Masaji Marumoto

Name Masaji Marumoto
Born January 27 1906
Died 1995
Birth Location Kona, HI
Generational Identifier


Nisei lawyer and community leader in Hawai'i. Masaji Marumoto (1906–95) served as chairman of the Emergency Service Committee , under the Military Government of Hawai'i, before he volunteered for the army in 1943. He became an instructor at the Military Intelligence Service Language School in Minnesota, and as the only Japanese American in the Judge Advocate General's Corps during the war, served in Okinawa and Korea. He formed a close friendship with Robert Shivers , head of the FBI in Honolulu, and was in a key group that helped prevent mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in Hawai'i.

Before the War

Masaji Marumoto was born in Honolulu on January 27, 1906, but spent most of his childhood in Kona, on the island of Hawai'i. His father, after some two decades as a plantation laborer on the island's Hāmãkua Coast and as a retail clerk in Honolulu, bought and ran a general store in Captain Cook, Kona. After completing sixth grade, Marumoto moved back to Honolulu to better his education and graduated first in his class from McKinley High School in 1924. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago in 1927 and the first Asian American to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1930. Returning to Honolulu, Marumoto passed the bar exam, and after working at a law firm, opened his own practice in 1932. The following year he married Shigeko Ozu.

In August 1939, as relations between the United States and Japan became tense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an office in Honolulu to guard against espionage activities by Japanese Americans and to study how to handle Hawai'i's large Japanese American population in case of hostilities. In May of 1940 Marumoto attended a party aboard a Japanese luxury liner on its maiden voyage and sat at the same table with Robert Shivers, the FBI's special agent in charge.

The next day Shivers called Marumoto to his office and said he was being bombarded with anti-Japanese information. "I have not yet met a Japanese to talk to. I want to find out the Japanese side of the story. Can you help me?" [1] Marumoto suggested dinner at his home and invited Shivers and his wife Corinne to meet with several other Japanese American couples. From that dinner, Shivers picked three of the men to be the nucleus of a group that met for Sunday morning breakfast meetings at his home. Shivers kept Marumoto out of that group, meeting with him separately.

The Shiverses and Marumotos became close friends. At one of their get-togethers, Marumoto showed a home movie of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead he had taken on a 1939 mainland trip with Shigeko. Lake Mead was named after Elwood Mead, U.S. Commissioner of Reclamation when the dam was being built. Corinne Shivers said, "Do you know Mrs. Marston is Mr. Mead's daughter? She would be very interested in this." [2] It turned out that the wife of Colonel Morrill Marston, assistant chief of staff for military intelligence, or G-2, in Hawaii, was Elwood Mead's daughter and she had never seen Lake Mead. The Marstons soon invited the Shiverses and Marumotos to their quarters at Fort Shafter and asked Marumoto to bring the film. It was the Marumotos' first invitation to an army officer's home. Thereafter the Marstons and Marumotos became friendly as well.


Marumoto felt that the personal and social relationships formed between Japanese Americans with Shivers and military personnel were significant in enhancing the authorities' understanding of Japanese Americans in Hawai'i. Colonel Marston helped his successor G-2, Colonel Kendall J. Fielder, to understand the Hawai'i situation as the key intelligence officer for General Delos C. Emmons , the military governor. Emmons was at first inclined to heed public clamor for repressive action against local Japanese Americans, but Fielder and Shivers dissuaded him so successfully that Emmons stated in a December 17, 1941, broadcast that he did not contemplate either mass imprisonment or forced removal of Japanese Americans from Hawai'i.

On the U.S. West Coast, all 120,000 Japanese Americans, regardless of citizenship or age, were incarcerated from early 1942. In Hawai'i, even closer to Japan, approximately 1,400 out of 157,000 Japanese Americans, or less than one percent, were detained.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Emergency Service Committee, a subsection of the Morale Section of the Military Government of Hawai'i, was formed to serve as a liaison between the military and the local Japanese American community. The committee's core membership was the small group that had been meeting with Shivers. Marumoto served as its chairman for fifteen months before enlisting in the army.

At age thirty-seven in 1943, Marumoto volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team but failed the physical. However, he was recruited to teach at the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, and shipped out in June 1943 as Private Marumoto. He was assistant director for academic training at the school when, in January 1945, he became the only Japanese American to enter the Army's Judge Advocate General's Office Candidate School during World War II. Upon graduating in May 1945, he was sent to Okinawa, where he assisted in the formation of the Okinawa civilian government in cooperation with the U.S. military government and saw war's end, then to Korea, where he served until January 1946.

Subsequent Career

After returning to Hawai'i, Marumoto resumed his law practice and was appointed to legal leadership positions as one of the first Asian or Japanese American attorneys in those posts. In 1954 he became president of the Hawaii Bar Association, the first Asian American to hold such office in the United States. In 1956 he was nominated by President Eisenhower to be an associate justice of the supreme court of the Territory of Hawaii, the first Asian American to so serve in any state or territory. After Hawai'i became a state, Marumoto was appointed an associate justice of the state supreme court.

In later years, Marumoto devoted considerable time to research, write, and speak on topics concerning Hawai'i's Japanese American community. One of his last written works honored Robert Shivers, Morrill Marston, Kendall Fielder and Delos Emmons. This was in 1985 for the Kansha ("Heartfelt Gratitude") ceremony held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Hawai'i. This event recognized individuals who stood up at the risk of their own reputations and careers to help Japanese Americans during critical times in their history.

Authored by Dennis M. Ogawa , University of Hawai'i at Mãnoa and Claire Marumoto

For More Information

Ogawa, Dennis M. First among Nisei: The Life and Writings of Masaji Marumoto . Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2007.

Smyser, A. A. "He Saved Island AJAs from Mass Internment." Honolulu Star Bulletin , December 6, 1979, A20-21.


  1. Dennis M. Ogawa, First among Nisei: The Life and Writings of Masaji Marumoto (Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2007), 77.
  2. Ogawa, First among Nisei , 79.

Last updated April 2, 2013, 10:05 p.m..