Gwen Harold Terasaki, author of Bridge to the Sun, was born in Johnson City, Tennessee. Her memoir was a New York Times bestseller, nominated for a National Book Award, and won The Washington Post non-fiction book of the year award in 1958. It was made into a film by MGA starring Carol Baker and James Shigeta, which premiered in 1961.
Bridge to the Sun is the story of Gwen’s marriage and life with the Japanese diplomat, Hidenari “Terry” Terasaki, and a testament to the enduring bonds of love and family during a time of global war. When a Japanese language edition of Bridge to the Sun was published in Tokyo in 1958, Gwen embarked on an extensive tour of her husband’s country. She renewed old friendships and met with the men who had been Terry’s colleagues during his career with the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and about whom she’d written in Bridge to the Sun.
The Terasakis were stationed in Washington, DC in early 1941, where Terry played a central role in behind- the-scenes efforts to avert war between Japan and the United States. After Pearl Harbor, Gwen insisted on keeping the family together despite Terry’s warnings that Japan would be destroyed and their lives in great peril. She is one of very few American women who lived in Japan during the war years.
Gwen was invited to appear on an NHK television program during her tour of Japan. The program, modeled after This Is Your Life, was called Koko ni kane ga naru. Her daughter Mariko was a surprise guest, as was Kato the Fisherman, who had befriended the family after Terry visited his fish shop in Yoshihama. Kato helped them survive some of the darkest days of the war. When a Japanese submarine surfaced in Sagami Bay near Yoshihama, Terry feared American bombers might soon attack the village, and decided to flee to the mountains.
Kato helped them make arrangements to leave Yoshihama and later brought food to their refuge near the village of Tateshina in the Japanese alps. They were severely malnourished at the time, facing the very real prospect of starvation. Gwen movingly describes their experiences in the final months of the war in the chapter entitled “Hunger in the Mountains.”
Gwen spoke at a number of venues during the ’58 visit. She returned to the US and spent most of the rest of her life in the East Tennessee hill country where she had grown up. The success of the book and film gave her a measure of financial security. She took care of her parents during their declining years and visited her daughter and grandchildren at their home in Wyoming.
She kept in touch with her Japanese friends and gave frequent talks about the “bridge across the Pacific” she and her husband had dreamed of building when they married in
1931. As she grew older she surrounded herself with mementos — letters written home during the occupation, family photographs, fan mail from readers, faded newspaper clippings that chronicled their public lives together. Among the papers her daughter discovered were letters Terry had written to Gwen during their courtship. Gwen had saved them all. They are written in the clear hand of youth, on stationary printed with the words “Higher Than Mount Fujiyama / Deeper Than The Pacific.” Gwen missed this romantic young diplomat for the rest of her life, and spoke of him almost every day until she died, on December 15, 1990.