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Landing ship LSM 20
sinks off Philippines
after kamikaze attack
on December 5, 1944

 
Technology Use

I created this web site on Kamikaze Images in 2004 as the final project for my MA in Liberal Studies degree at Wesleyan University. My degree concentration was in Computerized Communications, so my final project involved the creation of an academic web site using new information technology.

New technological tools, which have become widely available only in the past decade, provided much assistance in performing research and in designing this web site. Although I used some technology with which I had previous familiarity, I also discovered some valuable new tools while working on this project.

Below I discuss some examples of how technology played a part in project research and web site design.

Project Research

Acquisition of Source Materials - Since the end of World War II, books and films have played an important role in the formation of people's perceptions of kamikaze pilots. However, many used items have been very difficult to obtain, especially those that first came out several decades ago. Most libraries generally have few books and videos related to a specialized topic such as kamikaze pilots, and a single used book or video store is also unlikely to have many items. Now people can locate previously obscure items since many stores make available their stock online. For example, I found Abebooks.com to be extremely helpful in locating old out-of-print books. This web site has a database that includes 12 thousand booksellers selling 50 million books, so I could locate several valuable references there. Through the search feature at Abebooks.com, I found Kamikaze by Yasuo Kuwahara and Kamikaze Submarine by Yutaka Yokota, first published in 1957 and 1962, respectively. Both of these books went through several printings, an indication of their popularity and influence in the past, but they have been out-of-print for many years. Through the Internet I also located and purchased old English-language documentaries and used Japanese videos and books.

Message Boards - Several Japanese electronic message boards on Japan's special attack forces (including kamikaze pilots) have regular postings, which allowed me to gain an understanding of people's current feelings and opinions. These message boards had a spike in activity after the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001, as many people gave their opinions about the relationship of these suicide attacks with the attacks made by kamikaze pilots in World War II. The guestbook for the web site Kamikaze has been the most active since its beginning in June 2000. Japanese message boards on kamikaze have also allowed me to make contact with others to ask questions and to gather information for my web site. Although several active message boards on kamikaze exist in Japan, outside of Japan there are no kamikaze-related message boards and almost no kamikaze-related postings on other message boards. However, the message board for Kamikaze, a Japanese site, has a few postings in English.

Former Kamikaze Pilot's Web Site - I never imagined that a former Japanese kamikaze pilot would have his own web site about his wartime experiences and the stories of the airmen who served with him in the Navy. However, I located Senri Nagasue's site (in Japanese) with a search by Google, and the firsthand accounts published on his site greatly helped me better understand the thinking and feelings of the pilots who served in Japan's special attack forces. He has included my English translations of several of these stories on his web site (see Sadness of Bereaved Families), so I have used the Internet's networking capability to link from my site to these stories on his site. Although not part of the Kamikaze Images URL on the Wesleyan University server, I consider my English translations of these stories to be an important part of my overall work on kamikaze images.

Online Japanese-English Dictionary - Jim Breen's online Japanese-English dictionary server continues to help me immensely in translations of Japanese names and obscure words. I have heavily used this invaluable resource since 1997, and no other hardcopy or online Japanese-English dictionary comes close to it in terms of comprehensiveness and ease of use. Jim Breen, retired professor at Monash University in Australia, has continued to add words and features to his dictionary server. As part of my work in a Fall 2000 graduate course at Wesleyan University on "Web Literacy: Theory and Practice of Reading and Writing Hypertext," I wrote an extended essay on Jim Breen's Japanese Page, including his Japanese-English dictionary.

Translation of Technical Terms - Although Jim Breen's online dictionary contains a huge number of words and phrases, it helped little for most Japanese technical terms encountered while translating and researching. Starting this project, I had no knowledge of Imperial Japanese Navy and Army ranks, aircraft, and organization. When I translated a letter of a kamikaze pilot for the first time in April 2000 and posted it on my personal home page, I was somewhat embarrassed when a former officer in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force pointed out that this Navy pilot's rank should be translated as Navy Lieutenant rather than Army Captain. As a result, web sites became invaluable to ensure correct English translation of Japanese military ranks. A couple of web pages on this subject are Kaikyuu Koshou (Rank Names) and Rank Translation.

