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Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots

Chiran, which served as the main kamikaze sortie base for Japanese Army attacks on Allied ships around Okinawa, has become the principal place that Japanese people associate with kamikaze pilots. The Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots opened in 1975 on the site of the former Chiran Air Base, and enlargement of the museum building to 17 thousand sq. ft. was completed in 1986. Chiran also has several statues and memorials related to kamikaze pilots, and stone lanterns dedicated to the pilots line the town's main street and the road leading to the museum.

Many tour buses, especially with school children and retired people, stop at Chiran Peace Museum, which displays about 4,000 photos, final letters, and articles left behind by kamikaze pilots. The museum's exhibits on kamikaze pilots are the most extensive of any museum in Japan. The display cases, lighting, and spacing in the museum's four large exhibition rooms make it easy for visitors to view the exhibits. The museum displays four aircraft: Hayabusa (Army Type 1 Fighter), Hien (Army Type 3 Fighter), Hayate (Army Type 4 Fighter), and the wreckage of a Navy Zero fighter. These plane types were used in kamikaze attacks on Allied ships near Okinawa.

A museum guide gives a 30-minute talk several times a day in the main exhibition room with the pilot photos and letters. The guide mentions in his talk that over 2,000 people per day on average visit the museum. Several Japanese films that feature Chiran have contributed to the museum's popularity as a tourist destination. For example, the movie Hotaru (The Firefly), released in 2001, is a story about kamikaze pilots at Chiran, and several scenes from the movie were shot in the town. Shintaro Ishihara, novelist and Tōkyō Governor, produced a popular film in 2007 entitled Ore wa kimi no tame ni koso shini ni iku (I go to die for you) about Chiran's kamikaze pilots based on stories from Tome Torihama, who ran Chiran's Tomiya Restaurant, frequented by many pilots during the war. A screen in the entrance hall has continuous showings of a 15-minute program about the movie including Tome Torihama's story and Chiran's history.

Type 4 Hayate Fighter


The museum's name and exhibits lead visitors to a misunderstanding of the facts regarding Japan's kamikaze operations. The museum's English name includes "Kamikaze Pilots," so visitors with no previous knowledge of kamikaze history assume the museum will include history and exhibits related to all kamikaze pilots. However, the museum exhibits almost exclusively relate to kamikaze pilots in the Army, and exhibit explanations do not mention that over 60 percent of the kamikaze pilots came from the Navy. The exhibits say that 1,036 kamikaze pilots died [1], but this number does not include about 400 Army pilots who died in kamikaze attacks on Allied ships around the Philippines and elsewhere [2]. The figure of 1,036 includes only Army airmen who died in attacks around Okinawa, starting on March 26, 1945. Not all of the 1,036 airmen made plane attacks on Allied ships. The total includes 88 paratroopers and the unit's pilots who made a suicide attack against Yontan Airfield in Okinawa in May 1945 to destroy American aircraft on the ground (O'Neill 1999, 234-5; Tokkōtai Senbotsusha 1990, 300-3).

Although Chiran served as the Army's main air base for kamikaze attacks on ships near Okinawa, several other bases were used in the attacks. The museum displays a table that summarizes the sortie bases for the 1,036 Army airmen who died in special attacks: Chiran (439 men), Taiwan [3] (135), Kengun (128), Bansei (120), Miyakonojō (83), and others (131). Chiran's number of 439 displayed at the museum is actually less, since it includes numbers of pilots who sortied from Chiran's two forward bases at Kikaijima (23 pilots) and Tokunoshima (14 pilots) [4].

The main exhibition hall has individual photos of the 1,036 kamikaze pilots. These photos are arranged by date of death and include each pilot's name, squadron, home prefecture, age at death, and date of death. The back wall of the main hall has group photos of many Shinbu special attack (kamikaze) squadrons. The main exhibition hall has numerous letters and other writings, both originals and copies, in 16 display cases. In addition, the bottom part of each display case has pullout drawers with many more writings that can be viewed.

Entrance to Chiran Peace Museum
for Kamikaze Pilots


In 2008, the museum added a touch-panel display system in both Japanese and English for a large selection of the kamikaze pilots' writings on display. The main exhibition room has three screens where visitors can view an image of the original writing along with either an English translation or a typed Japanese version showing pronunciation of kanji characters. The system provides basic biographical information about the writer and indicates where the writing is located in the main exhibition room. The English translations generally convey the meaning of the original letters, but they have some obvious errors and a few parts that are difficult to understand, since they were translated by someone whose first language is not English. The system classifies the 123 writings into the following English categories (number of writings shown in parentheses): wills and letters (50), deathbed poems (36), essays kamikaze pilots left before death (26), and writings kamikaze pilots left before death (11). The "essays" section is a mistranslation of the Japanese word zeppitsu, which means pieces of writing of any length. For example, one "essay" written by a pilot only has two Japanese characters meaning "certain death." Although the English translations have some shortcomings, this addition of both English translations and typed Japanese versions with pronunciations greatly increases the accessibility of writings displayed at the museum.

The other three exhibition rooms have less organization and many more miscellaneous items than the main hall. For instance, the back exhibition room includes an assortment of both Army and Navy uniforms and numerous miscellaneous wartime items not directly connected to kamikaze pilots. The large exhibition room to the right of the main hall has a wide variety of books, articles, photos, and models with no particular order. Other than brief historical summaries at the beginning of the main exhibition hall, the rest of the museum usually just shows photos and items with brief labels rather than providing historical background information.

