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Tokkō e no rekuiemu (The Requiem for Kamikaze)
by Yukie Kudō
Chūōkōron Shinsha, 2001, 222 pages

After the end of World War II, the Japanese public scorned kamikaze pilots and other tokkōtai (special attack corps) members who had carried out suicide attacks. However, since about 1990, many Japanese now once again regard these tokkōtai members as heroes who gave their lives for their country. This book depicts tokkōtai members as young men who loved their families and country and who willingly gave their lives to defend their homeland. The author's goal is to analyze the tokkōtai spirit and communicate it to generations unfamiliar with war, since she believes the former young men in the tokkōtai can provide lessons to present-day Japanese about making contributions and doing one's duty for one's country.

The Requiem for Kamikaze [1] provides an easy-to-read overview of tokkōtai operations carried out by both the Japanese Navy and Army near the end of World War II. The book has clear organization, non-technical writing, and well-documented sources. Although comparative sales figures are unavailable, this book probably is one of the bestselling books on tokkōtai published since 2000. The book has had eight printings (as of July 2005), and bookstores at Japanese tokkōtai-related museums still prominently display it for sale four years after its initial publication. The book relies heavily on previously published sources, but its strengths include the author's connecting historical material to the present time and her describing her personal reactions and feelings toward the material. However, the author includes almost no critical evaluations of sources and tokkōtai operations, and instead she focuses on the virtues of the young men in the tokkōtai. The stories and letters in the book focus on kamikaze pilots, so this term rather than tokkōtai will be used below.

Yukie Kudō has worked since 1992 as a journalist who also appears on television as a commentator for current affairs. The Requiem for Kamikaze is her first book, but she has written several previous articles for magazines and newspapers. Kudō effectively utilized her work and personal experiences in researching and writing this book. She includes excerpts from several personal interviews that she conducted with surviving kamikaze pilots and other people who knew pilots who died in suicide attacks. Two chapters include detailed observations of historical photos, which she believes can reveal a person's true emotions based on her own work experience in the media. Kudō studied in the U.S. for high school and in England for graduate school, and in the book she relates kamikaze pilot stereotypes that she heard during this time. She also describes how in 1996 she began to suffer from panic attacks and how during this period the last letters written by kamikaze pilots brought clarity to her own mind as she shed tears while reading them.

The first five chapters deal with the wartime history of kamikaze pilots, and the last four chapters cover the postwar period with emphasis on current (as of 2001) opinions toward kamikaze pilots. Chapter 1 gives a summarized history of special attack operations, including the formation of the first kamikaze corps in the Philippines in October 1944. About two thirds of the approximately 7,000 men who died in special (suicide) attacks did so in aerial attacks, and the remainder died using a variety of weapons such as kaiten (manned torpedoes) and explosive motorboats.

Chapters 2 and 4 discuss how kamikaze pilots felt and what they experienced up to departure and during flight, respectively. Based on examination of the kamikaze pilots' writings and photos, Kudō thinks they personally experienced the beauty of life and the marvels and preciousness of living (p. 36). Her description of a typical kamikaze pilot's flight and attack uses easy-to-understand language with a minimum of technical terms, and she explains in the Afterward that she put together this account based on information provided by both wartime and current pilots.

In order to convey kamikaze pilots' beliefs and emotions, Chapter 3 introduces a number of their last letters. The chapter's first section includes letters written to a pilots' parents, brother, or sister, and the next section has letters to a pilot's child or wife. Haruo Araki, married only one month before his suicide attack on May 11, 1945, wrote the following letter included in this section (pp. 75-6):

Shigeko,

Are you doing well?

One month has passed. The happy dream has vanished, and tomorrow I make an attack on an enemy ship. I will cross the River Styx [2] to the next world along with some Americans.

Looking back, I have been very unkind to you. It has been my habit to treat you unkindly and have regrets afterward. Please forgive me.

I feel as if my heart will break when I think of your long life ahead. Please somehow be strong in spirit and be happy. After I am gone, please take care of my father in place of me.

Living for an eternal noble cause
Protecting always our country from the despicable enemy

Haruo
Yūkyū [3] Hikōtai Commander

The final four sections of Chapter 3 include letters with the following themes: thoughts about country and family, belief in the future, spiritual anguish about life and death, and comparisons to falling cherry blossoms.

Chapter 5 gives stories of people who saw kamikaze pilots off, including a father who spent time together with his son and other kamikaze corps members before their final mission, local high school girls who worked at the Army air base in Chiran, and a woman named Tome Torihama who operated a restaurant in Chiran frequented by many pilots. Chapter 6 discusses the feelings of kamikaze pilots who survived the war. It includes the story of Tadamasa Itatsu, who made a forced landing after his plane's engine developed problems during a suicide mission. After the war's end, he visited numerous bereaved families of kamikaze pilots. During these visits he collected many photographs and letters that later became part of the collection of the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, where Itatsu served as the first museum director. This chapter also talks about the Tōkyō restaurant of Tome Torihama's daughter Reiko, who met many kamikaze pilots in Chiran. After the war, surviving pilots often visited Reiko's restaurant to talk together about their wartime experiences.

