Hotaru Kaeru (The Firefly Returns)
by Reiko Akabane and Hiroshi Ishii
Soshisa, 2001, 245 pages
Reiko Akabane (maiden name of Torihama) was a 14-year-old
high school girl in March 1945, when the Japanese Army began to use Chiran Air
Base for special (suicide) attack sorties against American ships off Okinawa. The
Special Attack Corps (tokkōtai)
flights from Chiran continued for about two and a half months. In this book Reiko
tells many moving stories of Special Attack Corps pilots with close ties to her and her
family even though often they knew each other for only a short time prior to
their final missions.
Reiko's mother, Tome Torihama, ran a small restaurant called
Tomiya, where many pilots from nearby Chiran Air Base visited to relax and enjoy
themselves with friends. Here Tome and her two teenage daughters, Miako and
Reiko, talked often with the young pilots. Tome came to be known as
"Tokkō (Special Attack) Mom" or "Tokkō Aunt" because of her love and
caring for these young men far away from their real families.
After the end of the war, Tome Torihama told
stories many times about the Special Attack Corps pilots she knew, so many episodes in Hotaru Kaeru
(The Firefly Returns) can be found in other Japanese books about Chiran and Tome
Torihama . However, this book contains much previously unpublished
information, such as personal details of the Torihama family and their
relationships with the Special Attack Corps pilots, the story of Tome's life in the early
part of the war and in the postwar period, and incidents personally experienced by Reiko.
Some stories in the book can also be found in exhibits at the Hotaru Museum
(e.g., story of Special Attack
Corps pilot who had a cat
phobia, pp. 82-5), located in the
same building as the former Tomiya Restaurant.
In 1955, Reiko moved from Chiran to Tōkyō to attend fashion
design school. Soon thereafter she and her husband opened a small restaurant
named Satsuma Ogojo  in Tōkyō near Waseda University, and they later moved
the restaurant to its present (as of 2005) location near Shinjuku Station. The
restaurant serves typical food from Kagoshima Prefecture, where Chiran is located.
For many years after the restaurant's opening, former pilots who had been
stationed at Chiran Air Base and who knew her mother Tome frequently visited
Satsuma Ogojo Restaurant. In 2001, Reiko told the many stories about her family
and the Special Attack Corps pilots to Hiroshi Ishii, who worked together with her to write
this book. Both the Hotaru Museum in Chiran
and the Satsuma Ogojo Restaurant in Tōkyō have this book for sale.
The title of this book comes from one of the most famous stories about a
Special Attack Corps pilot. On the evening before Saburō Miyagawa's
departure on a suicide attack, he told Tome he would return as a firefly the
next evening. The next night a large firefly shining brightly entered Tomiya
Restaurant, and the Torihama family and Miyagawa's comrades were astonished that
he had returned. The photo on the book's cover (see top of page) shows
Tome standing with Fumihiro Mitsuyama, a Korean pilot who sang the Korean song Arirang
on the night prior to his departure. One of the main characters in the popular
2001 film entitled Hotaru
(Firefly) is a composite of these two
The first section, comprising about three quarters of the
book, involves the wartime period, and the second section covers the postwar
period through Tome's death in 1992. The front of the book has 24 pages of
historical photos of the Torihama family and the Special Attack Corps pilots introduced in
the book. The first chapter covers the period when Chiran Air Base served as a branch school for the Tachiarai Flight School in Fukuoka Prefecture. The next
two chapters deal with the start of special attack operations and with the time Reiko
worked on the base with other girls from Chiran High School. Chapters 4 to 10
give stories about individual Special Attack Corps pilots. Chapter 11 begins the postwar
period with American troops being stationed in Chiran for about two months. The
final three chapters tell about Tome's remembrance of the young pilots who gave
their lives and her other deeds to help people in need. The book's final four
pages give a chronology of Tome Torihama's life.
Near the end of March 1945, 14-year-old Reiko and 17 other
girls from Chiran High School went to the Army air base, where they performed
various tasks to support the pilots such as cleaning and cooking. This work
lasted for only three weeks when special attack sorties took place almost daily, but
the girls' work was stopped finally due to danger from frequent enemy air raids
on the base. However, during this short time Reiko and the other girls met and
developed friendships with many of the Special Attack Corps pilots, who treated them like
younger sisters. One pilot expressed the appreciation of his corps in a short
note to Reiko and seven other girls (p.
Corporal Mitsuo Inada
I write hurriedly with little time. Please read this even
though you must put up with my very poor sentences and characters.
We want to stay in Chiran forever, but there is no choice
since it's an order from above. Please do not forget us even though we die. We
are going ahead of you to Yasukuni Shrine* in the flowering capital. There will
also be open places for you next to us. When you all die, you'll go to Yasukuni
Shrine, won't you? It will be nice. Even though we die wiping out the enemy
completely, we'll not die.
We'll never forget the pleasant time we had with you here in
* Yasukuni Shrine in Tōkyō is the national Shinto memorial
for soldiers killed in battle.
In addition to the above note, the book features several
letters and some excerpts from Reiko's diary. For example, after a pilot
departed on a suicide mission and did not return, Tome frequently wrote a
letter to his parents to notify them of their son's death. The following short
letter is one example Tome wrote while crying (pp. 80-1):
To Hideo Kawai's real mother,
I am notifying you of Hideo's sortie. Please be glad since
it was at 8 a.m. on June 8. He dove into an enemy ship in high spirits, and
please be comforted since each evening he treated me like a mother, and I also
took care of him and called him my son just like my own child. I did this so he would
not feel any loneliness.
