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Tokushima Air Base Museum

Tokushima Air Group was formed in 1942 to train flight observers  [1], but in March 1945 the training air group disbanded, and the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps Tokushima Shiragiku Unit was formed using existing Shiragiku trainers [2] at the base [3]. The Tokushima Air Base Museum, opened in 1973, has a separate small room with a memorial kannon (Buddhist goddess of mercy) statue. This room has a plaque with the following history of the Tokushima Shiragiku Unit and the kannon:

Origin of Memorial Kannon

Before spring of 1945 [4], the former Tokushima Naval Air Group discontinued training of flight navigators on old Shiragiku trainers due to the urgency of the war situation, and the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps Tokushima Shiragiku Unit was formed with existing fresh pilots and navigators.

Due to Shiragiku's inferiority, taiatari (body-crashing) attacks were restricted to only moonlit nights.

Japan then plunged into the decisive battle at Okinawa. Even as kamikaze squadrons, with branches of cherry blossoms placed in their planes, were taking off from bases in Kyushu, the Tokushima Shiragiku Unit lost no time in dangerous nighttime taiatari training.

There were also days when we sadly said goodbye to victims due to accidents. Yet the men, in high spirits, showed admirable improvement in their skills and conquered the training.

The time arrived in May and June of that same year. The Tokushima Shiragiku Unit, with eyes open wide, proceeded to Kushira Base in Kagoshima Prefecture. Moonlit nights were selected for sorties on five dates, and 56 brave young men died for their country as they carried out brave taiatari attacks (two crewmen per plane) against the American fleet around Okinawa.

In addition to the above [5]:

  • 26 men died on duty in unexpected accidents during training
  • 21 men died in battle during air attacks by American aircraft
  • 3 men took their own lives out of patriotism as they faced defeat
  • 2 men died of diseases while dedicated to special attacks

In total, 108 spirits of war dead rest now at this base.

We have formed the Tokushima Air Group Association, a group of prior fellow comrades, and have erected this kannon statue for the purpose of praying for the repose of these souls of the war dead and passing down the story of these deeds to future generations.

1974
Tokushima Air Group Association

The left-hand photo below shows the life-size Tokushima Air Group Memorial Kannon, and the right-hand photo shows a close-up of the small Shiragiku crewman standing in her right palm.

          
Tokushima Air Group
Memorial Kannon (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy)

The five Tokushima Shiragiku Squadrons took off from Kushira Air Base in darkness before midnight on the following dates: May 24, 27, 28; June 21, 25, 1945. The slow Shiragiku trainers took about five hours to reach Okinawa, so the dates of the men's deaths are shown by the museum on the date following each date they left Kushira. The following large photo taken at Tokushima Air Base shows 164 members of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps Tokushima Shiragiku Unit. The museum displays this photo next to the entrance.


Kamikaze Special Attack Corps Tokushima Shiragiku Unit

The museum's exhibits cover the first floor of a small plain concrete building near the center of the current base grounds used by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) as a training base. Roughly half of the exhibits relate to the Japanese Navy years, and the other half relate to the base's postwar history through the museum's opening in 1973. In addition to the separate room for the Tokushima Air Group Memorial Kannon, another separate room contains a memorial to those members of the JMSDF's Tokushima Air Training Group who lost their lives while on duty.

One wall shows several group photos of Tokushima Air Base trainees, which included both navigators and pilots. Some photos displayed on the walls or in glass cases below do not have labels to identify the persons or dates. Other than the plaque in the Tokushima Air Group Memorial Kannon room, the museum does not provide any explanations of the history of the air base. There are a few copies of letters written by Tokushima Shiragiku Unit airmen. A large map shows the flight path of the five Shiragiku Squadrons from Kushira Air Base to Okinawa. In addition to general wartime aviation items such as flight caps, goggles, gloves, flight vests, books, binoculars, and watches, the exhibition room has a seat and one tire from a Shiragiku trainer. One three-shelf glass case displays models of planes and ships, and above it are color photos of about 50 different models of Japanese wartime planes.

The museum does not open to the public except for special days once or twice a year such as the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Tokushima Air Training Group on September 27, 2008. Visitors need to make advance arrangements with the base's Public Relations Office if they want to visit the museum on other days. All exhibits are in Japanese, and the museum does not provide any brochure or sell any books regarding the base's history. Entrance is free, and the base can be reached by a half-hour bus ride from Tokushima Station.

Date of Visit: September 27, 2008

Notes

1. From web page of Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Tokushima Base <http://www.mod.go.jp/msdf/tokusima/top/historytop.htm> (October 6, 2012).

2. The name Shiragiku means "white chrysanthemum" in Japanese.

3. Shimahara 1990, 132.

4. This was in March 1945 (Shimahara 1990, 132).

5. These figures have changed over time as more research has been done. Tokkotai Senbotsusha (1990, 334) has a page on the Tokushima Air Base Memorial Kannon with the plaque at the time:

  • 23 men died on duty in unexpected accidents during training
  • 9 men died in battle during air attacks by American aircraft
  • 3 men took their own lives out of patriotism as they faced defeat
  • 2 men died of diseases while dedicated to special attacks

This total of 37 deaths in ways other than special attacks is significantly less than the 52 now recorded. Shimahara (1990, 133) explains that only 20 deaths in ways other than special attacks had been recorded when the Tokushima Air Group Memorial Kannon was placed in the museum in 1974, and over the years families of war dead provided information to arrive at a more complete record.

Sources Cited

Shimahara, Ochiho. 1990. Umi ni kieta 56nin (56 men who disappeared into the sea). Tokyo: Doshinsha.

Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai (Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990. Tokubetsu Kougekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tokyo: Tokkotai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai.