Wordsmith and Renaissance Woman Guyo Tajiri

In honor of National Women’s History Month we are excited to introduce the Guyo Tajiri Collection, new to the Densho Digital Repository. Guyo Tajiri was a journalist and writer at a time when opportunities were limited for women. Her tireless work and unique voice helped establish the Pacific Citizen as one of the major Japanese American publications. And as if being a successful journalist wasn’t enough, she went back to school when she was in her fifties and became a beloved teacher to special needs students in Oakland.

This sampling of photographs, letters, and articles from our new collection offers a glimpse into her remarkable life.

Guyo Tajiri was born Tsuguyo Marion Okagaki in 1915 in San Jose, California. Her father, Kichitaro Okagaki, ran a newspaper there and Guyo grew up immersed in the world of journalism.

Guyo Tajiri riding a horse as a child, 1930s-40s. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.

In 1932, Guyo became one of the first Asian American women accepted to the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She later continued her education at San Jose State University and UC Berkeley.

When Guyo returned to the Bay Area, she met and married fellow journalist Larry Tajiri. The pair worked for the Nichi Bei until shortly before the war.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and with exclusion imminent, Guyo and Larry were asked to run the Pacific Citizen, the newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League. This meant that they would voluntarily relocate in order to keep the newspaper running while the rest of the Japanese American community on the West Coast was incarcerated. On March 29, 1942, the Tajiris moved to Salt Lake City and began their 10-year stint running the Pacific Citizen. Despite limited resources, they were able to bring the paper to national prominence.

Guyo and Larry Tajiri in front of their Christmas tree in Salt Lake City, ca. 1940s. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.

 

Travel permit allowing Guyo Tajiri to move to Salt Lake City, Utah before forced removal. March 27, 1942. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.

 

Guyo Tajiri at a canyon overlook, ca. 1940s-50s. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.

Guyo’s work was an essential part of the Pacific Citizen’s success. Although she was paid only a nominal salary of $25 per month, she was in charge of editing and proofreading the newspaper as well as writing a number of pieces for every edition. Through her regular column, “Ann Nisei,” Guyo gave advice to women regarding beauty, fashion, decor, and the challenges of living in — and leaving — the camps. Her tone was warm, a little pollyannaish, and sometimes stern. In a March 1943 issue of the paper, she counselled incarcerees about leaving the camps and reestablishing themselves in the outside world:

“Very few people go through any period of time — months or years — without some unpleasant incidents happening to them,” she wrote. “So why should yours be a bed of roses? Chances are nothing untoward will happen to you. Then why worry about it?”

Guyo also wrote other — often uncredited — articles in the Pacific Citizen. The most prominent were her dispatches from the trial of Iva Toguri d’Aquino, also known as “Tokyo Rose.” She became convinced of Toguri’s innocence and participated in a push to get her pardoned in the 1970s.

The July 16, 1946 edition of The Pacific Citizen, authored by M.O.T. (Marion Okagaki Tajiri).

When Guyo and Larry decided to move on from the Pacific Citizen there was an outpouring of thanks from the the community. The breadth of their influence can be seen in the range of letters they received from around the country.

An excerpt from a letter from Dillon S. Myer included in the thank you book presented to Guyo and Larry Tajiri at the Tajiri Testimonial Banquet of the JACL. The testimonial banquet recognized the Tajiris for their decade of service running the Pacific Citizen. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.

In the 1950s and 1960s Guyo moved away from work in journalism. When Larry died in 1965, Guyo became involved in the Larry Tajiri Memorial Fund, a scholarship given out to individuals or groups who made important contributions to the performing arts in the greater Denver area.

Guyo Tajiri (R) with family friend Midori Kimura and Happy the Dog (Larry’s dog), circa 1968. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.

She eventually moved from Colorado back to the Bay Area. There, she went back to school and earned a degree in elementary education with a minor in special needs education.

1967 newspaper clipping annoucing Guyo Tajiri being named Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.

She taught in the Oakland School District for 12 years, and her teacher evaluations show the care and attention she devoted to her students.

An Oakland Unified School District evaluation of Guyo Tajiri’s performance as a teacher. November 1, 1972. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.

After a long and interesting life, Guyo passed away in 2007. Her collection is now preserved digitally in the Densho Digital Repository and physically in the Ethnic Studies Library at UC Berkeley.

By Caitlin Oiye Coon, Densho Digital Archivist

Content and facts pulled from Greg Robinson’s Densho Encyclopedia article on Guyo Tajiri and from the Guyo Tajiri Collection in the Densho Digital Repository.

[Header photo: Guyo Tajiro sitting on a dock, c.1940s-1950s. Courtesy of the Tajiri Estate, Densho.]

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