Ishiko Shibuya Mori

Name Ishiko Shibuya Mori
Born July 21 1899
Died January 6 1972
Birth Location Japan
Generational Identifier


An early Issei female physician, Ishiko Shibuya Mori (1899–1972) was one of eight women from Hawai'i sent into internment on the Mainland. She and her husband, Honolulu surgeon Motokazu Mori , were accused of spying for Japan and confined for the duration of the war. They ran the camp hospital at the Crystal City, Texas , internment camp and helped to establish an internee tanka society, the Texas Poetry Club, which published an anthology of more than 300 poems.

Early Life and Education in Japan

Ishiko Shibuya was born on July 21, 1899, in Chiba Prefecture; her father was a physician. Her maternal line also contained several male physicians, and so her father gave up his family name and took the name Shibuya upon his marriage. Orphaned at the age of eight, she was raised by her mother's family in Tokyo. [1]

According to family lore, hoping to maintain the succession of medical professionals, her family betrothed Ishiko at age thirteen to a well-known physician, a man fifty years old. Ishiko refused to marry, declaring that she would become a physician instead and subsequently graduated from the Tokyo Women's Medical School, the first and still today only medical college for women in Japan. [2] Through the aid of a family friend, she continued her hospital training, but biographer Barbara Bennett Peterson notes, "Since she was not accorded any particular status that qualified her to perform as a physician there, all she could do was observe. . . . Universities in those days would not grant any form of status to women doctors, and she was advised to seek employment at a hospital in Hawaii or Manchuria." [3]

Immigration to Hawai'i

In 1927, Ishiko Shibuya emigrated to Hawai'i, where she trained and worked as a doctor at the Honolulu Japanese Hospital, established by a family friend, the prominent Issei physician Iga Mori . In 1930, Ishiko Shibuya married widower Motokazu Mori, a surgeon at the Japanese Hospital and the son of Iga Mori. The Moris had two children, daughter, Pearl Toshiko, and son, Ramsay Yosuke, who joined Motokazu Mori's three older children. Ishiko Mori left medical practice with the birth of her children. [4]

The passage of the 1924 Immigration Act halted Japanese immigration to the United States, requiring Ishiko Mori to make repeated extended trips back to Japan in order to maintain her resident status in the islands. She told a newspaper reporter in 1957, "I discovered there were four ways I could remain in the United States . . . (b)y being a diplomat, a missionary, an international merchant, or a newspaper reporter. I had always wanted to be a writer so I decided now was the time." In 1934, she signed on as a special Hawai'i correspondent with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, the largest national daily in Japan. Her articles, Ishiko Mori told the reporter, were largely society stories, features about Japanese living in the islands. [5]

Arrested As a Spy

On December 3, 1941, Ishiko Mori received a radiogram from the Yomiuri's office in Tokyo assigning her to interview influential members of the Japanese community about the state of affairs in the islands. She recalled that she initially approached the Japanese consul general, but he declined, as did others that she asked and so "in desperation," she asked her husband. [6] When a Yomiuri editor called to conduct the interview two days later, Motokazu Mori responded. The contents of the call raised the suspicions of the FBI and army intelligence, who had been listening in and now feared that, in the discussions about the use of searchlights, aircraft, the fleet at Pearl Harbor, and especially the types of flowers in bloom, the Moris had been transmitting coded intelligence ahead of a possible Japanese attack. [7]

On the morning of December 7, the FBI and Honolulu police arrested Motokazu and Iga Mori at their home in Nu'uanu. Later that night, officials returned to the Mori residence to arrest Ishiko Mori. The Moris' son, Victor, then a seventeen-year-old high school student, was taken as well. [8]


Like her husband, Ishiko Mori was suspected of being a spy; she was kept at the Immigration Office for a month before being sent to the Sand Island Internment Camp , where she was held in a separate section with about two dozen other women—Japanese, Italian, and German. Her husband was also brought to Sand Island, and in time they were allowed contact with each other and visits with their children. The observations of the Moris by Sand Island Commander Carl Eifler are described below:

A German woman leaped across a counter to hug her husband. There were tears, laughter, kisses, hugs and loud chatter. But when Mrs. Ishiko Mori met her husband Dr. Motokazu Mori, they bowed once, twice, then three times. What they murmured each time they bowed, Eifler did not know, but he was fascinated by their gentle, graceful, subdued motions. After the third bow, they sat at a table and spoke softly to each other. There was no handholding in public, no touching. Yet the love between them was clearly evident. [9]

Of the women arrested in Hawai'i, only eight were interned to the Mainland, Ishiko Mori among them. [10] All, except Mori and the nun Kanzen Ito, were sent to the Mainland in June. Mori and Ito, also suspected of being a spy, were transferred in October 1942 to the Sharp Park Internment Camp in California. [11]

