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Sora no kanata ni (To distant skies)
by Asahi Shimbun Seibu Honsha
Ashishobo, 1990, 134 pages

Tome Torihama ran a restaurant in Chiran near the air base from where 436 kamikaze pilots sortied between April and June 1945. She personally met many of the pilots who visited her restaurant, and after the war she also met many family members who visited Chiran. Sora no kanata ni (To distant skies) gives the personal stories of several of these pilots.

From September to December 1988, the Asahi Shimbun published a series of newspaper articles about the pilots who sortied from Chiran Air Base. Each article became a chapter in this book, which has 28 chapters of about one and a half pages of text each. The chapters also have full-page photos of the pilots and many other historical photos. The front of the book has a map of the many small islands between Chiran and Okinawa (some where pilots crash landed before reaching Okinawa) and another map of the numerous Army and Navy air bases on Kyushu, the southernmost main island of Japan. The back of the back contains a listing of the kamikaze pilots who died after departing Chiran.

This book contains many moving stories, but the format of less than two full pages per chapter limits the details provided about individual pilots. Most of the stories include items about pilots' family members, some who visited Chiran long after the end of the war. Although the introduction states the book is based on stories told by Tome Torihama, some chapters seem to be more based on the author's research and interviews with the pilots' family members.

Each chapter gives readers a glimpse into the feelings of the kamikaze pilots and their bereaved family members. For example, one chapter tells of a pilot who wrote a final letter in katakana to his five-year-old son and his two-year-old daughter. The last part of the chapter gives postwar episodes about his wife and children. Another chapter tells about a baseball player who as a professional only had two times at bat, both as a pinch hitter, before he entered the Army to train as a pilot. He struck out the first time, and he grounded into a double play during his final at bat. The book also contains two of Tome's most well-known stories of Second Lieutenant Fumihiro Mitsuyama, the Korean pilot who sang the Korean song Arirang on the night before his sortie, and Sergeant Saburo Miyakawa, who told Tome he would return as a firefly.

A chapter near the end of the book tells the story of Tadamasa Itatsu, a kamikaze pilot who sortied on May 28, 1945, but crash landed at Tokunoshima. He had no chance to sortie again before the end of the war, and he was tormented by feelings of guilt for many years since he was the only one to survive. He later became director of the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots. Itatsu personally visited over 600 family members of kamikaze pilots, and many of these visits led to donations of photographs, letters, and other items to the Chiran Peace Museum, making it today the museum with the most extensive collection of artifacts related to kamikaze pilots. He mentions that a few parents who he visited had never acknowledged their sons' death and still believe they survived.

One chapter tells about Tome Torihama's photograph albums full of blank spaces. She had about 20 albums full of photos of Chiran Air Base pilots together with her taken when they visited her restaurant. These included not only the kamikaze pilots who sortied in the spring of 1945 but also student pilots who from 1942 came for a few months to the Army's Tachiarai Flight School branch at Chiran Air Base. During the war Tome was prohibited by the military from sending these photos to parents, but after the war's end many family members visited Chiran and took these photos when they met with Tome.

Tome Torihama died in 1992, two years after publication of this book, at a Makurazaki City nursing home that faces Mount Kaimon, a mountain at the southern tip of Japan where Chiran kamikaze pilots flew over on their flights toward Okinawa. Her touching stories about the young men who went to their deaths remain alive in this book.


Tome Torihama in 1990