Pacific Citizen (newspaper)


The Pacific Citizen, (PC) created as the organizational newsletter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), became a full-fledged newspaper during World War II. During the war years, it represented the most articulate voice of mainland Japanese Americans, and acted as the principal purveyor of news to the community.

The Pacific Citizen was founded in 1929 as the bulletin of the San Francisco "New American Citizens League," under the name Nikkei Shimin. Three years later, it was adopted as the official organ of the fledgling JACL and renamed. During the 1930s it was taken over by Seattle-based editor James Sakamoto as an adjunct of his newspaper Japanese American Courier. Although formally a monthly publication, in fact it appeared only sporadically. Apart from Walter Tsukamoto’s legal advice column "Legal Forum," it concentrated largely on JACL chapter news, and was not taken seriously even by JACL members. It suspended publication after Pearl Harbor.

The War Years

In early March 1942, at an emergency meeting in San Francisco, JACL board members resolved to revamp the journal, and to run it as a weekly out of the JACL's forthcoming Salt Lake City headquarters. The goals were both to aid JACL public relations and to offer Japanese Americans a news source to take over from the shuttered West Coast press. It was an audacious move for the contested and cash-strapped organization. Equally surprising was JACL president Saburo Kido's decision to ask Larry Tajiri and his wife, Guyo, to serve as editors. Larry Tajiri had never been close to the JACL in the prewar era and had in fact been a frequent critic of its program. Working on 48 hours notice, the Tajiris packed their belongings and left for Salt Lake City, just before such “voluntary relocation” was curtailed. Once arrived in Utah, the Tajiris opened an office in three rooms adjoining the JACL headquarters in the downtown Beeson Building.

The new weekly version of The Pacific Citizen began appearing on June 4, 1942. Apart from three small predominantly Japanese-language newspapers in the Western "free" zone, the PC was the only independent mainland Japanese American publication. Much of the contents consisted of government bulletins and official press releases, along with reprints of outside news stories. The Tajiris also did an enormous amount of writing themselves. Larry turned out editorials plus a running column, "Nisei USA." Guyo concentrated on selected features, plus an anonymous advice column published under the pseudonym "Ann Nisei." The journal, funded by subscriptions and subsidized by JACL membership dues, at first lost money, and the hard-pressed JACL had no extra funds for reporters or features. Thus, the Tajiris produced each issue entirely by themselves. Eventually, writers such as Joe Grant Masaoka, Bill Hosokawa and Dyke Miyagawa began contributing columns.

While the Tajiris worked together with the JACL staffers in the neighboring office, they regarded their operation as largely independent, and they demanded and received considerable autonomy over the editorial line. For example, despite the JACL's image as an ultrapatriotic organization, The Pacific Citizen expressed more compassion than disdain for the “no-nos,” the minority of inmates who refused to fill out an official "loyalty" questionnaire or swear unconditional loyalty to the government. The Tajiris would be roundly criticized for their attitude at the JACL's 1946 national convention. On the other hand, The Pacific Citizen denounced the actions of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and supported government prosecution of all draft resisters.

The Tajiris succeeded in making The Pacific Citizen both entertaining and thoughtful, and turned it into a broad liberal forum for Nisei opinion. Under their direction, the journal was singled out for praise by Office of War Information director Elmer Davis as "the finest weekly newspaper in the United States." In 1946 the Friends of the American Way, a West Coast liberal group, launched a public campaign to nominate Tajiri and the newspaper for the Pulitzer Prize. The PC attracted readers (and subscribers) from a host of different racial/ethnic groups, plus Nisei from across the country—even many who were hostile or indifferent towards the JACL were eager to get news of the group. As the war went on, the Tajiris added more war news and broadened the newspaper's analysis of domestic issues. Tajiri forthrightly denounced racial bigotry against Japanese Americans and called for the defense of their rights. He likewise encouraged Nisei to seek wider coalitions with labor unions and other other racial and ethnic minority groups (including Jews) to push civil rights. Beyond his support for racial equality, Tajiri was a powerful critic of Representative Martin Dies, Chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his efforts to create a "witch hunt" against Japanese Americans by accusing them of subversion.

After the War

In 1952, Larry Tajiri resigned as PC editor, a victim of burnout and internal JACL power struggles, and was succeeded by Harry K. Honda. Meanwhile, the journal relocated to Los Angeles and absorbed the JACL Reporter. In the process, the PC heavily expanded its focus on JACL chapter news, especially from the West Coast, though the format otherwise remained similar. Larry Tajiri continued his "Vagaries" column, in alternation with Bill Hosokawa's long-running "From the Frying Pan" column, while journalist Tomatsu Murayama contributed a regular column from Tokyo.  Although under Honda's editorship The Pacific Citizen toned down some of its previous crusading reform spirit, during the McCarthy era the journal continued to defend civil liberties against anti-Communist hysteria, and it featured regular updates on civil rights legislation in the following decade. In fall 1964, editor Honda devoted a special issue of The Pacific Citizen to making the case against Proposition 14, the ballot measure that repealed California's fair housing law.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the PC regularly offered news of the Redress movement, and in the 1990s began covering debates over the JACL's landmark 1994 resolution in support of marriage for same-sex couples. In 2002, Harry K. Honda retired after 50 years as editor, and was succeeded by Caroline Aoyagi-Stom. It continues to publish both in print and via its website.

Authored by Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Hosokawa, Bill. Out of the Frying Pan. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 1998.

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

The Pacific Citizen. http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digital-archives.