The Dawn of Overseas Broadcasting

Major developments in international broadcasting The Dawn of Overseas Broadcasting

1935[International Broadcasting Begins in Japan]-1940s

Major developments in international broadcasting  1935[International Broadcasting Begins in Japan in]-1940s


Major developments in international broadcasting 1950s-70s


Major developments in international broadcasting 1980s-90s


Major developments in international broadcasting 2000-2015

1940-1944Showa 15-19

Japan Plunges into Pacific War
Bigger Roles for International Broadcasting

CHRONICLE  >  1940–1944  >  Japan Plunges into Pacific War Bigger Roles for International Broadcasting  | Imperial Headquarters Announces… An Airwaves War with Big Powers

Tables of major events

  • 2/2. In Imperial Diet, Takao Saito criticizes military-led war policy.
  • 6/1. Japan airs to Hawaii and Southwest Asia.
  • 9/27. Japan-Italy-Germany form Tripartite Pact.
  • 10/12. Party to assist imperial rule set up.
  • 1/1. Broadcasts begin for Middle and Near East, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand.
  • 4/13. Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact signed.
  • 7/26~8/1. U.S., Britain and Netherlands freeze Japan’s foreign assets, suspend financial deals and impose oil and other embargoes.
  • 10/1. Japan airs in 16 languages.
  • 10/18. Tojo Cabinet launched.
  • 12/3. First announcement by Imperial Headquarters
  • 12/8. Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Pacific War begins. (~8/15/1945)
  • 1/2. Japan occupies Manila.
  • 2/15. Occupies Singapore.
  • 4/1. More broadcasts to India
  • 4/18. First U.S. air raids on Tokyo
  • 6/5. Crushing defeat at Midway
  • 2/1. Pullout from Guadalcanal
  • “Tokyo Rose” popular among U.S. soldiers.
  • 11. Conference on Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in Tokyo
  • 6/6. Invasion of Normandy
  • 7/7. Japan’s forces crushed on Saipan.
  • 11/5. Overseas broadcast reaches largest scale, in 24 languages, 32h35m a day.



The day when war broke out between Japan and the U.S., overseas broadcasting was used to send a coded message. This was to use one function of broadcasting for a military purpose. As Japan’s war situation deteriorated, overseas broadcasting was forced deeper into another role --- helping the government to achieve its national policy.

Takao Saito Criticizes Military’s War Policy

12/8/41. Before dawn (Japan time), Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. The U.S. battleship West Virginia burns. The Pacific War begins.

12/8/41. Before dawn (Japan time), Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. The U.S. battleship West Virginia burns. The Pacific War begins.

1940 was a special year for Japan, the 2600th since Japan’s first emperor ascended the throne. But it was already an age of worries over the military’s dominance in state affairs. In February, at a plenary session of the Lower House of the Imperial Diet, Takao Saito of the Constitutional Democratic Party denounced the military-led war policy. He was expelled from the Diet. Voices against the military became silenced.

Japan Cornered by Economic Sanctions

The U.S. canceled the Commerce and Navigation Treaty in 1939 amid Japan’s military aggression against China. This made it hard for Japan to get oil, scrap iron and other strategic materials. In July 1941, Japan advanced into French Indochina, seeking oil and other resources. The U.S., Britain and the Netherlands froze Japan’s foreign assets and suspended financial deals. On August 1, the U.S. imposed an embargo on gasoline (crude oil for aircraft). The Netherlands banned oil exports from Indonesia. Japan had depended almost entirely on imports for oil and other resources. Those economic sanctions, called the ABCD encirclement, caused Japan to give up the option of getting them through negotiations. The country would seek a way out through military action.

Coded Message at Start of Japan-U.S. War

“A West Wind, Fine.”

On December 8, 1941, Japan’s overseas news broadcasting was abruptly interrupted by this strange weather advisory. On this day, the Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. The Pacific War began. The weather advisory was a coded order to Japan’s diplomatic missions to destroy classified papers.

Imperial Headquarters Says…

No discussion of news in Japan in those days would be complete without mention of the Imperial Headquarters, an organ set up during the war consisting of the Army and the Navy General Staff. Its news division was engaged in propaganda work for people in and out of Japan and against enemies. It regularly made announcements concerning the war. In its first announcement at 6 a.m. on December 8, 1941, it said “the Imperial Army and Navy entered a war situation with the U.S. and Britain in the Western Pacific before dawn today.” Also, the Pearl Harbor attack was reported in Japan’s overseas news. A record of December 9 says “A prompt air raid put Honolulu at a loss,” “The U.S. Pacific Fleet hit hard. A historic victory” and “The PM sent a telegram celebrating the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet.”

