The Terasaki Story

The University of North Carolina press first published Bridge to the Sun in 1958. The book 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 is the story of an international marriage between a Japanese diplomat and an American woman from East Tennessee, and a testament to the enduring bonds of love and family during a time of global war.

Bridge to the Sun was made into a movie by MGM in 1961, starring Carol Baker as Gwen Terasaki and James Shigeta as Hidenari Terasaki. In this video, Robert Osborne and Dr. Peter Feng introduce the film when it was aired by Turner Classic Movies as part of its “Race & Hollywood: Asian Images in Film” festival in June  2008:

In 1980, Japan’s NHK produced a three-hour documentary entitled Mariko, based on the life of Gwen and Hidenari’s daughter, Mariko Terasaki Miller, and the Terasaki family’s experiences during the war.  It was watched by an estimated 80% of the Japanese viewing

Gwen and Mariko Terasaki ©Mariko Terasaki Miller

public when it premiered on August 6, 1980, and has been broadcast several times since.  Mariko became very well known in Japan and toured the country often during the following three decades with a powerful message about the suffering and brutality of war and the threat  to human survival posed by militarism and imperial ambition.

Though Terasaki’s diary was confiscated by the Japanese secret police (Kempei tai) during the war, the diaries he kept during the later phases of the war and the early occupation period survived.  Gwen kept them tucked away in a closet, wrapped in furoshiki (traditional Japanese wrapping cloth) she had brought to the United States upon leaving Japan in 1949. They remained in her closet for almost 40 years. Her daughter Mariko found them in 1989 and discovered that they contained notes her father had written during the darkest months of the war, when the family took refuge from intense air raids in a mountain village and faced the moment-by-moment plague of slow starvation.  She also made another discovery. Her father had been appointed adviser to the Emperor in early 1946, and acted as interpreter for General MacArthur and Hirohito at a number of meetings during the early occupation. He also met with Hirohito “on a daily basis” and acted as liaison between the imperial court and senior occupation officials, employing his diplomatic skills and sophisticated grasp of the American and Japanese cultures to foster a mutual understanding about the many complex issues that arose during the early phases of the occupation.  Thus is was that among the papers he left after his death was a written record he created reflecting Hirohito’s views about the causes and conduct of the Pacific War.

In 1990, Mariko arranged for portions of her father’s diaries to be published in Japan.  The diaries created a sensation when they were published in a leading magazine and appeared in book form shortly thereafter.  Many scholars consider them among the most important historical documents to surface since the end of the war.

Mariko continues her work as an advocate of peace and a highly persuasive opponent of militarism.  She speaks of war from the perspective of someone who has experienced it directly, not as a soldier thousands of miles from home but as a child who lived with her family among other vulnerable civilians during one of the most intense bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare.  Her uncle, Taira, visited the family in Tokyo over Christmas of 1945.  A physician based at Kure naval base, he had led one of the first medical teams into Hiroshima some three hours after the first atomic bomb exploded over the city.  She listened as he described the utter devastation and hopeless suffering he encountered, the grisly scenes of children dying en masse from fallout, of mothers dying with infants in their arms. Now in her seventies, as she witnesses the spread of nationalist fervor and aggression across the globe, she is more than ever convinced that mankind must choose between war or survival. It cannot have both. We can either put an end to war — or war will put an end to us.

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