for 12 years before retirement. She died on September 7, 2007.

Authored by Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Robinson, Greg. Pacific Citizens: Larry and Guyo Tajiri and Japanese American Journalism in the World War II Era. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

Yoo, David K. Growing up Nisei: Race, Generation, and Culture Among Japanese Americans of California, 1924-49. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Footnotes

  1. M.O.T. [Marin Otagaki Tajiri], "Karen Kehoe's 'City in the Sun' is a Hard-Hitting Novel about Nisei and Wartime Relocation," Pacific Citizen, December 7, 1946, p. 5.