Shiroi kumo no kanata ni: Rikugun kōkū tokubetsu kōgekitai
(To the distant white clouds: Army's aerial special attack corps)
by Ochiho Shimahara
Dōshinsha, 1985, 210 pages
The former Japanese Army air base in Chiran serves as the
main source for this book's loose collection of stories about individual
kamikaze pilots. Although the book targets children in upper elementary school
and above, the book's many technical terms and personal interviews on a
little-known historical topic will make it difficult for most children to make
it to the end. Ochiho Shimahara has translated several Russian children's
stories into Japanese, but Shiroi kumo no kanata ni (To the distant
white clouds) is her first book as an author.
After a short introduction on World War II and Japan's
special attack corps, the first three chapters cover the author's two-day trip
to Chiran to visit the museum and to interview several people. Chapter 4 tells
several stories from Reiko Akabane (maiden name of Torihama) and Shōko Nagasaki
(maiden name of Maeda), who met many kamikaze pilots when they worked at Chiran
Air Base with other local high school girls during the early spring of 1945.
The next five chapters each give the history of a kamikaze pilot who made sorties
from Chiran. The final two chapters tell the story of Tadamasa Itatsu, the
first director of Chiran's museum dedicated to kamikaze pilots. He went around
the country to talk with bereaved family members, and during these many trips
he collected photos, letters, and other artifacts that became part of the
displays at the Chiran museum.
Interviews and trips by the author fill this book. This
approach works well for the first three chapters as an introduction to the
small town of Chiran and its wartime history, but other chapters at times
become difficult to follow as the number of different people and places
increases. Although some parts of interviews effectively convey emotions and
opinions of interviewees, many of these conversations do not present historical
material in an organized fashion.
The chapter on Ryōji Uehara is one highlight of this book.
Shimahara goes to Nagano Prefecture to visit his younger sister Kiyoko,
and the author finds out that all three of Kiyoko's older brothers died in
battle. Ryōji Uehara wrote eloquent letters prior to his death, and he
expressed his strong belief in liberty and hatred of Japan's totalitarianism.
Although Kiyoko did not hear these words directly from Ryōji during his trip
home right before his kamikaze sortie, he spouted off many radical ideas and
seemed to be saying by his words, "Japan will lose. My dying in battle is
not for the country. It is to protect people important to me. Since I'll be
going to heaven, I'll not be at the Yasukuni Shrine" (p. 122).
This book introduces several kamikaze pilots and
contains many historical photos, but the lack of focus inherent in long
interviews makes this book difficult to read, especially for children. The chapter
on Ryōhei Hasebe, who did rozashi (needlepoint embroidery on a woven
silk gauze canvas) in the Chiran barracks prior to his kamikaze sortie, provides a
good example. The chapter starts promisingly with his unusual interest in rozashi
and also includes the four last letters he wrote to his father, mother, older
sister, and younger sisters. However, the rest of the chapter lacks focus with
many long interview quotes and a few abrupt shifts in topic.