A 30-minute film entitled Tokkōtaiin no kokoro ni manabu (Learning from kamikaze pilots' hearts), mainly about the kamikaze pilots' final letters and poems, is shown at several times each day in the museum's auditorium. This film and another two films shown at the museum effectively supplement the displays. A continuously running five-minute film with several museum photos and wartime film clips tells the general history of the kamikaze pilots and Chiran Air Base. A 20-minute film features Tome Torihama, who owned Tomiya Restaurant in Chiran Town, giving her remembrances of several kamikaze pilots. Tome's daughter Reiko and two women who ran inns in Chiran during the war also talk about the young kamikaze pilots.

Type 1 Hayabusa Fighter on display outside museum. Used in filming of Ore wa kimi no tame ni koso shini ni iku (I go to die for you).


The museum's photos, exhibits, films, and 30-minute presentation by a guide present a very positive image of kamikaze pilots as brave young men with great patriotism and love for their families. The museum portrays the pilots as willingly giving their lives for their country and their families to establish peace and prosperity for Japan. The English brochure explains that this peace museum was "built to commemorate the pilots and expose the tragic loss of their lives so that we may understand the need for everlasting peace and ensure such incidents are never repeated."

Since 2004, the museum has added a small number of exhibits that mention Navy kamikaze pilots but does not provide any historical background of the Navy's special attack operations. The museum has a replica of a Navy shinyo explosive motorboat, which seems somewhat out of place with the Hayabusa (Army Type 1 Fighter) in the same room. In the smaller display room behind the main display hall with photos and letters, there are two exhibits related to Navy kamikaze pilots who came from the local area. One exhibit lists brief biographical information of 73 Navy kamikaze pilots from Kagoshima Prefecture who died in battle, but only about a third of these pilots have photos. The other exhibit shows larger photos and provides detailed biographical information of 20 Navy kamikaze pilots from Kawanabe-gun (where Chiran Town is located) and Ibusuki-gun. In the same area as these two exhibits, there are also some hachimaki (headbands) with the two Japanese characters for "kamikaze." Army suicide pilots who died during the Battle of Okinawa generally belonged to units called Shinbu (meaning "military might" in Japanese) instead of "kamikaze."

The museum has a computerized display system with three monitors to allow visitors to learn more about the history of kamikaze operations. A narrator reads the explanations shown on some screens, but the low volume makes it difficult to hear, especially when noisy tour groups enter the museum. This plus the limited time allowed by most groups to tour the museum probably explain the infrequent use of the computer system by visitors. The system has a touch-button menu system allowing visitors to view a museum map and choose a museum section to get a brief description and photos. The computer system also has search capabilities, where a visitor can choose a pilot's prefecture, city, and name to get complete information about the pilot, including photo (and where displayed at museum), rank, plane type used in attack, date of death, and age at death.

The computer system can provide visitors much information if they spend time to go through its many screens. For example, one screen explains how Army officers used three methods to get volunteers for special attack corps to be used in suicide attacks:

  1. have men gather together with eyes closed and have volunteers raise hands
  2. have men write on paper one of following three options: strongly desire (to volunteer), desire, or do not desire
  3. have men line up in row and then have volunteers step forward

Although many computer system screens have interesting information or helpful historical summaries, a few screens go to great length to not mention the Navy's role in kamikaze operations. For example, the system's explanation of the founding of the Kamikaze Corps does not credit the Navy, only saying that the Japanese military initiated kamikaze attacks in the Philippines in October 1944.

The former Chiran Town, 34 km (21 miles) to the southwest of Kagoshima City, became part of Minamikyūshū City in December 2007 when it merged with neighboring towns. Chiran can be reached by bus, with a stop at the entrance road to the museum. Admission to the museum costs 500 yen. All museum displays except the touch-panel display system of kamikaze pilots' writings are in Japanese. The museum has a free 22-page English booklet with many photos. Also, the museum published a 75-page book in English entitled The Mind of the Kamikaze, which contains a brief history and selections of writings displayed at the museum. This English book costs only 500 yen ($4.50). The book's author works on the museum's staff and also provided the English translations in the touch-panel display system of kamikaze pilots' writings. The museum store sells a variety of souvenir items and about 20 kamikaze-related books, most about Chiran. The museum's web site has about ten pages with many photos that give an overview of the museum's history and exhibits. The site has one English PDF file (very large) that gives a brief summary of the history of the base and museum.

Date of most recent visit: October 13, 2008


Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots (Japanese)


1. One of the detail pages of Chiran Peace Museum's computerized display system indicates that the source for the 1,036 total is the book Tokkō Kōgekitai (Special Attack Operations) by the Tokkōtai Irei Junshōkai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Memorial Association) with no date. This figure could not be located in the latest edition (published 1990) of the book by the Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). [Note: The name of the organization was changed.] Based on the detail information on pages 264-295 and 300-303 of the 1990 edition, the total of Army special attack corps soldiers who perished in Okinawa is 1,019. However, it is difficult to compare this to the number provided by the Chiran Peace Museum, since the reference on the museum's system does not have a publication date and page.

2. Figure from museum source described in Note 1.

3. There were several Army air bases located in Taiwan.

4. Chiran Tokkō 2005, 69.

Sources Cited

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

O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Originally published in 1981 as an illustrated edition. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II Special Operations. London: Salamander Books.

Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990. Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tōkyō: Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai.