Iga Mori

Name Iga Mori
Born February 11 1864
Died May 12 1951
Birth Location Japan
Generational Identifier


Physician Iga Mori was a pioneering Issei , a member of a class of Westernized intellectual and cultural elites in urban Honolulu, whose community leadership and social activism put him at the center of many of the major historical events of the day. Hailed as the "dean" of the islands' medical community, Mori was arrested on December 7 along with his son, prominent physician Motokazu Mori , daughter-in-law and physician Ishiko Mori , and a teenage grandson.

Youth and Education

Born during Japan's twilight of samurai rule, on February 11, 1864, into a family of military lineage in a coastal village in northern Honshu (today Ishikawa Prefecture), Igajiro Oguri was adopted at age eleven by the Mori of Kanazawa, a branch of a once-powerful southern daimyo clan. [1] He was renamed Iga Mori and succeeded four years later to the family headship, which afforded him a medical education in the new Meiji era, western and science-based, first at the Imperial Naval Medical School in Tokyo and then at the Cooper Union Medical College (later Stanford University Medical School), from which he graduated in 1891. [2]

He married Yaye Nagakawa of Nagasaki. A son, born in 1890, would become the Honolulu physician Motokazu Mori.

A Medical Pioneer in Hawai'i

Iga Mori was among some twenty physicians recruited by the Hawaiian kingdom to serve as medical officers for the thousands of Japanese immigrants toiling as contract laborers on the various plantations throughout the islands. In this capacity, he worked at the Kohala Sugar Plantation on Hawaii Island. In 1894, with the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, Mori was called back to Japan to serve as chief surgeon at field hospitals run by the Japanese Red Cross in Korea and Manchuria. [3]

He returned to the islands after the war and then entered into medical practice with fellow Cooper graduate Sanzaburo Kobayashi, who operated a clinic in the Liliha area of Honolulu. Over the course of the next several years, Mori's stature within Honolulu's medical community rose steadily: he joined Kobayashi and other prominent Honolulu physicians in establishing the Japanese Physicians' Association, and his patients included the likes of Queen Liliuokalani and Count Munemitsu Mutsu, who had gone to the islands to receive restorative treatment under Mori's care. [4]

In 1898, Mori traveled to Europe, where he received training in pathology and the newly developing field of bacteriology. [5] He returned to Honolulu the following spring, and when, less than a year later, an outbreak of bubonic plague hit the islands [6] , he joined similarly trained members of the Caucasian medical establishment in support of an aggressive public health policy to combat the epidemic and became a vocal proponent of the Board of Health's drive to inoculate residents against further spread of the disease. [7]

In the wake of the Great Chinatown Fire of January 1900 – a plague remedy that raged out of control and rendered homeless some 5,000 residents of the immigrant enclave – the Japanese Charity Hospital was built to treat Japanese epidemic and fire victims, and Mori was named the hospital's first medical director. Later, as a member of its board of directors, he played a leading role in the hospital's expansion as the second largest medical facility in the territory. Today it is Kuakini Medical Center, the only hospital founded by Japanese immigrants still operating in the United States. [8]

During a medical career that spanned six decades, Mori was the first Japanese physician granted honorary membership to the Honolulu County Medical Society (1914) and served for years as president of the Honolulu Japanese Medical Association. [9]

Community Leadership

Educated, Westernized, bilingual, and Christian, Mori moved within a circle of likeminded urban Issei, who included newspaperman Yasutaro Soga , University of Hawaii professor Tasuku Harada, and pioneering Christian minister Takie Okumura [10] , his name appearing repeatedly in the lists of executives of the leading civic organizations of the era: the Japanese Benevolent Society, the Central Japanese Association, the United Japanese Society, the Prince Fushimi Scholarship Association, and the Red Cross of Hawaii. Mori's leadership in these organizations led to his involvement in many of the major issues facing the Japanese immigrant community during the new century. In 1901, he joined prominent community leaders in voicing outrage over racist treatment by territorial medical inspectors in what became known as the Amerika Maru Incident. [11] A few years later, when labor tensions flared into strikes, Mori was named to a committee of the Higher Wage Association and later worked with civic leaders, both Caucasian and Japanese, in an attempt to negotiate a settlement between sugar plantation owners and striking laborers known as the Palmer Proposal. [12]

He was drawn into a protracted controversy that spanned the 1920s and divided the Japanese community over the role of Japanese language schools in the education of Nisei children. He served on a controversial government committee that oversaw the revision of Japanese language school textbooks, and when a group of foreign language schools sued the territorial government to prevent the elimination of the schools, Mori joined with those opposed to the suit, drawing sharp criticism from language teachers and their supporters. [13]

But Mori's position on these issues was part of a larger perspective that sought to facilitate acceptance by American society of Japanese immigrants. He joined with Harada and Soga in support of Okumura's New Americans Conferences (1927-41), which focused on issues of acculturation that affected the Nisei, while also engaging in efforts to encourage Western understanding of Asia. He served as a director and then, for the next twenty years, board member of the Pan-Pacific Union, an organization established in Honolulu in 1917 to further exchange between countries of the Pacific Rim. Mori also was among just a handful of Asians—Soga and Harada included—to be selected for membership in the Institute of Pacific Relations, whose conferences brought together intellectuals from around the world to discuss the issues facing the nations of the Pacific. His efforts also extended to the establishment of an Oriental Collection (the Toyo Bunko) of some 3,000 books about Japan, which were later deposited with the Hawaii State Library. [14]

A devout Christian and active member of the Nuuanu Congregationalist Church, Mori also served as an early president of the board of the Japanese YMCA. In 1938, he was pegged by the YMCA's Caucasian executives to join other influential Asian community leaders—C. K. Ai and Syngman Rhee—in overseeing the building a new, racially integrated facility, the Nuuanu International YMCA. [15]

World War II Arrest and Detention

By 1940, Mori was 76 years old, a revered elder in the Japanese community and respected member of Honolulu's medical establishment. As such, in the fall of that year, he led a delegation of more than 180 Hawaii Issei to a grand week-long celebration in Tokyo, the Congress of Overseas Compatriots, part of a larger commemoration of the 2600th anniversary of founding of the Japanese empire. The emigrants were feted at banquets and parades, and Mori was among those decorated for his outstanding service to Japan. [16]

Immediately following the Pearl Harbor bombing, Iga Mori, his son Motokazu, daughter-in-law Ishiko, and teenage grandson Victor were arrested by the FBI at their home in Nuuanu Valley. The outlines of Iga's detention are chronicled in his diary, part of a series of daily journals that he kept prior to, during and after the war. [17] Early entries are in Japanese and English, but beginning in December 1941 and through 1942, notations appear only in English. Entries for the days immediately preceding December 7 list everyday events: meetings of his church and the medical society, a grand opening celebration hosted by businessman Matsujiro Otani, letters received, phone calls made. [18]

On the night of December 7, following his arrest, Mori was taken to the Immigration Station , where he encountered other Issei from Oahu who were being brought into custody. His movements over the course of the following days are recorded in his diary: moved to the detention camp at Sand Island (Dec. 11), sent back to the Immigration Station (Dec. 20), as are personal items received from home: "Bible, clothing, candy, razor, cigarettes." [19]

Largely due to his poor health, Mori was released on Christmas Eve. The entry for that day reads: "Returned home at 9 p.m." [20] Accounts over the following days note visits and phone calls from the wives of other internees and religious figures from the Japanese community along with an appearance by FBI agents and the police on December 31. He records significant events involving the Japanese and U.S. military, his patients, and his business and financial affairs. He also tracks the movements of those still imprisoned. January 8, 1942: "Papa [Motokazu] reported to have moved to Sand Island detention camp." August 16, 1942: "Mrs. Y. Soga told me Mr. Y. Soga was moved to Mainland on Aug. 5. Victor and Ramsay [sons of Motokazu] visited Sand Island." September 16, 1942: "Motokazu moved to the Mainland." October 7, 1942: "Ishiko was moved to the Mainland." December 10, 1945: "Motokazu and Ishiko arrived [in Honolulu] by U.S.S. Shawnee at 9 a.m. from Los Angeles." [21]

Although retired at the outbreak of WWII, Mori returned to a limited practice, providing immunizations and treating minor ailments as "necessitated by the war." [22]

When Iga Mori died on May 12, 1951, he was eulogized on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser as the "dean of [the territory's] medical men."

Authored by Sheila H. Chun

For More Information

Mori, Victor M. East Meets West: A Family History . Honolulu: privately printed, 2010.

———. Time Capsule for My Grandchildren . Honolulu: Victor M. Mori, 2003.