Chapter 7 examines different ways kamikaze pilots have been memorialized. For example, one Philippine man was deeply impressed by the character of the kamikaze pilots he met in late 1944 when he was 14 years old. He led efforts to erect a monument to kamikaze pilots at the former Mabalacat Airfield, from where the first kamikaze planes sortied. In another example, the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots displays in its lobby a large painting (3 x 4.4 meters) that depicts six heavenly maidens helping a kamikaze pilot escape from his burning plane. Shigeko Araki, the widow of the pilot who wrote the letter translated above, saw the painting for the first time in 1987. As her tears flowed when she viewed the painting, she felt that the agonies she had endured for so long after the war's end had been lifted. Chapter 8 includes various impressions and thoughts written by visitors to the Chiran Peace Museum. This selection of writings illustrates how current Japanese people feel after learning about the young men who carried out suicide attacks for their country.

In the book's last chapter, Kudō tries to connect the kamikaze pilots' actions and beliefs to modern-day Japanese society. She refers to a national survey that has shown a consistent increase since 1969 in the percentage of Japanese people who think emphasis should be placed on benefits for individuals rather than the nation as a whole. In 1998, the survey showed 37% (down from 45% in 1991) thought national interests were most important, and 30% (up from 24% in 1991) thought individual interests should be emphasized. Kudō argues that Japanese people are losing their national viewpoint, and she gives a December 1999 example of two pilots of a military trainer that developed engine trouble and crashed after hitting some high-voltage power lines while trying to return to base. Kudō criticizes the Japanese media for just covering the 800 thousand households that lost electricity in Tokyo and Saitama as a result of the crash. She believes that the two pilots should been treated as national heroes, since they chose to go down with their plane rather than eject so they would avoid hitting a residential area. The author believes that the two pilots would have been regarded as national heroes in the U.S. and Britain, whereas Japan's media ignored the pilots while focusing on the individual concerns of the power outage. In the same way as the two pilots of the trainer, the kamikaze pilots gave up their lives for others in their country. The chapter's final section discusses "duty, honor, and country," which means that there is great honor and praise for carrying out one's duty and making contributions for one's country. Kudō concludes that the brave kamikaze pilots admirably embodied this concept of "duty, honor, and country."

Although this book serves as an excellent introduction to the complex subject of kamikaze pilots and other tokkōtai members, it does have some weak points. First, the book frequently generalizes about kamikaze pilots based on limited support. For instance, many examples in the book come from the former Army air base at Chiran in southern Kyūshū, but only about 6% of the total of about 7,000 tokkōtai members who died in the war sortied from Chiran. Second, consistent with the title of The Requiem for Kamikaze, the book extols the virtues of kamikaze pilots, but it does not mention negative stories about the pilots. Third, the author quickly concludes the kamikaze pilots' letters represented their true feeling since many letters escaped the usual military censorship by being sent through their military comrades or non-military personnel (p. 65). Although some letters surely escaped censorship, military censors probably reviewed most last letters since it was expected that pilots write something to their families prior to their final missions. Also, pilots faced intense pressure from superiors and peers to support suicide attacks, and this may partly account for why so many pilots wrote such positive expressions to support dying for their country without question. As a final weakness, the book lacks photos, even though the author carefully evaluates a number of kamikaze pilot photos taken both prior to takeoff and during the moments of final attack.

For readers wanting an introduction to kamikaze pilots and other tokkōtai members from the Japanese perspective, The Requiem for Kamikaze is one of the best books available. The book's clear focus, organization, and writing allow readers to understand something of the character of the kamikaze pilots and how their commitment to country may have applicability to today's Japan. Although the author states that her purpose is not to romanticize the war and kamikaze attacks, the book clearly avoids criticism of the kamikaze pilots and focuses on their commitment to "duty, honor, and country."

Notes

1. Yukie Kudō's web site translates the Japanese title as The Requiem for Kamikaze, so this translation has been used for this book review. However, the Japanese title uses the word tokkō (literally "special attacks"), which includes both kamikaze and other special attack corps that carried out suicide attacks near the end of World War II. A more literal translation of the title might be Requiem for Special Attack Forces.

2. The letter has the term "Sanzu River," which is the Japanese Buddhist equivalent of the River Styx.

3. Yūkyū means "eternal." The poem that ends his letter starts with yukyu.