Toshio Yatsushiro

Name Toshio Yatsushiro
Born May 5 1917
Died January 6 1915
Birth Location HI
Generational Identifier


A Nisei born in Maui, Toshio Yatsushiro (1917–2015) was in his senior year at the University of Redlands when he was subject to removal and incarceration in 1942. He was the first Japanese American recruited to Poston 's Bureau of Sociological Research directed by Dr. Alexander Leighton. In that capacity, Yatsushiro was trained in both qualitative and quantitative research techniques, including how to carry out public opinion polls. Yatsushiro was thus a key member of the Nisei team who helped collect the data used in Leighton's book The Governing of Men . He also co-authored a number of published research articles dealing with Japanese Americans in Poston.

Early Life and World War II

Professor Toshio Yatsushiro was born on May 5, 1917, and was raised in Wailuku on the island of Maui, then Territory of Hawai'i. In the fall of 1939, after finishing high school, Yatsushiro enrolled at the University of Redlands where he was a scholarship student majoring in sociology. World War II interrupted his senior year in college, and Yatsushiro left the university to join his uncle Elmer Yamamoto's family in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. In May 1942 the family was ordered to report to the Colorado River WRA camp (aka Poston) in Arizona. Like many held there, Yatsushiro and the Yamamotos were not processed through the Army's Wartime Civil Control Administration camps (aka, "assembly centers") but went directly to Poston.

Upon arrival, Yatsushiro was the first recruit to the "Bureau of Sociological Research." Headed by Dr. Alexander Leighton, the BSR was set up in order to study Poston's denizens, and advise the Office of Indian Affairs, which initially ran the camp, on how to best manage the inmates. As a neophyte researcher, Yatsushiro was trained extensively in qualitative/quantitative research methods between 1942 and 1943. On this basis, Yatsushiro co-authored a number of pieces based on data that the BSR collected. In 1944, Yatsushiro left Poston and was one of a small group of Nisei who helped Leighton write his book, The Governing of Men .

When the book was done, but before the war was over, Leighton took Yatsushiro and this group of Nisei into the U.S. Office of War Information where, among other things, they advised senior officers at the Pentagon regarding Japanese military and home-front civilian morale. In October 1945, Yatsushiro and select Nisei joined Leighton on the U.S. Strategic Bombing survey, an extensive postwar study of Axis countries, one part of which was carried out throughout occupied Japan. Yatsushiro was retained in this capacity until June 1946.

After the War

Between July 1946 and April 1947, Yatsushiro was hired by Robert Cullum to work on a Department of the Interior research project studying Japanese American Resettlement during the first year after the end of the war. Yatsushiro was assigned to do fieldwork in Denver, Colorado , where he conducted multiple first-hand interviews in a range of urban and rural locales. The results of Yatsushiro's and the other researchers' work was published by Cullum in the book, People in Motion .

After the DOI project ended, Yatsushiro spent the rest of the year and part of 1948 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directed a community study on behalf of the Research Center for Group Dynamics. Later that year, when that research was concluded, Leighton recruited Yatsushiro to Cornell University. There Yatsushiro became a research associate and study director for the " Manzanar -Poston Research Project"; simultaneously he began work on a doctoral dissertation. Completed in 1953, the dissertation was eventually published in 1978 as a book titled Politics and Cultural Values .

With significant research and publications in hand, Yatsushiro was able to embark on an active professional career. Between 1954 and 1955, he was a research associate for Leighton's Stirling County study. In 1956, he served as assistant professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Kansas. In 1957, Yatsushiro was hired as a professor at McGill University in Canada, a post he held until the end of 1962. Between 1958 and 1959, while at McGill, Yatsushiro was commissioned by the Canadian government to carry out fieldwork among Eskimo residents on Baffin Island. His preliminary report at a conference, however, was critical of the government's role in facilitating the "settlement" of Inuit people, and the authorities terminated his contract. As a result, he never published his research, although one of his former students, U.C. Berkeley professor Nelson H.H. Graburn, has helped bring Yatsushiro's extensive research notes and photographs back to the local community.

From McGill, Yatsushiro went to Southeast Asia where, under the sponsorship of the U.S. Agency for International Development, he spent six years (1962 to 1969). Working with different U.S. and Thai development agencies, Yatsushiro focused among other things on the social organization of rural Thai villages; his efforts resulted in a published monograph on the topic. The historian Brian Hayashi (2004) notes that, in his capacity as an outside researcher, Yatsushiro was bold enough to identify and critique government policies that he felt might make Thai peasants susceptible to Communist ideologies.

After leaving Thailand, Yatsushiro subsequently obtained an appointment as a senior specialist at the East-West Center at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa campus. He continued to work at the UH in various capacities, including a stint as an administrator and professor in the College of Continuing Education from 1972 to 1978. Yatsushiro retired from UH in 1980 and continues to live in Hawai'i.

The significance of Yatsushiro's career awaits a full analysis. For our purposes, suffice it to say that Yatsushiro was one among a small, elite group of Japanese Americans to earn a Ph.D. degree in one of the social sciences in the decade following the end of World War II. While he did not have a "conventional" career—i.e., an initial tenure-track job that transitioned into the stability of a tenured professorship—readers should remember that in Yatsushiro's generation, scholars of color were not widely accepted into anthropology or into the American academy outside of Asian languages for that matter. Given racial and class barriers, it is significant that Yatsushiro managed to remain an applied anthropologist, to carry out various stints of fieldwork, and to publish as much as he did.

From the very beginning of his career, Yatsushiro was interested in public policy issues. He was well trained, especially for his academic cohort, and as a result, he is regarded today as a careful and thorough researcher. Interestingly, Yatsushiro did not pull his punches after the war in reporting what he felt was limited, or even wrong, in terms of governmental projects that dealt with minority and or colonized populations. It is probable that, at least in the Canadian case, he may have paid a professional and economic price for speaking his mind about the populations and situations that he studied.

Authored by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi , University of California, Los Angeles

For More Information

Hayashi, Brian M. Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Yatsushiro, Toshio. "The Japanese American Looks at Resettlement." Public Opinion Quarterly 8.2 (1944): 188-201.

———. "The Changing Eskimo." The Beaver (summer 1962).

———. Village Organization and Leadership in Northeast Thailand. A Study of Villagers' Approach to Their Problems and Needs . Bangkok: USOM/Thailand, 1966.

———. Politics and Cultural Values. The World War II Japanese Relocation Center and the United States Government . New York: Arno Press, 1978.

Last updated Aug. 24, 2020, 2:39 p.m..