In August 1943, Ishiko Mori joined her husband at the Crystal City internment camp in Texas after a separation by imprisonment of twenty months. [12] Her son Ramsay recounted his mother's description of the camp:

(W)hen they first got there, there was nothin' but barbed wire and tents and watchtowers at the corners. And it, sleepin' in tents and hearing the coyotes wail at night, she said, made her – made her just indescribably lonely.... And of course by the end of the period, I guess you're talkin' about four years, I think, they had built a complete village in that enclosure with – with almost like a city hall kind of thing, central administration building, and they had a hospital that my father was the chief surgeon of, and they had a swimming pool dug out by hand. [13]

Along with working as a general physician at the camp hospital, Mori established a Girl Scout Troop and led other social activities. She also joined her husband—known in the Hawaii poetry world as Taisanboku Mori—and Maui poet Tokuji (Sojin) Takei in creating among the internees a tanka society called Tekisesu-shisha, Texas Poetry Club. Their collection, published shortly before their release from camp, is titled Nagareboshi , "Shooting Stars," and includes more than 300 tanka. [14]


After nearly four years of imprisonment, Ishiko and Motokazu Mori returned to Honolulu aboard the military transport ship the U.S.S. Shawnee on the morning of December 10, 1945, along with more than 900 other Hawai'i internees from camps across the Mainland. Motokazu Mori, his health weakened, attempted to rebuild the medical practice that he had lost during his confinement. Ishiko Mori worked as a research assistant at the American Cancer Society. [15] In 1951, the Moris' daughter Pearl committed suicide; she was twenty-one years old and had wanted to be a writer. [16] Her death was followed two months later by that of Iga Mori and then in 1958 by Motokazu Mori.

In the aftermath of the war, the "Mori Call" was analyzed for the role it played in the Pearl Harbor attack. A joint congressional commission took up the topic and in the end concluded that the "rather inexpert manner" of the conversation precluded it from being important coded intelligence. [17] The Yomiuri newspaper would contend that the timing of its call was coincidental, the purpose not subversive, and the awkward discussion of blooming flowers, the result of a lack of cultural knowledge. [18] The Moris' son Ramsay explained the talk of flowers:

(M)y father was one of these very methodical kind of people and so he started figuring out, okay, here's a society correspondent calling from Japan and they want to know what it's like in Hawaii, so he decided, okay, it's midwinter in Japan, 'I think it would be kind of fun to talk about all the flowering trees in the yard,' and so he started talking about all . . . the trees with red blossoms on there and little further on another flowering tree that had been in the yard and kept going around that way, and of course the Military Intelligence people were glued to that damn conversation, without my parents ever knowing, and they had taken everything down. And of course, colors of flowers in certain kinds of trees became battleships and cruisers and number of people, that kind of thing, and they made sense out of whatever the conversation was about." [19]

In 1957, Ishiko Mori gave an interview to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin , in which she attempted to put to rest questions about the phone call that had cast such a cloud of suspicion over her family:

[ Yomiuri editor Kiyoshi] Ogawa called Friday. I'm sure now that he knew something big was going to happen here. He was laying the groundwork for a big scoop, feature and color copy, when it happened. Of course, we didn't know that then. Ogawa's radiogram had said he was going to ask 'how are things in Hawaii.' My husband answered the questions as best he could. He thought it was of interest to Japanese snowed in by winter that hibiscus and poinsettia were in bloom here, so he mentioned that. [20]

Asked if she or her husband had spied for Japan, Mori laughed, "Of course not. I loved Japan, I still do, but I was never disloyal to the United States."

Mori later took a position as an epidemiology research assistant with the University of Hawai'i Biomedical Program, where she remained until her retirement. In her work, she contributed to research on the incidence of stomach cancer among Japanese in Hawai'i. [21]

She continued to write poetry, using the pen name Shakunage Mori. Her writing appeared in the 1950 anthology Kashu rauhara , published by Choonshisha, the oldest tanka society in Hawai'i, started by her husband nearly thirty years before. In 1963, Choonshisha published another collection titled Leilani , and Mori was a contributor. Upon the centennial of Japanese emigration to Hawai'i in 1968, she was honored by the Japanese foreign ministry for her efforts to improve understanding between Japan and the United States. [22]

Ishiko Shibuya Mori died in Honolulu on January 6, 1972.

Authored by Sheila H. Chun

For More Information

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

Nakano, Jiro. "Honolulu Tanka Club: The Choon-shisha." Hawaii Herald , July 16, 1993.

Peterson, Barbara Bennett. Notable Women of Hawaii . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984.

Soga, Yasutaro. Life behind Barbed Wire: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai'i Issei . Translation by Kihei Hirai. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008.

