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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 kamikaze sorties against American ships off Okinawa. The kamikaze flights from Chiran continued for about two and a half months. In this book Reiko tells many moving stories of kamikaze 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 "Kamikaze Mom" or "Kamikaze 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 kamikaze pilots she knew, so many episodes in Hotaru Kaeru (The Firefly Returns) can be found in other Japanese books about Chiran and Tome Torihama [1]. However, this book contains much previously unpublished information, such as personal details of the Torihama family and their relationships with the kamikaze pilots, the story of Tome's life in the early part of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 kamikaze 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 Tokyo to attend fashion design school. Soon thereafter she and her husband opened a small restaurant named Satsuma Ogojo [2] in Tokyo 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 kamikaze 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 Tokyo have this book for sale.

The title of this book comes from one of the most famous stories about a kamikaze pilot. On the evening before Saburo Miyakawa'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 Miyakawa'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 historical pilots.

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 kamikaze 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 kamikaze 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 kamikaze 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 kamikaze 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 kamikaze 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. 69):

Corporal Mitsuo Inada

 

Everyone, goodbye.

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 Chiran.

Mitsuo Inada
_____________

* Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo 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.

Tome Torihama

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 kamikaze 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.

Reiko Akabane
at her restaurant in Shinjuku
(January 2005)

 

One chapter gives several postwar stories to show how Tome Torihama helped out many people in addition to the kamikaze 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 happily.

The touching stories in this book provide unique insights into the real character and personality of several kamikaze 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.

Notes

1. For example, the following book contains a collection of newspaper articles based on Tome Torihama's stories of kamikaze pilots. The Asahi Shimbun originally published these articles in a series from September to December 1988.

Asahi Shimbun Seibu Honsha. 1990. Sora no kanata ni (To distant skies). Fukuoka: Ashishobo.

This book contains numerous photos of kamikaze pilots, Tome Torihama, and Chiran. The book's stories about individual kamikaze 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.