JAPANESE AMERICAN VETERANS ASSOCIATION
IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 3, 2005
CONTACTS: Terry Shima (301-987-6746; email@example.com)
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NOTED NISEI VETERAN KAN TAGAMI PASSES. HELD UNPRECEDENTED ONE-ON-ONE PRIVATE MEETING WITH EMPEROR HIROHITO AT IMPERIAL PALACE. AKAKA PAYS HIGH TRIBUTE.
Honolulu, Hawaii. Kan Tagami, who served from 1946 to 1951 as personal interpreter-aide for General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces Pacific, died at his home in Mililani on November 24, 2005 due to complications from cancer of the liver. Tagami was 87.
Senator Danield K. Akaka, who has a close relationship to the Tagami family, said “I want to express my warmest aloha and condolences to Sadae, Randall, John, and Janis. I had known Kan for many years and knew of his contributions as an MISer in war and peace and thank him for his unique and great service to our country. I am happy that I was able to join the family as we said our last aloha to him. May he rest in peace.”
As MacArthur’s interpreter, Tagami, highly decorated veteran of Burma campaign, was present at key moments in the U.S. Occupation of Japan, such as the historic meetings between MacArthur and each of Japan’s Prime Ministers during this period. Tagami’s grasp of the complex nuances of the Japanese language and culture was critical in fostering clear and unambiguous communications between top U.S. and Japanese policymakers in Japan.
The highlight of Tagami’s Occupation duties occurred when he was asked by MacArthur to convey a personal message to Emperor Hirohito. The Emperor had been deluged by requests for interviews with the American press, all of which had been turned down. However, Imperial Household officials were concerned that continued stonewalling would anger the Supreme Commander. MacArthur wanted to assure the Emperor he was entitled to his privacy and did not need to yield to press demands if he did not wish to do so.
Tagami arrived at the Imperial Palace and was ushered into a small anteroom and requested to wait. Shortly, the Emperor arrived, unaccompanied by any members of his retinue, an unprecedented occurrence. He requested Tagami to sit at the opposite end of a small table. The two exchanged brief pleasantries before Tagami conveyed MacArthur’s message. Afterwards, speaking in the formal language used in the Imperial Court, the Emperor asked Tagami about his family, his family roots in Japan, and the American Nisei. The Emperor expressed great appreciation for the work of the Nisei in the reconstruction of Japan, praising them as “the bridge between our two nations.”
For Tagami, the meeting was fraught with irony. As he recalled, “I, an American Nisei, only one generation removed from Japan, was having a casual conversation with a personage who was once considered by his people to be a divinity.” Sitting face to face with the Emperor, Tagami recalled his experience as an elementary school student in Hiroshima prefecture when then Crown Prince Hirohito visited the train station. The students were assembled in front of the station and forbidden to lift their eyes from the ground as the Crown Prince entered and left the station. When the young Tagami looked up to get a glimpse of Crown Prince, the teacher slapped him down because of his perceived disrespect.
Now, years later, Tagami could only marvel at the turn of fortunes that led him to that moment. Dressed in the uniform of Japan’s conqueror, engaged in casual conversation with the onetime divinity, Tagami was fully aware of how far the wheel of history had turned. “Nothing could speak more eloquently of changes that had occurred in those intervening years,” he would later write.
Bert Mizusawa, President of the Japanese American Veterans Association, said: Kan Tagami is a shining example of the “Greatest Generation.” His great loyalty, courage and contributions during and after the war in the Pacific make him an enduring role model for all Americans. We will miss him and extend our heartfelt condolences to his loved ones. Based in Washington, D.C., JAVA is a nationwide veterans organization to serve the interests of Japanese American and Asian American veterans.
Tagami, a native of Selma, California, who went to school in Japan in his youth, was a career military officer. Drafted into the Army prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was selected as a student, and later instructor, for the new, all-Japanese American, Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Language School. The school’s mission was to produce 6,000 translators and interpreters to support Allied troops in the war against Japan and for the Occupation. Tagami saw action beginning in 1944, when he was selected as leader of a 15-man MIS detachment and sent to Burma as part of the MARS Task Force. The Task Force relieved the famous Merrill’s Marauders and helped open the Burma Road, the Allied supply line from India to China. Tagami later served in Malaya, where he witnessed the surrender of Japanese forces to the British.
After Tagami’s service with MacArthur in the Japanese Occupation, he joined the Army Counter Intelligence Corps, where he served until his retirement from the military in 1961. Tagami subsequently worked for the U.S. government as a civilian, serving in the Far East in various posts until his final retirement from public service in 1978.
In 1996 Tagami was inducted into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame in Huachuca, Arizona. Tagami is survived by his wife Sadae; son Randall of Riverside, California; son John of Falls Church, Virginia; and daughter Janis Yamauchi of Honolulu.