OBITUARY: Togo Tanaka, 93; Former Rafu English Editor, Manzanar Historian

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English Editor Togo Tanaka, left, inspects a copy of the Rafu Shimpo with pressman Yasuhei Nakanishi in this photo taken before World War II.

English Editor Togo Tanaka, left, inspects a copy of the Rafu Shimpo with pressman Yasuhei Nakanishi in this photo taken before World War II.

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English Editor Togo Tanaka, left, inspects a copy of the Rafu Shimpo with pressman Yasuhei Nakanishi in this photo taken before World War II.

Togo W. Tanaka a journalist, businessman and former Rafu Shimpo English editor, Togo W. Tanaka died of natural causes May 21 at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He was 93.

Tanaka joined the Rafu as the English section editor in 1936 and covered the issues of anti-Japanese sentiment, Nisei vocation/career and the ramifications of U.S. citizenship during his 6-year stay at the paper.

Tanaka stated that Nisei needed to state their claim in America, even if their parents were denied the opportunity to become naturalized citizens. Although he expressed some early criticism of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Tanaka, by the outbreak of WWII, had become identified with the leadership of the JACL.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the FBI arrested Tanaka along with other community leaders. He was held for 11 days without explanation and was not permitted to contact anyone. He and his wife, Jean, who was expecting their first child, were sent to the Santa Ana Assembly Center and then to Manzanar, which Tanaka described as an “outdoor jail.”

Because of his journalism background, Tanaka worked as a camp historian documenting the internee experience for the War Relocation Authority. He also wrote reports for a UC Berkeley study on the evacuation and resettlement of Japanese Americans during the war.

Many of the reports he filed at Manzanar were critical of camp administrators and the policy that led to internment. “I cannot see how it is possible for any human being of normal impulses to be cooped up within limited confines of barbed wires watchtowers, and all the atmosphere of internment and not be touched by the bitterness and disillusionment all around him,” he wrote.

However, his diligent reporting on every aspect of camp life, including the political factions dividing Manzanar’s population, and his unflinching support of the United States caused some animosity among the fellow internees. He advocated cooperation with the government that had branded lawful Japanese Americans as security threats and forced them to give up their homes and livelihoods for confinement behind barbed wire.

Tanaka was relocated to another site in Death Valley for his own protection in the wake of the Manzanar uprising in 1942.

Tanaka was born in Portland, Ore. on Jan. 7, 1916 and grew up in Los Angeles, where his immigrant parents ran a small vegetable store. At UCLA, he wrote for the Daily Bruin and majored in political science. While at UCLA, he worked for the Kashu Mainichi and was hired by the Rafu in his senior year.

Tanaka did not return to journalism after the war. In 1945, he got a job with the American Technical Society, textbook publishers in Chicago and headed the editorial department. Tanaka co-founded Chicago Publishing Corporation.

He and his family returned to Los Angeles in 1955. Tanaka started a company that produced trade publications. In 1963 he founded Gramercy Enterprises, a highly successful real estate holding company. He retired as board chairman in 1985.

“Togo was an important part of the newspaper in the years leading up to World War II and has remained a steadfast friend of The Rafu Shimpo over the last 65 years,” Rafu Publisher Michael Komai said. “He personally offered advice in the 60s, 70s and 80s to publisher Akira Komai, even though Mr. Tanaka had numerous commitments of his own, not the least of what was serving on the Federal Reserve Bank.”

Tanaka is survived by his wife of 68 years, Jean Miho Tanaka of Westwood; children, Jeannie Eleanor Tanaka, Christine Ann Tanaka (M. Vaughan Trammell) and Togo Wesley (Vicki Hartsock) Tanaka; five grandchildren, Daniel Togo Omura, Jaime Jo Tanaka, Kelly Jean Tanaka, Dawn Shizuko Omura de Galperin, and Kevin Wesley Tanaka; and eight great-grandchildren, Chloe Estelle Grunberg, Stella Ewen-Tanaka, Lucas Inrik Grunberg, Natalia Setsu Galperin, Dylan Vaughan Galperin, Ryan
Wesley Tanaka, Maya Janet Tanaka and Nicholas William Arthur Boulia.

A memorial service will be held Friday, July 17. For more information, call (310) 598-7912.

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3 Comments

  1. Sandy Toshiyuki on

    so glad to see the end of this very good perspective on Togo Tanaka which BTW was unavailable in the Rafu’s print edition.

    Long live the Rafu!
    Carry on!
    Sandy Toshiyuki

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