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Tokkou no machi: Chiran (Special attack corps town: Chiran)
by Sanae Sato
Kojinsha, 2003, 245 pages

The Japanese Army used Chiran in southern Kyushu as its main air base for special (suicide) attacks by kamikaze pilots during the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. Tokkou no machi: Chiran (Special attack corps town: Chiran) focuses on personal stories, both positive and negative, of those kamikaze pilots who sortied from Chiran and the people who knew them. Although some stories appear in other Japanese publications, this book provides fascinating details not found elsewhere because of the author's thorough research and many personal interviews.

Sanae Sato, who has written 20 non-fiction books including ones on Hideki Tojo and Alzheimer's disease, took two years to research the stories contained in this book. She started with the intention to write a book about the Nadeshiko Unit, a group of Chiran high school girls who helped out at the air base and met many kamikaze pilots. However, she expanded her scope to include stories of other people, and her careful investigation uncovered some surprising facts. The book was originally published in 1998, and the revised version came out in 2003. The book's 13 chapters cover events both during and after the war.

Reiko Akabane (maiden name of Torihama) provided details for many stories found in this book. Tome Torihama, Reiko's mother, operated a small restaurant visited frequently by pilots from Chiran Air Base, and Reiko as part of the Nadeshiko Unit worked on the air base doing tasks such as cleaning, laundry, and mending. Chapter 1 tells how she moved to Tokyo after war's end and opened a small restaurant. Many former Army pilots who had been in Chiran visited her restaurant to meet with war comrades and see Reiko again. The last section of the chapter describes her interrogation by the kempeitai (secret police) about her daily activities on the base. The kempeitai on a separate occasion took her mother Tome overnight for questioning, and she returned the next day with her face swollen. Before Tome's death at age 89, she said, "That injury was my medal of honor."

Chapter 2 talks about the 1945 movie Otome no iru kichi (Young girls at the base), which tells the fictional story of girl students who performed maintenance on planes at an air base. Two kamikaze pilots, Second Lieutenants Matsuda and Shibamoto, taught Reiko and her friends the movie's theme song since they both appeared in the film prior to coming to Chiran. The Chiran high school girls did not have a chance to see the movie when it was shown at theaters in Kagoshima City soon after the two pilots sortied on a suicide mission, but Reiko cried many tears when she had the chance to see the movie about 50 years later when it came out on video. Chapter 3 tells the story of Korean pilot Fumihiro Mitsuyama, who sang the Korean song Arirang in Tome Torihama's restaurant on the night before his sortie on a suicide mission to Okinawa.

Four high school girls
in Nadeshiko Unit
(Reiko Torihama at front right) 

 

The small remote island of Kuroshima lies about 60 kilometers southwest of Makurazaki, a town on the southern coast of Kagoshima Prefecture. Only about 200 people, mainly elderly and women, lived on the island in early 1945 since most men had joined the military. Chapters 4 to 6 give the history of six kamikaze pilots, three Army and three Navy, who on different dates made forced landings near Kuroshima due to engine problems and were stranded there for several weeks.

Second Lieutenant Masaya Abe was the first pilot to be stranded on Kuroshima after departing from Chiran. The second pilot, Second Lieutenant Shinya Shibata, crashed near the island after his sortie from Chiran on April 13, 1945. He was badly burned when his plane caught fire, and the islanders did not have medicine to treat his burns. Despite the possible dangers of strong currents, enemy submarines, and strafing by enemy planes, a young man named Katsumi Yasunaga volunteered to use his small boat to row to the mainland with Abe. After 31 hours the two exhausted men reached shore, and Abe quickly returned to Chiran Air Base for another suicide mission. When he sortied on May 4, on his way to Okinawa he flew over Kuroshima to drop a box packed with burn medicine, gauze, bandages, other medical supplies, cigarettes, candy, and additional items for Shibata. With the medicine and supplies, Shibata recovered after about a month and a half, but he remained stranded on the island until the end of July when picked up by a Japanese transport ship.

After war's end Shibata became good friends with Takehiko Ena, a Navy Ensign who also was stranded on Kuroshima with two other men of the crew of his plane that took off from Kushira Air Base on May 11, 1945. This was Ena's second kamikaze mission, since he had to make a forced landing at Chiran Air Base when his plane developed engine problems after a sortie from Kushira on April 28. The three Navy crewmen returned to the mainland in late July along with Shibata. After returning to Nagasaki Prefecture, they took a Tokyo-bound train to return to Hyakurihara Air Base near Tokyo, but on the way the train stopped to the west of Hiroshima. On the morning of August 7, they walked through Hiroshima and witnessed the total destruction caused by the atomic bomb dropped the previous day.

Ena and Shibata returned together to Kuroshima about a year after war's end, and Shibata expressed to Ena his interest in marrying Shina Hidaka, a young woman who had taken care of him during his recovery. Ena brought up the subject to Shina, but he was surprised to find out that she had already married someone who returned to Kuroshima after the end of the war. The two men never forgot the kindness showed to them in Kuroshima. Until Shibata passed away in 1988, he visited the small island many times, talked with school children, and made contributions to the school in order to show his gratitude for the islanders' saving his life after his crash landing.

Shoko Nagasaki (maiden name of Maeda) served in the Nadeshiko Unit with Reiko Akabane. Chapter 7 has some excerpts from the diary she wrote during her time working at Chiran Air Base with kamikaze pilots. In 1955, Shoko visited the family of former Second Lieutenant Motoshima, a kamikaze pilot who had given her money for school expenses prior to his sortie. During her visit, Motoshima's father let her read his last letter to his family, and at that time she found out that before his sortie he also had generously given money to the Chiran Girls' High School principal.

