Japanese American Badgers

By Joy E. Block 

This post is the second in a series of blog posts celebrating the 2021 Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month at UW–Madison. For more information about APIDA events and programming, visit UW–Madison’s APIDA Heritage Month page. Stay tuned for part three of the series which will be published on April 26th.

The research in this blog post was completed as a part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Public History Project. The multi-year project aims to reckon with the university’s history of racism, exclusion, and discrimination. The project will culminate in an exhibit in the fall of 2022, an interactive online website, and curricular tools. By sharing research before the opening of the exhibit, we hope to begin conversations about the history of UW–Madison and discuss how we can all work towards building a more equitable campus community. The nature of historical research is that it will always be incomplete. It is impossible for us to know everything that happened in the past. Therefore, the research in this post is imperfect, as all history is. Our student researchers have completed the research below with all of the historical documents available to them at the time of publication. There will be alternative perspectives to those detailed below. We believe that the discussions that arise out of these differing perspectives are an integral part of the process of reckoning with our history. We welcome responses and discussion. Responses submitted by email will be posted in a response and discussion post within one week after the original publication date. Responses with vulgar or offensive language will not be posted.

In the 1940s, Japanese American students — together with Asian international students and a few other Asian American students — formed the small Asian population on UW’s majority white campus. At the time, Asian American students did not have their own social organizations on campus. Assimilation into the larger campus community was usually the goal, so students who sought social outlets with other Asians and Asian Americans either gathered individually with friends or joined the International Club at Memorial Union. (Asian Americans from California and Hawaii who spoke at Club events often spent their time explaining how they were not internationals.) This could be lonely and isolating at times, but many also found ways to flourish and enjoy their years at UW, developing deep friendships with classmates and advisors. These are some of their stories.

Miyoshi Ikawa

Black and white headshot of Miyoshi Ikawa.
Miyoshi Ikawa’s Senior picture in the California Institute of Technology’s 1941 yearbook. Courtesy of Ancestry.com, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880–2021.

Miyoshi Ikawa was one of the first “students of Japanese ancestry” that found a place at UW after Pearl Harbor, primarily because his graduate advisor at CalTech, Linus Pauling, was sensitive to the mounting anti-Japanese tension faced by his graduate students. Pauling began searching for new placements for his students as soon as President Franklin Roosevelt declared Pasadena, CA, a military zone in February 1942.[1] A renowned chemist and biochemist, Pauling sent out inquiries to several universities where his students’ skills might fit into ongoing research programs. At Wisconsin, only one biochemist needed another graduate student at that time, so Miyoshi Ikawa joined Karl Paul Link’s research lab in UW’s School of Agriculture. Ikawa needed to switch from studying anti-coagulation chemicals to studying antibodies in blood, but it was similar enough work that Ikawa could fit quickly into the Madison lab. Because of professors and administrators who acted on the urgency of Ikawa’s situation, wheels began to turn quickly. By April 14, Ikawa received a research assistantship in Biochemistry. A week later, he held in his hand a travel permit from the Western Defense Command in California, and two weeks later he reported for duty in Madison for his new research position. The Pearl Harbor attacks had changed life for all Japanese Americans, but at least Ikawa was able to continue moving along his career path.

Ikawa was lucky, given that the Army had begun restricting Japanese American movement and forcing evacuation from the West Coast at the end of March. Yet this did not mean Ikawa could smoothly settle into graduate work at UW; the instability of Japanese Americans in general meant that Ikawa’s own status at UW was frequently uncertain too. His new advisor spent the summer of 1942 advocating for him. In June, Ikawa received a letter from the Dean of the College of Agriculture, informing him that full acceptance for Japanese Americans required “some kind of official clearance from a Federal authority indicating that [the student is] not subject to internment and that they are being vouched for by some Federal authority.”[2] Ikawa had already received permission to travel to Madison from Army authorities in California, but his travel permit did not verify the specific conditions UW wanted. How was Ikawa supposed to acquire further clearance from an Army caught up with evacuating over a hundred thousand people? Instead, Karl Paul Link advocated on his behalf, interviewing Federal officers in Chicago for their advice on the case and interceding with UW’s administration on Ikawa’s behalf.

Adding to this anxiety, on July 13, 1942, Ikawa’s temporary military deferment expired, and UW’s Office on Occupational Deferment refused to handle Ikawa’s case, presumably because he was not yet officially accepted to the university.[3] Dr. Link himself had to advocate for Ikawa with the Los Angeles County Board to get Ikawa’s deferment renewed for another seven months. One can imagine the suspense Ikawa lived with for the month after his deferment expired before he learned of the extension. Only because his new UW advisor corresponded with the Los Angeles County Board and interviewed Federal officers in Chicago, was Ikawa able to get his military deferment renewed and his grad school transfer accepted. As a researcher at UW, Miyoshi Ikawa would go on to prove his skill as a biochemist by, along with his lab mate, creating a new version of the chemical dicoumarol, more popularly known as the revolutionary rat poison “Warfarin.”[4] However, he only received this opportunity and the support to take advantage of it through the advocacy of his academic advisors, who were willing to fight for the continuation of his education.

Toshi Toki

Toshi Toki’s black and white senior picture in the University of Wisconsin’s 1942 yearbook.
Toshi Toki’s Senior picture in the University of Wisconsin’s 1942 yearbook. Photo courtesy UW Archives.

Before 1942, only one Japanese family lived in the Madison area — the Tokis. Toshi Toki, the third of the family’s four children, was a UW Senior majoring in Geography at the time.[5] She was born and raised in the Madison area, on a farm just south of today’s Beltline highway and the South Towne Mall.[6] Since there were so few people of Asian descent living in the area, her family assimilated into a primarily white Madison and carved a niche for themselves in the farming community — delivering fresh produce to Madison groceries every few days in their truck. While a student at West High School, Toki would either ride the family truck or walk into town, catching the streetcar at Lakeside Street and taking it in towards University Avenue. She probably took a similar route as a college student as well, since she continued to live at home rather than renting an apartment near campus.[7]

In many ways, Toshi Toki was a typical, young Wisconsinite from Madison’s surrounding farmland. However, her family was Japanese, so as U.S. relations with Japan soured, she and her family endured some of the same suspicions as Japanese Americans across the country. Even before December ’41, the family’s bank assets were frozen, and they were advised not to travel.[8] After the Pearl Harbor attacks, FBI agents began checking out the family, asking all their neighbors and known acquaintances about their national loyalty. Thankfully, the neighbors all gave good accounts of the family, so the federal officials left them alone. Still, fearing a rise in anti-Japanese sentiment, Madisonians advised the Tokis not to travel into town on their normal delivery route. Instead, friends in the American Legion and at the family’s grocery stops came out to the farm to pick up food orders.

How did this all effect Toshi Toki? She left no record of her experiences on campus, but it is likely that she laid low on the farm with her family during the winter break that followed Japan’s attack. Once classes restarted in January, however, she likely returned to attending class on campus. Her family found the Madison community generally supportive — especially after the family’s only son volunteered for the Army. A family friend, one of the leaders of Madison’s American Legion, tried as often as possible to give the family good press, even making sure that the Legion honored the family as “fine American citizens” for their son’s military service.[9] Madison’s low levels of anti-Japanese sentiment at the time would have given Toki some confidence as she continued with her classes and graduated in the spring of ’42. Over the next two years, while Toki became a UW graduate student and teaching assistant in the Geography Department, more Japanese American students and families began to move to Madison, either “voluntarily evacuating” from the West Coast or relocating out of internment camps. In these wartime years, Toki and her family became a social hub for these new Madisonians, hosting holiday dinners with Japanese food and providing a sense of home for the dislocated. In fact, Toki’s two sisters and brother eventually married Japanese Americans who moved to Madison during this period for education or relocation. With her MA in Geography, however, Toki moved on to Washington, D.C. to work for the U.S. Census Bureau — a Badger using her skills and education for the country’s national service.

Herbert Seijin Ginoza

When Herbert Seijin Ginoza left California to escape internment and continue his college education in the Midwest, he did so without first receiving acceptance to any institution. Since he had voluntarily evacuated, UW was willing to accept him for the 1942–43 school year. Ginoza also took precautions to look less threatening to university administrators. Since the Territory of Hawaii was not under evacuation orders, Ginoza listed his family’s hometown of Honolulu as his home address to avoid suspicion, despite having left home a few months before the Pearl Harbor attack.[10] However, unlike students who received scholarships or assistantships, Ginoza needed to work his way through school. When he ran out of money, he “had to drop out of school and work for awhile” before he could return, according to the stories he told his son.[11] He studied at a number of schools as he worked his way across the country.