Taniguchi Susumu. "Shinbun kisha futari no unmei o kaeta Shinjuwan: Kogeki sanjuroku jikan mae himpaku no kokusai denwa - Ishiko Mori-san, Honruru tsushin-in FBI ga supai yogi tsuikyu" [The Pearl Harbor attack that changed the destinies of two newspaper correspondents: an international call received thirty-six hours before the attack – Ishiko Mori, Honolulu correspondent, investigated by the FBI on suspicion of espionage]. This Is Yomiuri , December 1998, 160-64.


  1. Barbara Bennett Peterson, "Ishiko Shibuya Mori," Notable Women of Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984), 274; John J. Stephan, "Shibuya, Ishiko (1899-1972)," from "Japanese-American in Imperial Japan, 1895-1943: A Biographical Roster," "Background Information for Biography Section of Finding Aid," Iga Mori Archival Collection, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.
  2. The college was established in the Shinjuku district in 1900 by gynecologist Yayoi Yoshioka. Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview, Densho Visual History Collection, February 28, 2011, ; Victor M. Mori, East Meets West: A Family History (Honolulu: privately printed, 2010), 30; Peterson, Notable Women , 275.
  3. Peterson, Notable Women , 275.
  4. Peterson, Notable Women , 275; "Innocent Phone Call Branded Island Woman a Spy in Dec. 1941," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Dec. 5, 1957.
  5. "Innocent Phone Call," HSB; Peterson, Notable Women , 275.
  6. "Innocent Phone Call," HSB.
  7. For the transcript of the conversation, see "Exhibit No. 84" in United States, Pearl Harbor Attack: Part 15, Joint Committee Exhibits Nos. 14 through 87: Hearings before the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Congress of the United States, 79th Congress, First Session, Pursuant to S. Con. Res. 27, 79th Congress: A Concurrent Resolution to Investigate the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Events and Circumstances Relating Thereto (Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1946), 1867-69.
  8. Victor was kept in solitary confinement for ten days before being released. Iga Mori, advanced in age, was released on December 24. Motokazu Mori was interrogated about his role in the interview and held in solitary confinement en route to being interned at the camp on Sand Island. East Meets West , 32.
  9. "Carl F. Eifler," Patsy Saiki Notes, Patsy Sumie Saiki Archival Collection, AR18, B1, F6, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i. The early period of Ishiko Mori in custody is from Yasutaro Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008), 46-48; Iga Mori Diaries, June 7, August 5, September 16, 1942, Iga Mori Archival Collection, AR8, B2, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.
  10. This number reflects only those who were interned on the basis of their own status and excludes wives of internees who elected to join their spouses in internment. Five of the eight were connected to temples or shrines, one was a language school principal, one was caught up in the internment when she was arrested along with her husband, and the eighth was Ishiko Mori. For more on these women, see Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire , 46-47; Kumaji Furuya, Internment Odyssey: Haihso Tenten (Honolulu; Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2017), 39-40, 314n33.
  11. According to the Soto sect's official history, Ito arrived in the islands, her origins in Japan unknown. She was assigned to the Mantokuji temple in Paia, Maui in July 1940. Suspected of espionage, she was repatriated in 1943. History of the Soto Sect in Hawaii (Honolulu: Hawaii Soto Mission Bishop's Office, 2002), 116-17. Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire , 46-47; Iga Mori Diaries, October 9, 1942.
  12. Letter from Motokazu Mori to Arthur K. Mori, August 23, 1943, Victor M. Mori Archival Collection, AR16, B3, F3, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.
  13. Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview.
  14. Motokazu Mori, ed., Nagareboshi [Shooting stars] (Crystal City, Texas: n.p., 1945); Peterson, Notable Women , 276.
  15. "910 Internees Arrive Here Aboard Shawnee," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Dec. 10, 1945; Victor Motojiro Mori Oral History, by Michael Okihiro, July 1993, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i; Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview; Peterson, Notable Women , 276.
  16. Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview.
  17. United States, Pearl Harbor Attack: Hearings before the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Congress of the United States, 79th Congress, First Session, Pursuant to S. Con. Res. 27, 79th Congress: A Concurrent Resolution to Investigate the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Events and Circumstances Relating Thereto (Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1946), 147.
  18. Taniguchi Susumu, "Shinbun kisha futari no unmei o kaeta Shinjuwan" [The Pearl Harbor attack that changed the destinies of two newspaper correspondents], This is Yomiuri (December 1998): 160-64, translation courtesy of Tatsumi Hayashi.
  19. Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview.
  20. "Innocent Phone Call," HSB.
  21. Peterson, Notable Women , 276.
  22. Choonshisha, Kashu rauhara [Lauhala: An anthology] (Honolulu: Choonshisha, 1950); Choonshisha, Reirani [Leilani] (Honolulu: Choonshisha, 1963); Peterson, Notable Women , 276-77.

Last updated April 11, 2024, 5:12 p.m..