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Bansei Tokko Peace Museum

Bansei Air Base in Kagoshima Prefecture has been called the "phantom special attack air base" because very few people knew about it during the war. The Imperial Japanese Army tried to keep its existence a strict military secret from when construction began in July 1943 at Fukiage Dunes, one of the three great sand dunes in Japan (Naemura 1993, 3, 23, 24). The air base was nearly completed by the end of 1944, and the Army decided to use it for kamikaze attacks on American ships near Okinawa since planes could take off from the unpaved, bumpy runway (Naemura 1993, 23).

The Bansei Tokko Peace Museum opened in 1993 to preserve the photos, letters, and mementos of the 201 soldiers (including 121 kamikaze pilots) at Bansei Air Base who died during the base's operations between March and July 1945. The small village of Bansei merged with Kaseda City in 1954, so the museum had the name of Kaseda Peace Museum from its opening in 1993 even though it covered the history of the former Bansei Air Base. However, Kaseda City merged with four surrounding towns in 2005, and the new city is now named Minamisatsuma City. In October 2005, the museum was renamed Bansei Tokko Peace Museum since Kaseda no longer exists as a separate city.

The second floor displays photos of the 201 Bansei Air Base soldiers who died in the war, starting with the soldier who died in the first American bombing of the base on March 15, 1945. Each photo gives the soldier's name, unit, date of death, age, home prefecture, and training class. Many Japanese museums just focus on the men who died in suicide special attack operations, but this museum gives just as much attention to those who died in regular combat missions or during American bombings.

The soldier's letters and miscellaneous mementos are displayed around the second-floor room, with the enclosed area in the center of the floor displaying five letters written in blood to show the sincerity of the writers. Although many Japanese museums display last letters of kamikaze pilots, the Bansei Tokko Peace Museum has a feature that makes it easy for visitors to read them. The second floor has plastic folders around the room with typed copies of the letters on display, including phonetic readings of older or less common kanji (Chinese characters) that may not be known by some visitors. Since some actual letters written by the soldiers are faded, far from the display glass, or written in calligraphy difficult to read, this feature makes it easier for visitors to appreciate them.

Second-Floor Exhibition Room

 

The first floor has a 10-minute film about Bansei Air Base and shows many clips from the war. The film has interviews with people in Bansei in 1945, including a woman who gave lodging to pilots at an inn before they departed on their flights. The center of the first floor has the rusted remains of a crash-landed Zero reconnaissance seaplane recovered nearby from Fukiage Dunes in 1992, and one side of the room has several newspaper articles related to the museum and reflections by students who visited the museum. This is also a model of a Type 99 assault plane, which was used for three quarters of the kamikaze missions that departed from the Bansei Air Base.

Hichiro Naemura, who served as an Army flight instructor in 1945 and spent much time at Bansei Air Base, led efforts to open the museum in 1993. During the war he volunteered twice to became a member of the special attack operations, but his superiors rejected his requests to participate in the suicide attacks because of his value as a flight instructor (Naemura 2004, 5). For many years after the end of the war people thought kamikaze pilots had departed from Chiran Air Base, about 12 miles to the southeast of Bansei Air Base, but actually some of them sortied from Bansei (Naemura 1993, 3). Since the end of the war, Naemura has tried to make the public aware of the men from Bansei who died in the war. He has written four books on the subject, and he directed efforts to erect in 1972 the Bansei Special Attack Monument located in front of museum. Naemura contributed several of the photos and other items displayed at the museum, and he also assisted in writing exhibit explanations.

Bansei Air Base was the site of one of the most famous photos of kamikaze pilots before departure. Five young men are smiling as the 17-year-old pilot in the middle of the photo cuddles a puppy. An Asahi Shimbun cameraman took this photo on May 26, 1945, the day before the five pilots' sorties, in front of the command headquarters at Bansei Air Base. The second floor of the museum displays an enlarged copy of this photo. Three other museums about the Army's kamikaze operations (Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, Hotaru Museum, and Tachiarai Peace Museum) also prominently display an enlarged copy of this photo.

The Kaseda area of Minamisatsuma City can be reached by bus in 70 minutes from Kagoshima City, but few tour buses visit this remote city. Admission costs 300 yen. The museum has about five books and five videos for sale, including a large book by Hichiro Naemura on the Bansei Air Base and two videos that cover the museum's exhibits. The museum does not have any of the displays translated into English, and it does not maintain any information on the Internet.

Date of Most Recent Visit: November 1, 2010


Send-Off at Airport (painting on exhibit at museum)

(Caption to above painting) In a tense atmosphere, the send-offs at Bansei Airfield differed from those at other airfields and took place in early morning, dusk, or night. When the planes carrying bombs moved to the runway, the send-offs took place at the rear of the base attended by only a few military-related persons such as maintenance workers, takeoff support personnel, and military staff officers. There were hardly any "farewell toasts." A very limited number of civilians, such as the former Bansei Town Mayor and his assistant officials and barracks workers who took care of the squadron members, went to the airfield carrying lanterns. In addition to these persons, members of other squadrons and friends from former Kaseda Town heard that aircraft would take off and climbed the hills behind Hiryu Inn (used as barracks where some airmen stayed). They saw them off with shouts of "banzai" at the top of their voices as they waved Japanese national flags. (Author's note: When considering the information provided in the caption, the painting above seems to reflect an idealization of actual send-offs that took place at Bansei Air Base.)

Sources Cited

Naemura, Hichiro. 1993. Rikugun saigo no tokkō kichi: Bansei tokkōtaiin no isho to isatsu (Army's last special attack base: Last letters and photographs of Bansei special attack corps members). Osaka: Toho Shuppan.

________. 2004. Sekai no gokai o toita shijun no kororo (Pure hearts that corrected the world's misunderstandings). Hirakata City, Osaka Prefecture: Mingeikaku.