Herbert Seijin Ginoza’s draft registration card from 1943. At the top of the back of the card, his race is incorrectly indicated as “White.”
Herbert Seijin Ginoza’s draft registration card from 1943 which incorrectly indicates his race as “White.” Courtesy of Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940–1947.

Perhaps tuition at UW was too high for such a strategy; he did not end up continuing at UW after the 1942–43 school year. Then again, his leaving may have been related to what Ginoza would always remember as being “illegally” drafted. According to Ginoza’s accounts, initially he had volunteered for service but the Army turned him away due to his race.[12] Only after he paid his semester’s tuition money and started classes did the local draft board have a change of heart, in order to meet their draft quota during a local flu epidemic. Documents show that Ginoza registered for the draft at Dane County’s local draft board on January 2, 1943.[13] Then in April, Ginoza was inducted at the Fort Sheridan in Illinois.[14] Could Ginoza have been referring to Dane County’s draft board in his story? It seems likely. The draft card Ginoza signed in Madison only 4 months before being inducted listed his race as “White” rather than “Oriental,” which would have encouraged a draft board to look the other way when calling up new draftees. Wherever the situation occurred, it remained a source of resentment for Ginoza over the years, not because of any unwillingness to serve in the U.S. military but because of his lost tuition money and the months of labor that went into earning it. Such events also reflected how white Americans enforced or ignored racial status in ways that often served themselves.

Despite Ginoza’s frustration about how he entered the Army, he went on to serve as one of only five Japanese Americans in the U.S. Army Air Corps and became an American POW in Germany after falling into German territory during a bomber mission.[15] Finally, after his military service he was able to finish college training in Nebraska and serve as a civilian biochemist in the U.S. Army and with NASA.[16] He is a good example of how Japanese American UW students during WWII often could not finish degrees or were forced to take disjointed paths to do so. Their stories are as much a part of UW history as those of its graduates and reveal the more complicated ways that Japanese Americans interacted with Madison’s university and city administrations.

Toru Iura

Toru Iura performing during his time as a UW Cheerleader. Notably this photo was featured on the cover of the Wisconsin Engineer Magazine, March of 1948. Photo courtesy UW Archives.

When he started his Senior year of high school in the fall of 1941, Toru Iura hoped that during the next year he would join many of his classmates at UCLA.[17] However, developments after the Pearl Harbor attacks derailed this Senior Class vice president’s dreams. In March 1942, Iura’s family evacuated before internment orders were finalized and moved to Fort Lupton, Colorado.[18] Unable to graduate with his high school class in Los Angeles, Iura still managed to complete his high school work through correspondence and received his diploma in the mail that summer. However, most universities in his new state would no longer accept Japanese Americans. Only Colorado A&M was willing to accept him as a student, but when he began classes, he realized that its focus on agriculture was a poor fit for his engineering career goals. He began applying again, this time to universities further east. Again, more than a dozen universities rejected him, but he finally received an acceptance from the University of Wisconsin after a long wait while its administration dithered over whether they could admit him. In the end, Toru Iura met the university’s policy for acceptance: his family had “voluntarily evacuated” California rather than being interned by the U.S. military.

Toru Iura loved his years at UW, and he flourished in the field of mechanical engineering. Already by his second year at UW, he was a member of multiple honor societies, including Tau Beta Pi and Pi Tau Sigma and served as Business Manager of the Wisconsin Engineer.[19] He worked at the UW Rathskeller as part of putting himself through college.[20] Moreover, Iura embraced campus social life. Most visibly, he won a position on UW’s varsity cheer leading squad and led the crowds in cheers during football games, a role he would encore at UW reunions for decades afterwards. His visible presence on campus did much to encourage other local Japanese Americans. One twelve-year old who had evacuated California with his family marveled at seeing a “Japanese cheerleader” when he went to watch Badger football games.[21] Iura was also instrumental in organizing social events to help Japanese Americans meet and settle in the area, when many began arriving from internment camps in fall 1944.[22] His sociability, engaging personality, and sense of humor won him support among peers and professors alike.