During World War II, the Imperial Headquarters made 846 announcements on war situations and strategies. But after a heavy defeat in the Battle of Midway in 1942, it began to hide or underreport Japan’s losses and padded the enemy’s losses. In that battle, Japan lost four aircraft carriers. But it said “one sank; one was damaged.” As for U.S. losses, it said “two sank,” but in fact only one had. When Japanese troops pulled out, they “relocated.” When they were killed, they “had honorable deaths.”

Big Powers Broadcast for Their Colonies

It was not in Japan alone that overseas broadcasting conveyed government will. In many countries in the West, such broadcasting was closely linked to government policies for colonies. The BBC in Britain called its overseas broadcasting the Empire Service, offered by the British Empire. The Netherlands for Indonesia and France for Vietnam had been offering broadcasting services since the 1930s.

In the U.S., where main players in broadcasting were commercial broadcasters, Washington set up Voice of America under the Office of War Information in 1942. It aired programs for Japanese troops in the South Pacific and German troops in West Africa and Europe. America joined the propaganda war on the airwaves.

Imperial Headquarters Announces…
An Airwaves War with Big Powers


Overseas broadcasting became the arena for Imperial Headquarters’ announcements. In them, Japan repeated its goal of “liberating Asia from Western tyranny.” The U.S. and Britain responded in kind, intensifying an airwaves war in Asia.

Aim of “Co-Prosperity Sphere” and More Broadcasting to India

11/43. Great East Asia Conference. In front of Diet Building, 4th from left, Hideki Tojo. To his left, Republic of China head Wang Ching-wei.

11/43. Great East Asia Conference. In front of Diet Building, 4th from left, Hideki Tojo. To his left, Republic of China head Wang Ching-wei.

Ikuko Toguri, one of the Tokyo Roses.

Ikuko Toguri, one of the Tokyo Roses.

“Japan’s goal is to get western colonizers out of Asia, and to form a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” In its broadcasts to the world and especially to Asia, Japan said this was why it was fighting major powers.

With the start of the war with the U.S., Japan set up an organ to steer its overseas broadcasting. In April 1942, it enhanced its broadcasting to India. Airtime to the British colony was extended to one hour 35 minutes. In addition to Hindi, services in Urdu, Bengali, Tamil and Punjab were added to rally an independence movement.

The More Defeated, the More Vital

As the U.S. forces announced good war results, Japan claimed cover-ups. It said on the air that it would reveal the U.S. Navy’s policy of hiding losses. At the same time, Japan’s overseas broadcasting began to include programs to remind enemy troops of their homes, hoping to make them weary of war. It reported less on the war itself. A female announcer spoke to American troops in an inviting way on the program “Zero Hour.” American troops in Pacific areas tuned in. They called her Tokyo Rose.

“Zero Hour” also featured letters by U.S. prisoners of war, who told their families they were doing fine in Japan. A Japanese announcer read the letters on their behalf.

In April 1944, “The Hour for Free India” began to be aired by the Tokyo chapter of India’s independence movement. It was a message to the people in India. A leader of the movement, Chandra Bose, stood in front of a microphone and said the British Empire would fall sooner or later. He called on his fellow countrymen to stand up and fight for independence.

In those days, George Orwell was writing scripts for programs aired to India on the BBC’s Empire Service. He felt a sense of crisis, as it was apparent to him that Japan was trying to justify its action on the pretext of releasing India from the yoke of Britain.To counter this, Britain and the U.S. reinforced their broadcasting to India and began offering services in local languages there.

People Shut Off from Information

In Japan, people were shut off from truth. A totalitarian political party, the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, dominated politics. The industry was put under war-time control. Newspapers and agencies were also controlled. Broadcasting was put under state rule. The people were unable to know what was happening in the world, in politics and on battlefields.

Overseas Broadcasting and War Crimes

Some foreign nationals who took part in overseas broadcasting in Japan were accused of war crimes. Perhaps, the most famous was Iva Ikuko Toguri. She was born in Los Angeles in 1916 as a second-generation Japanese-American. She was visiting her sick aunt in Japan in 1941, when the Pacific War broke out.

Unable to go back, Toguri became an announcer later called Tokyo Rose. Susumu Mizuniwa, who worked with her, says there was more than one female announcer called Tokyo Rose. After the war, Iva came forward, saying she was Tokyo Rose. She was detained by U.S. forces but not charged at that time. When she returned to America however, she was charged with treason. She was found guilty, given a fine and a prison sentence, and deprived of U.S. citizenship. Mizuniwa says, “I can’t think of Iva without tears. The war began just when she was returning. She took the job to support herself. She would never have thought of betraying America.”

Later, it was found that evidence against her had been faked. Iva was released on a presidential pardon and regained citizenship. In 2006, she died at the age of 90. Just before that, she was commended by a veterans’ society as “a patriotic citizen who never abandoned U.S. citizenship at the time of hardship.”