Okihiro, Michael. “Japanese Doctors in Hawaii.” Hawaiian Journal of History 36 (2002): 105-17.

Soga, Yasutaro. Gojūnen no Hawai kaikō: My Fifty Years Memories in Hawaii . Honolulu: The Hawaii Times, 1953. English translations courtesy of Emi Oshiro.


  1. His father was a "last samurai," who lost his standing with the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate. A biological younger brother, Admiral Kozaburo Oguri, became a distinguished submarine commander and naval attaché to the Japanese embassy in London. Victor M. Mori, East Meets West: A Family History (Honolulu: privately printed, 2010). For information about Iga Mori's adoption and the Mori lineage, see the Mori family registry (koseki tōhon), "Yōfu Mōri Sukeei" [Adoptive father Sukeei Mori], Victor M. Mori Archival Collection, AR16, B1, F3, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii; "Mōri-ke" [The Mori family], 5 pp, Victor M. Mori Archival Collection, AR16, B1, F4.
  2. Yasutaro Soga, Gojūnen no Hawai kaikō: My Fifty Years Memories in Hawaii (Honolulu: The Hawaii Times, 1953), 105-07, English translations for this work courtesy of Emi Oshiro; Masao Ota, "Mori Iga no ryakureki" [Biographical sketch of Iga Mori], Victor M. Mori Archival Collection, AR16, B1, F6; Stanford University, Alumni Directory and Ten-Year Book (Graduates and Non-Graduates) III: 1891-1920 (Stanford: Stanford University, 1921), 577, accessed on Sept. 5, 2017 at https://books.google.com/books?id=Z2s3AQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false .
  3. Sources differ as to the date of Mori's arrival in Kohala, some suggesting that this occurred prior to his attendance at Cooper; others give his arrival in the islands as 1890. However, it is reasonable to presume that he began work in Hawaii after graduating from Cooper in 1891. Soga, Fifty Years , 71, 105-07; Jiro Nakano, Kanda Home: Biography of Shigefusa and Sue Kanda (Wailuku, Maui: Iao Congregational Church, 1996), 11-12, 15; Mori, East Meets West , 2-3.
  4. Michael Okihiro, "Japanese Doctors in Hawaii," Hawaiian Journal of History , 36 (2002):108; Nakano, Kanda Home , 38; Soga, Fifty Years , 52-53, 126-30.
  5. Sources suggest several different places where Mori may have studied, including universities in New York, London, and Cambridge. Also, according to the University of Glasgow, Mori spent a year there (1898-99), taking classes in bacteriology and pathology, "Iga Mori," The University of Glasgow Story, University of Glasgow, accessed July 2, 2017 at http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH25153&type=P ; "Dr. Mori in Cambridge," [Honolulu] Evening Bulletin , Oct. 4, 1898; "Dr. Mori, Dean of TH Medical Men, Dies Here," Honolulu Advertiser , May 13, 1951.
  6. Mori and Kobayashi were among the first physicians to autopsy and diagnose plague in an early victim and were among a handful of Asian physicians to run clinics that treated fellow immigrants suspected of the dreaded disease. James C. Mohr, Plague and Fire: Battling Black Death and the 1900 Burning of Honolulu's Chinatown (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 9-11, 81; Nakano, Kanda Home , 38-39.
  7. Mori attended a meeting of the Hawaii Medical Society in early January 1900, which heard calls for an aggressive plague policy that included the wholesale burning of Chinatown. "The Doctors Sound a Note of Warning: They Unite Upon Most Drastic Proposals," Pacific Commercial Advertiser , Jan. 8, 1900.
  8. The Japanese Benevolent Society raised the funds to erect the facility, dedicated to the treatment of its community members at a time when medical care was rendered on the basis of ethnicity, with each community caring for the needs of its own. Roland Kotani, "Kuakini: A History of Caring," Hawaii Herald , Aug. 2, 1985.
  9. Mori also twice interrupted his Hawaii practice to work in Japan. Once for four years as director of a hospital in Tokyo (from about 1907) and in 1923, treating victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Motojiro (Victor) Mori Oral History, "Mori Iga ni kansuru chōsa" [An inquiry about Iga Mori], November 3, 1996, interview by Masao Ota and Chiyo Yanagita, Victor M. Mori Archival Collection, AR16, B1, F6; East Meets West , 13, 58; Okihiro, "Japanese Doctors," 108; Soga, Fifty Years , 439.
