Chiye Mori

Name Chiye Mori
Born February 1 1915
Died May 20 2001
Birth Location Oregon
Generational Identifier


Loretta Chiye Mori was a poet and journalist who contributed regular columns and articles to numerous Southern California Japanese American publications including the Kashu Mainchi and the Rafu Shimpo and was a central figure in the formation of a Nisei literary coterie in prewar Los Angeles. During World War II, she served as an editor of the Manzanar Free Press newspaper.

Early Life and Literary Endeavors

Mori was born to Sakiyo and Yoritaro (Yositaro) Mori on February 1, 1915, in Gresham, Oregon. By 1930, her mother had remarried to a man named Jujiro Suzuki, and the Suzukis raised Chiye in Long Beach, California. From an early age, Mori's artistic and literary talents were recognized and encouraged through student publications at Long Beach Polytechnical High School, where she graduated along with fellow Nisei writer, Larry Tajiri . As a teenager, she wrote a regular column in Los Angeles' Kashu Mainichi daily newspaper entitled "Philosophical Hash" under the byline "Loretta C. Mori," starting around 1932, and another column beginning in 1933 called "Emblems," on poetics. She was a regular contributor to the Kashu Mainichi' s literary section, publishing poetry (her preferred form was modern free verse) and essays that occasionally explored the political issues faced by her Nisei peers. Her talent was not limited to one artform: she also contributed pencil illustrations to the Kashu Mainichi ; her eye for strong graphic design would re-emerge in her postwar career. At the time that Mori contributed to the Kashu Mainichi , Larry Tajiri was the editor of its English section, and on Sundays he also published a "literary" page featuring the writings of aspiring Nisei literati.

In March 1933, she married Issei writer Bunichi Kagawa, following a courtship that was fed by an exchange of poems, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he resided. But the marriage did not last long. By 1934, she was back in Los Angeles. In October 1934, she and ten other writers gathered for dinner to discuss the formation of a Nisei literary organization. Mary Oyama , fellow writer, columnist and poet, wrote about the occasion, "For the first time ever, creative nisei writers sat down together at one table." [1] Among those present with Mary Oyama were Chiye Mori, Bunichi Kagawa (the sole Issei), Teru Izumida, Carl Kondo, Lillie Oyama (Mary's younger sister), Lucile Morimoto, Margaret Uchiyamada, Larry Tajiri, Ellen Thun (a second generation Korean American poet) and James Shinkai. [2] By 1940, their organization would be known as the Nisei Writers Group, which provided a vehicle for publishing articles, fiction, poems, artwork and essays as well as promoting Nisei networks. They collectively decided to put out a bi-monthly literary magazine titled Leaves , to feature their literary output, which was overseen by an editorial board of Mori, Mary Oyama, Yasuo Sasaki , and Carl Kondo. The magazine was mimeographed, hand-bound, and distributed to a small list of paid subscribers, mostly in Southern California, but as far away as Seattle, Arizona, and Colorado. Some of the magazine's contributors were Mori, Toyo Suyemoto and Lucille Morimoto who wrote poetry, and writers Eiji Tanabe, Ambrose Uchiyamada, Larry Tajiri, Mary Oyama, Bunichi Kagawa, Edo Mita, Carl Kondo and Yasuo Sasaki. According to Nisei writer and journalist Bill Hosokawa , "They wrote short stories and sketches about everyday Nisei life, and also translated contemporary Japanese literature. The poems were mostly romantic, reflecting both general and Nisei emotional reactions to the problems facing young people. Remarkably, few were morbid." [3] In 1938, Mori married for a second time, this time to writer and actor Edward Kamiyama, aka Edo Mita, who was the son of a well-known Japanese silent film actor named Sojin Kamiyama (aka Mitsugu Mita). In addition to writing poetry and other literary forms, Mori supported herself working as a cosmetics demonstrator to Nisei women. [4]


As tensions between the United States and Japan increased, Mori joined the liberal Democratic Club, which was also known as the Nisei Young Democrats. [5] In 1942, with the issuing of Executive Order 9066 , Mori was forcibly removed from her home in Los Angeles. Her husband Edo Mita was sent to the Hillcrest Sanitarium due his having contracted tuberculosis, so she went with her mother and stepfather to Manzanar (under the name Chiye Mita, registered with her mother Sakiyo and stepfather Jujiro Henry Suzuki). The Manzanar Free Press , the concentration camp's bi-weekly newspaper (which later grew to a tri-weekly publication), debuted on April 11, 1942, and rotated editorship with each of the three weekly issues. Beginning with the July 22, 1942 issue, Chiye Mori is listed as editor of the paper. An interview with Sue Embrey (who would succeed Mori as editor of the Free Press in 1943) reveals how watching Mori at work made such an impression on her: "I marveled because she was smoking and swearing. One time I heard her say to a guy: 'How come you didn't bring me a bottle of whiskey? A Nisei woman who smoked and swore and drank whiskey! Most Nisei around her age, 22 or 23, were very conservative." [6]