World War II caused disruptions for everyone, however. When interviewed for the Wisconsin Engineer in September 1944, Iura said that following his undergraduate studies, he hoped to “take grad work if the army didn’t catch him first.”[23] As it turned out, Iura did not even get through his undergraduate courses before the Army called his number. In 1945–46, Iura served as an Army private, spending time in Florida and in the Army Specialized Training Program.[24] Still, his military service did not sidetrack his career ambitions. Iura was able to return to UW and graduated with a BS in 1948. Then, he returned to California for his graduate studies and worked in space and missile development there.

Akio Konoshima

The University of Wisconsin was the third college that Akio Konoshima attended when he arrived in the fall of 1944. Three years previous, during the fall before Pearl Harbor, Konoshima had begun his studies at San Jose State, preparing to enter engineering school. However, evacuation during his freshman spring semester paused those ambitions. Like many college-aged Nisei, Konoshima was evacuated with his family, first being held at an assembly center (Santa Anita, CA) and then being moved to an internment camp (Heart Mountain, WY) after its hasty construction.[25] Unlike most Japanese Americans his own age, however, Konoshima was not considered “Nisei” or American-born Japanese. Instead, he was considered a first-generation immigrant because he had been born in Japan and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of six months. At a time when the loyalty of Japanese Americans was categorized primarily by race and place of birth, Konoshima struggled to take advantage of opportunities reserved for American citizens. He spent most of 1942 and ’43 in an internment camp or out on work crews as temporary farm labor in Montana. Work crews of interned Japanese Americans helped to replace the labor of workers who had joined or been drafted into the military, but they did not receive much income for their services.

On Christmas Eve of 1943, Konoshima left the camp in Heart Mountain to attend a small Christian college in Illinois. The University of Wisconsin would have been more to his taste, but Konoshima could not leave his camp to attend an institution on the Navy’s “proscribed” list. Instead, he settled down to study engineering at a smaller school. Unfortunately, after missing college classes during almost two years of internment, Konoshima confessed, “I had forgotten a lot of math and science I had learned [before, and] I wasn’t doing as well as I should have in school.”[26] Konoshima left after just a semester of classes and resolved to learn the newspaper business while working in Chicago. His Chicago career also proved short-lived, however, when Konoshima learned that UW had received permission to accept all Japanese American students. That very summer, Konoshima applied to UW and entered with other incoming students for fall 1944 to study journalism.

Black and white photo of Akio Konoshima in his boxing uniform with gloves and fists raised.
Akio Konoshima photographed for the UW Boxing Team ca. 1946. Photo courtesy UW Archives.

A studious, glasses-wearing youth, Konoshima was a few years older than the average incoming freshman student, but this was not unusual in the late-wartime environment of soldiers and sailors returning to college. He settled in to his studies during the week, paying expenses by working in a dorm cafeteria as well as at the Oscar Mayer meat plant on the weekend. One day, Konoshima heard about a different opportunity. Due to the small number of men on campus, the UW boxing team needed many new boxers to join. Konoshima had learned the sport as a teenager by sparring with his older brother. Now he was told, “[I]f you make the team, they will give you a scholarship.” On the evening of February 2, 1945, Konoshima won a seat on the varsity team by outboxing his opponent in the All-University Tournament.[27] By the end of his first season, Konoshima held the best record on the team — only one loss out of seven fights. Even the loss was highly contested. The referee at Penn State had previously said he “wasn’t gonna let any Jap boy win,”[28] so when Konoshima lost the match with what even Penn State students considered a “lousy decision,” UW Coach Tom Kenneally told the press that Konoshima had been “robbed.”[29]

Despite an unusual wartime season for UW’s boxing team, Akio Konoshima had become a UW star, capturing the attention of the campus with his quick punches. The following year, the team also elected Konoshima as their honorary captain. Calling him “remarkable” and “one of the toughest fighters in the ring,” the Daily Cardinal cheered the choice: “Congratulations, ‘Akie.’ You earned it.”[30] Boxing had given Konoshima the opportunity to both pay for some of his schooling and gain recognition on campus. His road of persevering through anti-Japanese sentiment and racism was not over, but he did leave the University of Wisconsin with some good memories. After graduating, Konoshima would go on to serve in the Korean War and work as a professional journalist in Japan, London, and the U.S.