  10. The men were bound by similar educational background and world view, and also by family ties. Tasuku Harada's daughter Misao was the first wife of Iga's son, Motokazu; and Soga's son, Shigeo, was married to Misao's younger sister Miya Harada. For more on their collegial leadership, see Masao Ota and George M. Oshiro, "Mediator Between Cultures: Tasuku Harada and Hawaiian-Japanese Intercultural Relations in the 1920s," Hawaiian Journal of History 33 (1999): 171-201.
  11. The Japanese charged that territorial quarantine officers searching for evidence of bubonic plague conducted perfunctory examinations of Caucasian passengers, while subjecting all Asian passengers—including the wife of the incoming Japanese vice consul—to physical examinations "most minute and indecent." Several thousand Japanese rallied in protest; community leaders—journalist Soga and Mori among them—voiced their grievances and a sent a written petition to the American president. Soga, Fifty Years , 114-16; quote is from "Indignant Japanese Protest Against Quarantine Methods," [Honolulu] Republican , Aug. 3, 1901.
  12. Mori was a signatory to Rev. Albert Palmer's eponymous proposal. It was supported by the moderate English and Japanese press, territorial government officials, and members of the Japanese religious and business community, but ultimately rejected by both the planters and pro-labor groups. Soga, Fifty Years , 315-18.
  13. Mori, Soga, Okumura, and Harada served as officers of the Prince Fushimi Scholarship Association, characterized by Soga as "the most important cultural achievement by Hawaii's first generation Japanese." The organization outlined as its goal the education of Japanese immigrant children and as such in 1916 sponsored a revision of textbooks used by the Japanese language schools in the islands. Board members came under criticism from both the Japanese community for failing to adequately promote loyalty to the Japanese imperial state, as well as from the U.S. government and the public at large for insufficiently incorporating the teaching of American values. Several years later, Mori was among community leaders, including Soga, Okumura, and Harada, appointed to a committee of the territorial Department of Public Instruction to oversee yet another revision of the language school textbooks. As a result of the committee's proposals, the territorial legislature passed a law that called for the elimination of all Japanese language kindergartens and signaled the beginning of a protracted legal battle over the existence of the language schools. Soga, Fifty Years , 328-32; 349-354.
  14. Soga, Fifty Years , 354-56, 387-88, 405-08, 540-41; Hiromi Monobe, "Shaping an Ethnic Leadership: Takie Okumura and the 'Americanization' of the Nisei in Hawaii, 1919-1945," (doctoral dissertation, University of Hawaii, 2004), 33, 58-106, 259-66.
  15. Soga, Fifty Years , 567-68; Mori, East Meets West , 23.
  16. Some 1,400 delegates, Mori included, attended the congress's November 4 opening ceremony to hear words of welcome and speeches by such dignitaries as Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Minister of War Hideki Tojo and Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka. Selected as a regional representative, Mori also participated in committee meetings and roundtable discussions. Iga Mori Diaries, November 4, 10, 11, 1940, Iga Mori Archival Collection, AR8, B2, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, translation by Tatsumi Hayashi; Kenneth J. Ruoff, Imperial Japan at its Zenith: the Wartime Celebration of the Empire's 2,600th Anniversary (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2010), 148-88; John J. Stephan, Hawaii under the Rising Sun: Japan's Plans for Conquest after Pearl Harbor (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984), 48-52; Soga, Fifty Years , 660-62.
  17. Mori's diaries run from 1933 to 1951; missing are those for the years 1935, 1946, and 1949.
  18. Iga Mori Diaries, December 4, 5, 6, 1941.
  19. Iga Mori Diaries, December 7, 11, 20, 22, 1941. Soga records seeing Mori at the Immigration Station in Life behind Barbed Wire (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008), 26.
  20. Iga Mori Diaries, December 24, 1941; Soga, Life Behind Barbed Wire , 37; Suikei Furuya, Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten (Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii), 37.
  21. Iga Mori Diaries, Dec. 31, 1941; Jan. 8, Aug. 16, Sept. 16, Oct. 7, 1942; Dec. 10, 1945.
  22. Victor M. Mori, "Iga Mori," Time Capsule for My Grandchildren (Honolulu: Victor M. Mori, 2003), 3.

Last updated Nov. 18, 2020, 9:08 p.m..