Takehiko Ena with
Mt. Sakurajima in background
(October 2005)

 

Chapters 8 and 9 introduce one of the darkest episodes in Japan's special attack operations. The 6th Air Army, headquartered in Fukuoka Prefecture and responsible for Chiran Air Base operations, converted the dormitory at Fukuoka Girls Academy into a building used to imprison kamikaze pilots who returned from unsuccessful suicide missions. The building is usually referred to as Shinbu Barracks, named for the Army's Shinbu Corps that carried out aerial suicide attacks, but 6th Air Army staff officers sarcastically referred to it as the "sewing rooms." Guards did not allow detained pilots to have any communication with the outside world, including their families. Even though about 50 pilots were locked up in the barracks, military records do not mention anywhere its existence. Former Lieutenant Commander Kiyotada Kurasawa, a 6th Air Army staff officer, explains why its existence was kept a strict secret, "After the kamikaze pilots became gods, there was no other way for them to keep their honor except by putting them away" (p. 166).

The author presents several individual examples to demonstrate the great injustice of the pilots' imprisonment in Shinbu Barracks, where staff officers subjected them to daily "reeducation." Many kamikaze pilots in Shinbu Barracks had survived by making forced landings near islands on the way to Okinawa after their planes developed engine problems. They were rescued from these islands, and the pilots expressed their desire to sortie on another suicide mission. Instead, they were sent to 6th Air Army Headquarters to be imprisoned in Shinbu Barracks. The author mentions a case where five pilots of one unit in Chiran could not sortie on a scheduled suicide mission due to unavailability of planes, and they too ended up in Shinbu Barracks in Fukuoka.

Almost all kamikaze pilots were unmarried young men, but a small number had wives. Chapter 10 tells the extreme reactions of two wives after finding out about suicide attacks. First Lieutenant Hajime Fujii, who served as a flight school instructor, wanted to join his students to make a suicide attack on an enemy ship. When his wife Fukuko found out, she first tried to dissuade him. When he remained firm in his desire, she one day tied their two young children to herself and committed suicide by jumping in a river near their home in order to free her husband to carry out his mission. Fujii sortied from Chiran five months later in May 1945. Another wife (not named by author) ran out on the airfield to stop her husband from taking off on a suicide mission. Her husband then was sent to Fukuoka, supposedly to wait for another available plane. However, one day his wife showed up, grabbed his pistol, and threatened suicide. Although her husband stopped her, he then was locked away in Shinbu Barracks because of his wife's extreme actions. However, they both survived the war and lived together as a normal couple after the war's end.

Chapters 11 and 12 cover the arrival of Americans in Chiran after the end of the war. Many townspeople feared the American occupation since numerous kamikaze planes had sortied from Chiran during the Battle of Okinawa. The American soldiers did not arrive in the small town of Chiran until December 1945 and stayed only two months. The young soldiers often visited Tome Torihama's Tomiya Restaurant, where she treated them kindly in the same way she had the young kamikaze pilots less than a year before. One task for the American army was to destroy remaining planes in Chiran, so they were gathered together in one place to be destroyed. The Japanese-American interpreter relates an incident that greatly troubled him then and that he has never forgotten over 50 years later (p. 203):

Two or three American soldiers jumped up on the planes and kicked them with their military boots. They ridiculed the planes with the following scornful words, "Look! So those kamikaze fellows came against us with these piddling worn-out planes. Did they think they could win with these toys? How stupid!"

After the Americans had left Chiran, a young woman named Fujiko who worked at Uchimura Ryokan realized she was pregnant. The father was an American soldier named John. During the author's research for this book, she met once with Fujiko, who revealed that John had raped her. She explained that at the time she felt nothing could be said against the occupying American force. After finding out she was pregnant, she went to Fukuoka to give birth secretly to a boy called Toshibo. When she returned to Chiran, Tome Torihama took her and her son in and let her work at Tomiya Restaurant. As Toshibo grew up, he always went about town wearing a cap to hide his brown hair, but he successfully graduated from high school. He moved to Fukuoka for a job after graduation, but he suddenly quit this position and disappeared. Reiko Akabane finally located him in the Tokyo area working at a gas station. She found out how angry and embarrassed he felt upon reading the book Tokkou kichi Chiran (Chiran, special attack force base) by Toshiro Takagi when first published in 1965. Toshibo found out about the details of his birth from this book, and he told Reiko about his anger toward his mother and his chagrin that everyone except he seemed to know about his background. Reiko's mother Tome became very angry at the story's publication since she had warned Takagi not to write about this.

The book's final chapter tells how Michio Sugawara, Commander of the 6th Air Army during the Battle of Okinawa, faced the period after the emperor announced surrender. The chapter includes several excerpts from his diary as he considered for over a month the best time to commit suicide after Japan's defeat for which he shared responsibility. He finally abandoned this idea, and he decided to go around the country in order to visit bereaved families of men who had served under his command, including kamikaze pilots who had sortied from Chiran. Sugawara was among the former military leaders that supported the establishment in 1955 of a Special Attack Peace Kannon Temple in Chiran.

Although much has been published in Japanese about Chiran and the kamikaze pilots who sortied from there, this book provides many interesting facts and insights not found elsewhere. The stories vividly depict the sorrows and joys of kamikaze pilots and people who knew them.