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Shiragiku rensou (Shiragiku Associations)
by Yasuo Kikuchi
Bungeisha, 2007, 206 pages

Shiragiku, meaning white chrysanthemum, signifies a Japanese Navy training plane used for suicide attacks during the latter part of the Battle of Okinawa. Although the author, Yasuo Kikuchi, briefly explores his mental associations with the Shiragiku trainer, the book seems to be mistitled since most material has little or nothing to do with the Shiragiku. Instead, Kikuchi focuses on his experiences as a meteorologist in the Japanese Navy during the last year of WWII.

In October 1944, Kikuchi entered the Hamana Naval Unit in Shizuoka Prefecture after graduation during the previous month from the Physics School in Tokyo. He trained to be a technical junior officer in the specialty of meteorology. He received practical training at a weather observation post in Odawara City in Kanagawa Prefecture. In early May 1945, he transferred to the Ooi Air Group in Shizuoka Prefecture, where he made weather maps and prepared weather forecasts. In June 1945, he transferred to the newly formed Yamato Air Group in Nara Prefecture. These transfers reflect the reorganizations carried out by the Japanese Navy late in the war to prepare for the expected American invasion of mainland Japan. Kikuchi mentions that the Yamato Air Group sent Shiragiku trainers to Kanoya Air Base for special (suicide) attacks, but no planes ever participated in suicide missions as only those Shiragiku trainers from Kochi Naval Air Group took off from Kanoya toward Okinawa during nighttime special attacks.

Right after the end of the war in August 1945, Kikuchi traveled by train and ferry to Sado Island, off the coast of Niigata Prefecture, to where his parents had evacuated to escape American bombings of Tokyo. He soon returned to Tokyo and began his career as a science and physics teacher at several high schools and junior high schools. He also served as vice-principal and in retirement continued to work part-time as an educational consultant for a Tokyo educational research office.

The book has a loose structure with no explanation at the beginning of its scope and purpose. Various articles on different topics written in varying years from 1969 to 2007 cover mainly Kikuchi's war experiences but also other subjects such as his postwar trips, his time in the Physics School in Tokyo, bushido (way of warrior), and the postwar collapse (kuzure) of those men who had been members of the Special Attack Forces. The book's first half generally has stories related to the war, and the last half mostly covers other subjects or specific wartime topics. His postwar trips to war museums at Chiran and Kanoya and to war sites in Okinawa provide settings for his reflections on his wartime experiences. For example, as he views a small wooden model of a Shiragiku trainer on display at Kanoya Naval Air Base Museum, he reflects on the slow nighttime flights at 120 knots per hour only 100 meters above the waves in order to avoid American radar. He explains in this section what Shiragiku means to him (p. 76):

For me, the word Shiragiku (white chrysanthemum) is not the flower of the beautiful, pure chrysanthemum plant. It is a word that extends to tragic associations: training planes, tokkotai (special attack squadrons), Kanoya Base, and flying in the sky toward Okinawa.

Although this memoir has the title of Shiragiku Associations, this does not mean that information presented about Shiragiku trainers is accurate. The book incorrectly states that about 107 Shiragiku planes took off toward Okinawa and did not return (p. 55). Actually, the Shiragiku was a two-man plane, and only 54 Shiragiku trainers sortied on suicide missions and did not return. The author erroneously writes that all Shiragiku aircraft took off from Kanoya Air Base (p. 80), but in reality 26 went from Kanoya, and 28 sortied from Kushira Air Base. In the section describing his visit to the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, he mistakenly writes that 1,036 men died in sorties from Chiran Base whereas actually only 402 pilots died in special attack missions from Chiran [1]. The number of 1,036 represents the total number of Army airmen from all bases (mainly Chiran, Kengun, Bansei, and Miyakonojo) who died in attacks around Okinawa, starting on March 26, 1945.

This wartime memoir presents some interesting experiences of a meteorologist who was a junior naval officer, but the book suffers from disorganization and repetition. The cover shows the outline of a Shiragiku trainer above the clouds, but this image and the title fool the reader since Kikuchi never served as an airman.

Note

1. Chiran Tokkou 2005, 69.

Source Cited

Chiran Tokkou Irei Kenshou Kai (Chiran Special Attack Memorial Society), ed. 2005. Konpaku no kiroku: Kyuu rikugun tokubetsu kougekitai chiran kichi (Record of departed spirits: Former Army Special Attack Corps Chiran Base). Revised edition, originally published in 2004. Chiran Town, Kagoshima Prefecture: Chiran Tokkou Irei Kenshou Kai.