Motokazu Mori

Name Motokazu Mori
Born July 24 1890
Died January 21 1958
Birth Location Japan
Generational Identifier


A prominent Honolulu surgeon and tanka poet, Motokazu Mori (1890–1958) was picked up on December 7, 1941 along with his father, pioneering physician Iga Mori ; wife, Ishiko Mori ; and teenage son Victor. Suspected of passing on intelligence to a Japanese newspaper on the eve of the attack, Mori and his wife were accused of spying and sent into internment on the Mainland.

A Surgeon in Hawai'i

Motokazu Mori was born on July 24, 1890, in Nagasaki. His mother was Yaye Nagakawa, his father a young medical student named Iga Mori (1864-1951), scion of a prominent samurai family in Ishikawa Prefecture. With his father's emigration to Hawai'i, Motokazu remained in Japan and was raised by his Mori grandmother. In 1916, he graduated from the Kyushu Imperial University College of Medicine in Fukuoka. [1]

After finishing his training in Japan, Mori joined his father in Honolulu, who was by then a prominent physician, well respected by the islands' medical community. Mori began practicing surgery at the Japanese Hospital (later Kuakini Medical Center), a facility established under the leadership of his father.

In October 1921, Mori married Misao Harada, daughter of University of Hawaii professor Tasuku Harada. [2] The family grew quickly over the next several years: sons Arthur Kazuo and Victor Motojiro were born in 1922 and 1924, daughter Margaret Yoshiko in 1925. The following year, Misao gave birth to another son, who died shortly thereafter. On August 16, 1927, Misao Harada Mori died at the age of twenty-five.

Three years later, Mori remarried. Ishiko Shibuya, a Japanese medical school graduate and newcomer to the islands, was a physician in training at the Japanese Hospital. The couple soon had two children, Pearl Toshiko and Ramsay Yosuke. [3]

Throughout the prewar years, the Mori physicians, father and son, enjoyed prominence and influence at the Japanese Hospital. Iga Mori was a hospital founder and long-time member of its board of directors, and Motokazu Mori served as its chief-of-staff. In 1936, Motokazu Mori received a doctorate in medicine from Tokyo Imperial University for a ten-year study of the climatic effects on blood composition among Hawaii's Nisei. [4]

Along with growing his medical practice, Mori was also deeply engaged in Hawai'i's blossoming literary world. He was among the rising number of poets in towns throughout the islands coming together in tanka and haiku coteries to share their work and publish their poems in newspapers and literary journals. In 1922, he founded what would become one of Honolulu's most prolific and enduring tanka societies, Choonshisha, the Sound of the Sea Tanka Club. [5] Mori's tanka appeared under his poetry name Taisanboku. In the 1930s, Mori also contributed a column to the Nippu Jiji newspaper, "Shin Nihon o saguru" [In search of new Japan], in which he reflected on a range of topics including the arts, Japanese culture, politics, and social conditions.

The "Mori Call" and Internment

On Friday, December 5, 1941, Motokazu Mori took a radio call from an editor at the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Tokyo. The call had been arranged a couple days before, when Ishiko, the paper's special correspondent in Honolulu, was asked to provide a prominent member of the Japanese community for an interview about conditions in the islands. Ishiko offered her husband. Mori answered the questions posed to him, including those about airplane flights, the use of searchlights, and the number of ships present at Pearl Harbor. His responses, in particular a reference to the different flowers blooming in the islands at the time, caught the attention of U.S. intelligence officials listening in on the conversation, who wondered whether Mori was using a code to convey information about America's naval strength. The next day, a translated transcript of the call was shown to Gen. Walter C. Short , then head of the army's Hawaiian Department, who determined that the conversation "looked quite in order and was nothing to be excited about." [6]

When the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning, some two dozen injured local Japanese civilians were taken to the Japanese Hospital. Mori was called in to operate on a man whose arm had been severed by an anti-aircraft shell. [7] When he returned to his Nu'uanu home a few hours later, he was arrested by FBI head Robert Shivers and Honolulu police department captain John Burns , who would later become the governor of the state of Hawai'i. Also on the custodial detention list for pick-up was Iga Mori, then seventy-seven years old. Later that night, officials, by then aware of the contents of the Yomiuri call, returned to the Mori house. They arrested Ishiko, and son Victor, then a seventeen-year-old high school senior, was also taken into custody. [8]

Motokazu Mori was taken first to the Honolulu Police Station , where he was kept without food and water and interrogated until midnight. He was held in solitary confinement for three days. In his internment memoir, newspaper publisher Yasutaro Soga recounted:

On January 5, 1942, Dr. Motokazu Mori was brought to Sand Island. Since December 7 he had been detained first at a police station and then at the Immigration Office. When he arrived, his hair was completely white and bristled, his cheeks pitifully hollow. He seemed a completely different man. [9]

Mori was held at the Sand Island Internment Camp until September 1942. Ishiko was sent there as well, confined with about twenty-five other Japanese, German, and Italian women in separate barracks. Eventually, the Moris were allowed to see each other, and their children were permitted to visit them in camp. [10]

From Sand Island, Motokazu Mori was transferred to the Immigration Station on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay and then on to the Lordsburg Internment Camp in New Mexico, where he worked at the camp hospital. In June 1943, Mori was moved to the internment camp at Santa Fe , remaining there for about a year before being transferred to the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas. Mori noted, "Because I am a doctor, I was ordered to move to this camp and then shortly after arriving here was named as head of the hospital and put to work." [11] Several weeks after Mori's arrival, Ishiko joined him, having been transferred from the camp at Sharp Park , California. Together they worked at the camp hospital, Ishiko as a general practitioner, Motokazu performing surgeries. [12]

While at Crystal City, Mori wrote to his oldest son, Arthur, then in training as a Japanese language specialist at the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage , Minnesota: "Mama has your photograph placed in a corner of our room, and every day we make an offering before it. We pray for the good luck and health of our beloved son, a patriotic warrior." [13]

Mori continued to write poetry in camp, and he joined with Maui internee Tokuji (Sojin) Takei to form a tanka society at Crystal City called Tekisesu-shisha, Texas Poetry Club. To mark their imprisonment and to commemorate their upcoming release, the club issued in October 1945 a collection of poems edited by Mori and titled Nagareboshi [Shooting stars]. Several dozen internees contributed more than 300 tanka to create the mimeographed work. [14]

After the War

On December 10, 1945, Motokazu and Ishiko Mori were among the more than 900 Hawai'i internees from Mainland camps brought back to Honolulu aboard the military transport ship the U.S.S. Shawnee . Mori returned to his medical practice, but he faced difficulties in restoring it to what it had been before 1941. [15]

Mori continued to write tanka. In 1949, he and Soga revived Choonshisha, dormant during the war years when many of its leading members were imprisoned. Poets active during the internment—like Shojin Takei, Suikei Furuya , Muin Ozaki, and Ishiko, writing under the name Shakunage—revitalized the society and increased its membership. The following year, Choonshisha put out its first publication since the war, an anthology titled Kashu rauhara . [16]

In March 1951, Motokazu and Ishiko Mori's daughter Pearl Toshiko committed suicide; she was twenty-one. Two months later, Iga Mori, the grand old man of the Japanese medical profession in Hawai'i, passed away. Motokazu Mori's health, weakened during the internment, continued to decline, and he died on January 21, 1958 at the age of sixty-seven. [17]

In the immediate aftermath of the war, the precise meaning of what came to be known as the "Mori Call" came under scrutiny by the U.S. Congress and officials of the U.S. Occupation in Japan and was covered by the international press. [18] What they sought to determine was whether Ishiko Mori, in her role as a Hawai'i correspondent, had in fact been a spy, whether Motokazu Mori, in mentioning the blooming hibiscus, poinsettia, and Japanese chrysanthemums, had been passing on coded details about U.S. naval vessels in Pearl Harbor, and whether the failure of Hawai'i military officials to act with sufficient and timely concern over this possible evidence of espionage had played a role in the Japanese attack. In published reports, Ishiko Mori and the Yomiuri Shimbun would deny the charges of espionage and contended that Motokazu Mori's discussion of flowers was a case of cultural misunderstanding. [19] Ultimately, the Pearl Harbor commission would conclude in its 1946 report that both the timing and the "rather inexpert manner" of the phone call belied suspicions that the Moris had been passing on intelligence to Japan. [20] Nevertheless, questions about the role of the "Mori Call" in the Pearl Harbor attack would continue to surface for decades.

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.

Shimada, Noriko. Honoruru Choonshisha ni miru Nihonjin imin shakai to imin no seikatsushi: 1920 nendai kara Taiheiyo senso kaisen made [The Honolulu Choonshisha Poetry Club: Japanese Immigrants’ Life as Reflected in Tanka Poems]. Yokohama: JICA Yokohama Imin Shiryōkan, 2012.

Soga, Keiho, Taisanboku Mori, Sojin Takei, and Muin Ozaki. Poets behind Barbed Wire . Edited and translated by Jiro Nakano and Kay Nakano. Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge Press, 1983.

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 (Dec. 1998): 160-64.


  1. Victor M. Mori, East Meets West: A Family History (Honolulu: privately printed, 2010), 13-14; "Motokazu Mori," Time Capsule for My Grandchildren (Honolulu: Victor M. Mori, 2003); "Dr. Motokazu Mori, Honolulu Physician, Wins Doctorate in Medicine for Study of Blood," Nippu Jiji , October 31, 1936.
  2. In the coming decade, Harada would ally with Iga Mori, Nippu Jiji newspaper publisher Yasutaro Soga , and prominent Christian minister Takie Okumura in efforts to shape Japanese immigrant assimilation and acceptance in Hawaiian society. 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.
  3. East Meets West , 30; Victor Motojiro Mori Oral History, by Michael Okihiro, July 1993, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i; "Mori Iga ni kansuru chosa" [An inquiry about Iga Mori], Oral history interview with Motojiro (Victor) Mori, Nov. 3, 1996, by Masao Ota and Chiyo Yanagita, Victor M. Mori Archival Collection, AR16, B1, F6. Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.
  4. "Wins Doctorate in Medicine," Nippu Jiji ; Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview.
  5. In May 1922, Nippu Jiji editor Shoichi (Seiha) Asami published a collection of his tanka entitled Kaichoon [Sounds of ocean waves]. Mori organized a celebratory gathering during which the seventeen poets in attendance established the new tanka society, its name a nod to Kaichoon . In a burst of creativity over the next several years, the society published an anthology, Yakaibana [Night blooming ceres], a bi-monthly literary magazine, Kamani , and a collection by poets from the Big Island, Hawai kashu [Hawaii: An anthology]. For more on Choonshisha, see Noriko Shimada, Honoruru Choonshisha ni miru Nihonjin imin shakai to imin no seikatsushi: 1920 nendai kara Taiheiyo senso kaisen made [The Honolulu Choonshisha Poetry Club: Japanese Immigrants' Life as Reflected in Tanka Poems] (Yokohama: JICA Yokohama Imin Shiryōkan, 2012); Jiro Nakano, "Honolulu Tanka Club: The Choon-shisha," Hawaii Herald , July 16, 1993; Yasutaro Keiho Soga, "Introduction," Kashu rauhara (Honolulu: Choonshisha, 1950); Yasutaro Soga, Gojunen no Hawai kaiko: Fifty Years of Hawaii Memories (Honolulu: The Hawaii Times, 1953), 697-698; English translations of Soga courtesy of Emi Oshiro.
  6. 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), 137.
  7. Helen Altonn, "How Kuakini became an 'American general hospital," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Dec. 7, 2001; East Meets West , 32; Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview.
  8. According to Victor Mori, "When they saw me, they said, 'You too. Come.' I was taken to the Honolulu Police Station on Merchant Street in downtown Honolulu, just one block from the waterfront." He was kept for ten days in solitary confinement in a windowless cell and fed hard tack and black coffee before being "released to the streets." Iga Mori, his health declining, was released on Christmas Eve. With the family's assets frozen and his parents imprisoned, Victor drove pineapple trucks and city buses for the next two years to help to support his family. He graduated from the University of Hawai'i and in 1946 was drafted into the U.S. Army. After his discharge, he attended Temple University Medical School. He practiced surgery in Honolulu until his retirement. During Motokazu and Ishiko's four-year imprisonment, their younger children, Pearl and Ramsay, were cared for by Iga and Yaye in Honolulu. East Meets West , 32, 40; Victor Mori Oral History, by Michael Okihiro; "Mori Iga ni kansuru chosa"; Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview; Iga Mori Diaries, December 24, 1941, Iga Mori Archival Collection, AR8, B2, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i; Yasutaro Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008), 39.
  9. Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire , 39.
  10. Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire , 46-48; Iga Mori Diaries, June 7, Aug. 5, Sep. 16, 1942.
  11. Letter from Motokazu Mori to Arthur K. Mori, Aug. 23, 1943, Victor M. Mori Archival Collection, AR16, B3, F3, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i.
  12. Soga, Life behind Barbed Wire , 93-94, 125; Letter from Motokazu Mori to Arthur K. Mori; Barbara Bennett Peterson, "Ishiko Shibuya Mori," Notable Women of Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984), 276.
  13. Arthur had been a student at Yale University at the outbreak of the war. He interrupted his studies and joined the Military Intelligence Service . He later graduated from Yale Law School. Letter from Motokazu Mori to Arthur K. Mori.
  14. Motokazu Mori, ed., Nagareboshi [Shooting stars] (Crystal City, Texas: n.p., 1945).
  15. "910 Internees Arrive Here Aboard Shawnee," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Decc 10, 1945; Soga, Fifty Years , 681-83; Victor Mori Oral History, by Michael Okihiro; Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview.
  16. Choonshisha, Kashu rauhara [Lauhala: An anthology] (Honolulu: Choonshisha, 1950); Nakano, "Honolulu Tanka Club." Suikei Furuya is the pen name of the prolific writer and Honolulu businessman Kumaji Furuya. His internment memoir is Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten (Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, 2017). Muin Ozaki is the poetry name for Otokichi Ozaki, a language school teacher from Hawai'i Island whose wartime family letters have been compiled in Gail Honda, ed., Family Torn Apart: The Internment Story of the Otokichi Muin Ozaki Family (Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, 2012). A collection of internment period poems by Mori, Soga, Takei, and Ozaki has been translated into English; it is Keiho Soga, Taisanboku Mori, Sojin Takei, and Muin Ozaki, Poets behind Barbed Wire (Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge Press, 1983).
  17. Ramsay Yosuke Mori Interview; East Meets West , 36.
  18. The circumstances of the phone call and the transcript that it generated were part of a congressional investigation (1945-46) into the events leading up to Pearl Harbor. For the investigation's assessment of the "Mori Call" in its published conclusions see Pearl Harbor Attack , 137, 147. The transcript of the call, is "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. For information on an investigation by U.S. military officials during the Occupation, see 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 (Dec. 1998): 160-64, translation courtesy of Tatsumi Hayashi. For newspaper coverage see "Background of Poinsettia Phone Talk Is Revealed," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Decc 9, 1945; "Prewar Jap Phone Call Still Puzzle," Pacific Stars and Stripes , Jan. 4, 1946; "Mystery of Honolulu Phone Call Solved; 'Cultural,' Not Military Lowdown Sought," Nippon Times , January 11, 1946.
  19. Ishiko Mori's newspaper interview is "Innocent Phone Call Branded Island Woman a Spy in Dec. 1941," Honolulu Star-Bulletin , Decc 5, 1957. For the Yomiuri' s position, see This Is Yomiuri , Dec. 1998.
  20. According to the report, "It would appear doubtful that Japan should have been seeking information just before the attack in the rather inexpert manner displayed in the call," and that "espionage agents, apart from the consul and his staff, played no role whatever in the attack." Pearl Harbor Attack , 147.

Last updated Aug. 24, 2020, 2:37 p.m..