These five vignettes cover a variety of Japanese American student experiences at UW–Madison in the 1940s. Still, the available archives only offer the historical details to tell certain people’s stories. Oral histories provide one of the most vivid sources for experiences and opinions left out of more institutional sources, but even these are limited by who records their memories. For instance, we see Japanese American women fleetingly in archival collections. Toshi Toki’s vignette drew on brief mentions in published documents or from her brother’s oral history. Likewise, Akio Konoshima’s younger sister became the president of Groves Co-op, the first explicitly interracial housing at UW–Madison. A Daily Cardinal issue captures her photo and a summary of the co-op, but it is only through her brother’s oral history that we learn about her responses to lingering anti-Japanese public sentiment.[31] She felt the need to Anglicize her name from “Dudiko” to “Carolyn” when she came to UW, a change notable to her brother because it completely surprised him when he visited her at Groves. Perhaps future UW students will continue the work of uncovering the stories of those usually left out of archival collections. Alternately, if you have experiences, historical knowledge, or primary sources that would help broaden our collections of Asian and Asian American experience at UW, please contact us at publichistoryproject@wisc.edu.


Individuals are not often taught to think of themselves as sources of historical knowledge, but they are. Individuals hold intimate knowledge of their campus, their neighborhoods, and their communities. That is why we want to hear from you. We believe that this project will be the most successful when it deeply engages all of those in our community. If you have a story to share, an event you think should be researched, or a person you think has been overlooked, please contact us. publichistoryproject@wisc.edu

[1] Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center, “Carol Ikeda and Miyoshi Ikawa,” The Pauling Blog, June 28, 2017.

[2] E. B. Fred, Letter to Miyoshi Ikawa, June 15, 1942.

[3] Karl Paul Link, “Prepared for the Office of the President: Re: Miyoshi Ikawa,” nd.

[4] Ramya Rajagopalan, “A Study in Scarlet,” Distillations, March 29, 2018.

[5]Badger Yearbook, 1942, page 192.

[6] Akira Toki, Interview: Part 2, February 4, 1994. Wisconsin Historical Society.

[7] University Directory, “The 1943 Badger.”

[8] Akira Toki, Interview: Part 1, November 2, 1993. Wisconsin Historical Society.

[9] Benjamin H. Bull, Letter to L. P. Seig, October 12, 1944.

[10] University Directory, “The 1943 Badger.”

[11] Otis Wright Ginoza, “Second Hand War Stories,” Discover Nikkei, 2019.

[12] Ibid.

[13] The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri, Draft Registration Cards for Wisconsin, 10/16/1940–03/31/1947, Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System 147, Box: 226. Ancestry.com.

[14]Herbert Seijin Ginoza,” Japanese American Military Experience Database, Discover Nikkei. Accessed 01/11/21.

[15] Ibid.

[16]Herbert Ginoza: Obituary,” San Jose Mercury News, September 11, 2011.

[17] “The Los Angeles High School Blue and White,” Los Angeles: the Graduating Class, 1942. Ancestry.com.

[18] Rita Takahashi, “Toru Iura Papers,” Attachment to Letter to Toru Iura, November 25, 1998.

[19] Mae E. Zimmerman, “New Staff,” Wisconsin Engineer, September 1944.

[20] Kurt F. Wendt, Letter of Recommendation to Officer in Charge on A.S.T.P. Board, January 23, 1945.

[21] Judy Iura, Letter to Joy Block, February 7, 2021.

[22] “Madison Evacuees ‘Meet the Town’ at University Party,” Pacific Citizen, c. September 1944

[23] Zimmerman, Wisconsin Engineer.

[24] Kurt F. Wendt, Letter to Officer in Charge, A.S.T. P. Board, January 23, 1945.

[25] Veterans History Project, “Interview with Akio Konoshima Part 1 of 2,” March 22, 2004.

[26] Veterans History Project, “Interview with Akio Konoshima Part 1 of 2,” March 22, 2004.

[27] “Ossowski Breaks Nose; Veterans Retain Titles,” Daily Cardinal, February 6, 1945.

[28] Veterans History Project, “Interview with Akio Konoshima Part 1 of 2,” March 22, 2004.

[29] “Boxers Nip Lions; Seahawks Fight Here Friday Night,” The Daily Cardinal, February 20, 1945.

[30] “Sports Session with Sy Sherman,” The Daily Cardinal, March 28, 1946.

[31] Akio Konoshima, interview by Richard Hawkins, Go For Broke National Education Center, University of Southern California, July 21, 2009.