Yoshio Yoda, who portrayed Fuji, the sweet-natured Japanese prisoner of war befriended by the irreverent gang of American sailors at the center of the 1962-66 ABC World War II-set sitcom McHale’s Navy, died Jan. 13 in Fullerton, CA. He was 88.
Yoda, who also went be the name James Yoshio Yoda during his post-acting career as an executive of Toyota Hawaii, was born in Tokyo and studied law at Keio University in Japan before deciding on an acting career. After moving to the United States, Yoda enrolled at the University of Southern California’s film school.
In 1961, when producers for the MGM film The Horizontal Lieutenant contacted the school looking for a young actor who was bilingual in Japanese and English, the school recommended Yoda. He landed the role, and his performance led directly to his involvement in the McHale’s Navy series and two feature film adaptations.
As Seaman 3rd Class Fujiwara Takeo Kobiashi, affectionately known as Fuji by his newfound American friends, Yoda portrayed a deserter from the Imperial Japanese Navy who is more or less adopted by the rules-busting PT-73 crew led by Lieut. Quinton McHale (played by star Ernest Borgnine). Stationed at the Pacific island base of Taratupa, the crew kept Fuji hidden from the sour-faced by-the-book Capt. Wally Binghamton (Joe Flynn).
After the cancellation of McHale’s Navy in 1966, Yoda appeared in a 1969 episode of Love, American Style before pivoting to a corporate career. Prior to his retirement to Fullerton, he was an assistant vice president with Toyota Hawaii in Honolulu.
He was predeceased by his son, Edward Yuji Yoda. At Yoda’s request, no services will be held.