Hideo asked me to write and tell you if he died. I wish you
well. Do not forget June 8.
After Tome returned from the base after seeing off Hideo on
his flight, she realized that there was no letter paper due to severe
shortages of basic items near the end of the war. She decided to rip out a used
page from the accounting book for Tomiya Restaurant, and she used that old page
for the above letter.
In the postwar section of the book, Reiko tells how
frightened she and her older sister were when they heard American troops would
arrive in Chiran in December 1945. Although Tome experienced culture shock when
she first observed the customs of the American soldiers, she soon realized that
the soldiers were also young men far from their loved ones just like the
Special Attack Corps pilots who departed from Chiran just a few months earlier. The
Americans soon started to show her photos of family and to call her
"Mama" because of her kind treatment even though they understood
almost nothing of each other's language.
Tome even became like a mother to one of the most rowdy
American soldiers. Reiko tells the story of this unruly young man (pp. 194-5, 201-2):
The interpreter warned Tome that there was a wild man named
Haskin among the American soldiers and that she should be careful since he was
especially dangerous. Haskin shot off his pistol outside, even in the backyard
of Tomiya Restaurant. Tome and her two daughters thought he was a scary man.
Even Haskin, the most ill-mannered of the bunch, quickly
became attached to Tome. In the beginning she tried to teach him various things
about Japanese life through gestures and Japanese in order to, if possible, not
present to the town such a rough man. First it was ikebana (flower
arrangement). One day Reiko was surprised when she returned home from school.
Tome had Haskin sitting in front of the tokonoma (alcove) and was
teaching him how to arrange flowers. She was saying: hold the scissors like
this; cut them so; stick in the pin holders this way; yes, try it; oh, yes;
isn't that good?; cut the branches like this; etc. Against all expectations,
the uncivilized Haskin showed interest and with gentle hands tried to follow
what Tome was saying. When he did not cut them well, he would click his tongue
and say "goddam" and other coarse words. However, when he did well
and Tome praised him, he was happy just like a child.
The next thing Tome tried to show him was Japanese cooking.
She took Haskin to the kitchen of Tomiya Restaurant, and she began instructing
him starting with how to use the kitchen knives. She explained with the following
words: you cut the greens with this knife; yes, do it that way; slice, slice,
slice; understand?; so, please try it; etc. Unexpectedly, Haskin also showed
interest in this. Standing next to Tome, he began to use the chopping board
while imitating her movements. Before long he became good at it, and he helped
prepare food beside her. Of course she could not use him for delicate
operations requiring high-level skills such a peeling skins off of carrots or
potatoes. However, he could slice scallions and cut daikon (large white
radishes) and carrots into round slices and cubes. When he finished, he used to
ask whether there was anything else he could do to help.
Sweeping the garden with a bamboo broom soon became Haskin's
task. That "rough" man really used the bamboo broom with skill, and
it warmed our hearts when we saw him raking dried leaves from the undergrowth.
Haskin before long stopped firing his pistol, and Tome
became his mother.
at her restaurant in Shinjuku
One chapter gives several postwar stories to show how Tome
Torihama helped out many people in addition to the Special Attack Corps pilots and the
occupying American soldiers. In her later years, she often said, "It's my
nature that I must help when I see a person having a hard time." For
example (pp. 210-1), a young woman found out she was pregnant with the baby of
an American soldier who had already been transferred from Chiran. After her
baby boy was born, she went to work at Tomiya Restaurant and lived in Tome's
home, and her son lived as part of the family until after high school. In
another example (pp. 212-4), a man about 30 years old stole a cherished leather
handbag that Tome's oldest daughter, Miako, had just received as a wedding present.
When the police apprehended the thief, Tome went to the police station and
learned about his history. He had turned to stealing because he could not find
a job and needed something to eat. Despite the initial objections of Miako and
Reiko, Tome took the man in to live at their home and gave him work at Tomiya
Restaurant. After being there for some time, he obtained a position as a
crewmember on an oceangoing ship, found a wonderful woman, and started to live
The touching stories in this book provide unique insights
into the real character and personality of several Special Attack Corps pilots. Tome and
her two daughters experienced immense grief as the young pilots they knew like
family members departed one after another on suicide attacks. Every reader of
this book will
be greatly inspired by the kindness and love shown by Tome Torihama.
1. For example, the following book contains a
collection of newspaper articles based on Tome Torihama's stories of Special
pilots. The Asahi Shimbun originally published these articles in a series
September to December 1988.
Asahi Shimbun Seibu Honsha. 1990. Sora no kanata ni
(To distant skies). Fukuoka: Ashishobō.
This book contains numerous photos of Special Attack Corps pilots, Tome Torihama,
and Chiran. The book's stories about individual Special Attack Corps pilots are quite short,
less than two pages each, so the much longer stories in Hotaru Kaeru (The
Firefly Returns) provide many more details.
2. The restaurant's name of "Satsuma Ogojo" evokes
images of Kagoshima Prefecture, the location of Reiko's hometown of Chiran.
"Satsuma" is the name of the old province located in the western half
of Kagoshima from which came many famous samurai. "Ogojo" is the term
used in Kagoshima for a beautiful young unmarried woman, although today's use of
the term can extend to older women who may be married.