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The Pearl Harbor Spy, Part II

The following is an article from Uncle John's Heavy Duty Bathroom Reader.

From Uncle John's Dustbin of History, here's the final installment of our story about the person most responsible for making Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 as devastating as it was. Part one is in this post.


On the evening of Saturday, December 6, 1941, Yoshikawa sent what would turn out to be his the last of his coded messages to Tokyo:

Though Yoshikawa provided much of the intelligence used to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor, he did not know when -or even if- it would occur. ("To entrust knowledge of such a vital decision to an expendable espionage agent would have been foolish," he later explained.) He learned the attack was underway the same way that Hawaiians did: by hearing the first bombs go off as he was eating breakfast, at 7:55 a.m. on the morning of the 7th.


Yoshikawa had been feeding the war planners in Japan a steady stream of information for eight months, and his efforts had paid off. The Japanese military accomplished its objective with brutal effectiveness: The naval strike force, which included nine destroyers, 23 submarines, two battleships and six aircraft carriers bristled with more than 400 fighters, bombers, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes, had managed to sail more than 4,000 miles across the Pacific undetected and then strike at the home base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet while its ships were still at anchor and the Army Air Corps planes were still on the ground.

Twenty American warships were sunk or badly damaged in the two-hour attack, including the eight battleships along Battleship Row, the main target of the raid. More than 180 U.S. aircraft were destroyed and another 159 damaged. The destruction of the airfield on Ford Island, in the very heart of Pearl Harbor, was so complete that only a single aircraft managed to make it into the air. More than 2,400 American servicemen lost their lives, including 1,177 on the battleship Arizona, and another 1,178 were wounded. It was the greatest military disaster in United States history.

The Japanese losses were miniscule in comparison: 29 planes and five midget submarines were lost, 64 men killed, and one submariner taken prisoner -the first Japanese P.O.W. of the war- when his submarine ran aground in Oahu.


The FBI raided the Japanese consulate within hours, but by then Yoshikawa had burned his code books and any other materials that would have identified him as a spy. He was taken into custody with the rest of the consular staff, and in August 1942 they were all returned to Japan as a part of a swap with American diplomats being held in Japan.

Yoshikawa worked in Naval Intelligence for the rest of the war. When Japan surrendered in August 1945, he hid in the countryside, posing as a Buddhist monk, fearful of what might happen to him if American occupation forces learned of his role in the Pearl Harbor attack. After the occupation ended in 1952, he returned to his family. In 1955 he opened a candy business.

By that time Yoshikawa's role in the war had become widely known, thanks to an Imperial Navy officer who identified him by name in a 1953 interview with the newspaper Ehime Shimbin. If Yoshikawa thought the exposure would bring him fame, fortune, or the gratitude of his countrymen, he was wrong on all counts. Japan had paid a terrible price for starting the war with the United States: On top of the 1.6 million Japanese soldiers who died in the war, an additional 400,000 civilians were killed, including more than 100,000 who died when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Few people wanted anything to do with the man who helped bring such death and destruction to Japan. "They even blamed me for the atomic bomb," Yoshikawa told Australia's Daily Mail in 1991, in one of his rare interviews with the western press.

The candy business failed, and Yoshikawa, now a pariah in his own land, had trouble even finding a job. He ended up living off of the income his wife earned selling insurance. He never received any official recognition for his contribution to the war effort, not a medal or even a thank-you note, and when he petitioned the post-war government for a pension, they turned him down. By the end of his life he had returned to the same vice that supposedly landed him in the spying business in the first place: alcohol. "I drink to forget," he told a reporter. "I have so many thoughts now, so many years after the war. Why has history cheated me?" He died penniless in a nursing home in 1993.


Yoshikawa was the only Japanese spy in Honolulu before the outbreak of war; only the consul general know his true identity and purpose, and with the exception of the geishas, his driver, and others who assisted him without fully realizing what he was up to, he worked alone.

And yet it was the Roosevelt administration's fear that other Japanese spies might be out there, both in the Hawaiian Islands and on the West Coast of the United States, that prompted the federal government to round up 114,000 Japanese Americans and incarcerate them in internment camps for the duration of the war. Many were given only 48 hours to put their affairs in order and as a consequence lost everything they owned.

Not a single internee was ever charged with espionage, and no one understood better than Yoshikawa that they were innocent. He knew because he had tried to recruit Japanese Americans, sounding them out about their loyalties without revealing his purpose, and had failed. "They had done nothing. It was a cruel joke," he admitted to the Daily Mail. "You see, I couldn't trust them in Hawaii to help me. They were loyal to the United States."


The article above was reprinted with permission from the Bathroom Institute's newest book, Uncle John's Heavy Duty Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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And to everyone who thinks he got what he deserved...are you upset because he did the work his government asked of him, or because he did it so well?
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As an American, I'm outraged and saddened at what his actions set in motion. But as a citizen of a great nation, as he was, I realize he was serving his country and government who later abandoned him. Regime changes shouldn't diminish a patriot's pension and recognition...
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The attack on Pearl Harbor was horrible. I have no objectivity when it comes to attacks on my country. This guy did not get what he deserved...he should have been publicly shamed and then executed for his crimes.
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