On December 5, 1942, Fred Tayama , a Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) leader, was attacked and seriously injured at Manzanar. When Harry Ueno , a vocal critic of the JACL, was arrested for the attack, a center wide uprising ensued. For twenty days, the Manzanar Free Press was shut down entirely, with publishing resuming after the incident on Christmas Day, December 25, 1942. That issue of the newspaper does not mention the attack on Tayama, or the subsequent arrests, or military police shootings. Following this upheaval, staff members of the Free Press were threatened and Mori, who was politically anti-JACL, was warned several times to quit her job. In an letter dated December 12 that was appended to the "Project Director's Final Report," it was reported that "After every editorial, strongly pro-American editor Mori would receive threatening letters and warnings." [7]

Post War Life and Career

Mori was released from Manzanar on February 23, 1943. According to the WRA Final Accountability Report for Manzanar, she went to Chicago, Illinois. Mori eventually moved to New York, where she met economist Harry T. Oshima, whom she married in 1950. Oshima was at Columbia University obtaining his Ph.D, and the couple had two sons, Neal and Evin Oshima. In New York, she held the position of editor of a new publication entitled The Nisei Weekender , described as "a very lively community paper" with the purpose of disseminating news "for and of the Nisei New Yorker." The Nisei Weekender debuted on December 28, 1945, under the management of Nisei Press Associates, whose chairman was Mori's husband. A few months later, ownership of the paper shifted to the Japanese American News Corporation (which also issued the weekly Japanese vernacular, the Hokubei Shimpo. ) Under the new ownership, Mori became managing editor. [8] Following his association with Nisei Press Associates and role as editorial advisor for The Nisei Weekender , Oshima took the position of assistant professor of economics at American University in Washington D.C. Both Mori and Oshima were active members of the New York chapter of Nisei Progressives , a national political organization that formed in 1947 to support Henry Wallace as a third party U.S. presidential candidate for the Progressive Party. As a result of the Nisei Progressives' advocacy, the Progressive Party went on record in favor of reparations for former WWII American concentration camp survivors, repeal of discriminatory laws against Japanese aliens, elimination of housing discrimination, equal immigration and naturalization rights, and other issues that were made part of the party's platform. In April 1948, Mori was one of two Japanese Americans delegated to attend a national Wallace-For-President conference held in Chicago. [9] Additionally, in 1950, Mori edited Bandwagon , the mimeographed newsletter of the New York Nisei Progressives.

After Oshima was hired as a lecturer and research associate at Stanford (1954-57,) the family relocated to California, thus beginning a period of travel, both domestically and internationally, as Oshima held positions as assistant professor of economics at the University of Washington, 1957-59; visiting research associate at a university in Tokyo, 1959-61; and economics professor at the University of Hawaii, 1961-73. Oshima also spent time in Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand, before returning to Honolulu in his retirement. [10]

In her postwar life, Mori established a highly successful career as a recognized artist and designer, specializing in pottery design, ceramics, batik dyeing on wood, and brass etching. For several years, she was a professor at the University of the Philippines in Diliman who helped in delivering study grants from non-government organizations in Japan and was one of the founders of the Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines (PDDCP). [11]

Mori died at age 86 on May 15, 2001, in Honolulu, Hawai'i.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Hansen, Arthur, Betty E. Mitson and David A. Hacker. " An Interview with Togo W. Tanaka. " California State University, Fullerton Oral History Program Japanese American Project, May 19, 1973.

Matsumoto, Valerie J. City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 . New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Serna, Danny. "Plain Utopia: The Manzanar Free Press and the Suppression of the Internment Narrative." The Yale Historical Review 2.3 (Spring 2013): 24–36.


  1. Mary Oyama, Kashu Mainichi , Oct. 28, 1934.
  2. Valerie J. Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (Oxford University Press, 2014), 84.
  3. Bill Hosokawa, Nisei: The Quiet Americans (New York: Morrow, 1969), 174.
  4. Mary Nishi Ishizuka interview by Valerie Matsumoto, Aug. 4, 2009 cited in Matsumoto, City Girls , 64.
  5. Diane Meyers Bahr, The Unnquiet Nisei: An Oral History of the Life of Sue Kunitomi Embrey (New York: Palgraves Macmillan, 2007), 66.
  6. Bahr, The Unnquiet Nisei , 66.
  7. Robert L. Brown and Ralph P. Merritt, "Project Director's Final Report," Appendix I, p. A65, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder O1.05:1, accessed on Feb. 20, 2020 at .
  8. Jobo Nakamura, "Something of a Travelogue: A Nisei Tourist in Little Old New York," Pacific Citizen , Aug. 31, 1946, 5.
  9. Pacific Citizen , Apr. 17, 1948, 8.
  10. Harold Morse, Harry Oshima obituary, Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Mar. 18, 1998, accessed on Feb. 20, 2020 at .
  11. "Chiye Mori Design Library," Cebu Design Education Foundation, accessed on Feb. 20, 2020 at .

Last updated April 11, 2024, 5:09 p.m..