Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Kan Tagami Interview
Narrator: Kan Tagami
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: Mililani, Hawaii
Date: January 5, 2001
Densho ID: denshovh-tkan-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

gky: Can you tell me about that meeting that you had with the emperor, just you and the emperor, that no record was ever kept of it? Can you tell me about that meeting?

KT: Yeah. That was later, later part of the Occupation, I think sometime around '48, around there, 1948. I was asked by the, by General MacArthur to go see the emperor in his behalf. And he was very concerned about outside agencies, like Foreign Ministry and Imperial Household Ministry were trying to get the emperor to let the newspaper and media in to see the family, and they wanted to photograph their daily life, and all that. The pressure was mounting. So MacArthur heard about it. He says, you know, he was very pro imperial household, especially the emperor. He liked the emperor and he wanted to make it straight that he, General MacArthur and GHQ will not approve anything that is not acceptable to the emperor and that he, himself, as an individual, rights to privacy as any other Japanese. So, that's what I told him. I asked him if he understood this. So that was the end of it. And we talked here and there about other things. We talked about my family in Hiroshima. Yes, he said, he remembers Hiroshima well. He used to go there. He told me that, "You Niseis have done a great job and will be doing a great job as a bridge between two countries." So he asked me to tell the others that he appreciates the Nisei work.

gky: Why do you think this was such a special mission that MacArthur gave you?

KT: Special mission?

gky: Well, to go see the emperor, to have a --

KT: Yeah, well, that was because of his concern for the emperor and the rampant activities of the media, and he wanted to be on board to the emperor that he is against anything that is, the emperor does not want and not be powered or pushed, and that MacArthur would support him.

gky: And then how did you get, you all get the emperor to agree to meet just with you, not with any other interpreters or...

KT: No. Aide-de-camp, full colonel, called the Imperial Household Ministry and told them that, "Captain Tagami will be there tonight. He represents the general. Please give him time to see the emperor. He represents the general." So, that's -- when I walked in for the meeting, the household minister -- I don't know what his rank was -- anyway, Chief of Ceremonies said, "Go to that room and you will be alone with the Emperor because the emperor will be alone himself." I said, "Where's the book?" He says, "Oh, you mean the visitor? No, you don't need to sign it because it will be unofficial," which was good because I didn't want my name on something like seeing the emperor. I'd rather have it informal, anyway. So that's how it was. There's nobody in the room when I talked to the emperor.

gky: So, it seems like that and the -- well, first of all, tell me about the mission to Hiroshima.

KT: Mission to what?

gky: To Hiroshima, that you went and gave --

KT: Yeah, yeah. Well, that was kind of early in my assignment. I was called in and they said they had a request from the mayor of Hiroshima requesting the general give him a message on the atomic bomb day, first atomic bomb day. The general wrote a short letter to be given to the mayor. I think in the newspaper it shows that I did. But after that, after the first message, I don't think he tried to do it again because a lot of people tried to take advantage of his endorsement. That was the first time and the last time he left, gave a message to the people of Hiroshima because the atomic bomb was a sore thing for United States anyway. He didn't want to bring it up too much, too often. That was my feeling about it.

gky: So a couple of times you were asked to act as the general's special emissary, I mean, to go and give people a message from the general. So you were acting as more than an interpreter for him.

KT: Yes. I was interpreting not as an interpreter but his aide representing him in bestowing that letter to the mayor of Hiroshima. Like I say, that was the last time I went down for -- it was an eerie thing, you know. He decided to play it down a little bit, because we didn't want the media and things to get hold of that saying that, explain our feelings and all of that.

gky: Where is your family from?

KT: What?

gky: Where is your family from in Japan?

KT: My family? Hiroshima. Hiroshima. My cousin, first cousin, female, was burned in that attack. Her face is all scarred up. But my father left Japan for the United States early in the game, so he left some -- he left a sister. My first cousin is that -- she came down to see me. Her face was all... but, believe it or not, the Japanese are funny people. In spite of that, they didn't say one word about revenge. There's that word shikata ga nai, something like that happen. If that were a European, you never hear the last of it. If somebody dropped an atomic on Berlin or somewhere else, you'd never hear the last of it. The Japanese just accepted that as part of the war.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2001 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.