I had heard of the Zero fighter before starting this project, but I never imagined how many different types of planes were produced by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army during World War II. I even discovered the well-known Zero had several different models. The following are example sites that assisted me in translations: Japanese Army & Navy Aircraft and their Code Names and All the Regular Formed Aircraft in Japanese Navy (link no longer available).

Google News Alerts - The Google search engine has completely changed the way I do research. Although I still wandered through the dark stacks at the library during work on this final project, I located many reference materials on the Internet through use of Google. 

Google initiated a news alert feature in 2003. Google updates its database continually from 4,500 online news sources, and you receive a daily e-mail for news articles matching the topic you specify. I requested any article that contained both "kamikaze" and "Japan." Each week I have been receiving links to about five articles, which have been quite helpful in assessing current opinions about kamikaze throughout the world. The most frequent topic has been veterans who experienced kamikaze attacks, but there have also been quite a few articles related to modern-day terrorism. About 20% of the article links go to sites requiring registration, which can get frustrating, but overall this service by Google has made it easy to keep up with current news regarding kamikaze.

Site Design

In creating the Kamikaze Images web site, I tried to avoid some of the design mistakes encountered during the creation of my first large web site (Friendship Dolls). The following three tools helped me improve the design and decrease the amount of time required to maintain the site.

JavaScript Menu - From experience in creating the Friendship Dolls web site, one of my biggest frustrations was the effort required to change the navigation menu. I had embedded the menu in each individual web page, so a simple menu change required me to modify the code on each page.

For my new site I wanted a consistent menu for each page that could be changed in a minimum amount of time, so I considered using HTML frames. However, HTML frames have never appealed to me. Although frames allow the implementation of a static header and a standard site navigation system with a single HTML file for each, frame-based sites have several disadvantages. Unless one uses appropriate HTML tags, site visitors using a search engine may arrive at a single content page rather than the framed version including the header and menu, which can cause confusion. Also, most search engines have difficulties indexing a framed site unless certain additional HTML coding has been included, and visitors may have difficulties bookmarking individual pages. Based on these reasons and a few others, I decided to search for an alternative.

Rather than start with the technology, I browsed the web to find the type of menu system I would like to use, and then I would determine if it could be modified for my site on Kamikaze Images. Even though I looked at many menu systems on the Internet, the one I liked best was a dropdown navigation system used by a site on my own company's intranet. I examined the code and found out JavaScript had been used to create the menu. I did not know how to construct code in JavaScript, but I decided to plunge in to see if I could modify it to suit my needs. After two or three days of work and almost giving up more than once, I figured out how to modify certain variables and change certain sections of the code to get the menu system desired for my site. The original menu system only had one level of dropdown, so it took me a long time to figure out how to change it to allow for multiple dropdowns. Although I read that some users may not be able to run the menu system if JavaScript support has been disabled on their computers, I tested the script on several different machines and browsers without encountering any problems. Others who reviewed the site also reported no problems.

Cascading Style Sheets - Over time, many individual pages on my Friendship Dolls site have an inconsistent style, such as font size and color for headings and regular text. Therefore, I wanted to ensure this new site on Kamikaze Images maintained a consistent style and would allow the style to be changed without having to change the HTML code on every single page. Through the use of HTML tags applied to portions of text, cascading style sheets allow one file to control the style used on pages throughout the web site. For example, on this site I use the tag H5, which means Header 5, to designate text that I want to be bold, small text in Arial font type with a light blue color (i.e., #006699). I use H5 to designate the titles for content pages on the site, so now each title will remain consistent with other pages. If I wanted to change the H5 size to medium, then I would just change one word in the style sheet file, and all of the H5 headings in the site would change from small to medium.

Site Search - Google allows a site search option that can easily be incorporated into web pages by copying the HTML code available at the Google site. The Google ranking system is widely recognized as the best in providing a numbered listing of relevant pages based on user search criteria. However, the HTML code at the Google site only gives a search of an entire site based on the base URL, such as wgordon.web.wesleyan.edu, which means all folders and subfolders with this base URL will be included in the search results. Consequently, pages in both my Friendship Dolls and Kamikaze Images sites would be listed in the same results if I used this code available at the Google site.

I discussed this problem with the Wesleyan University IT Director to see if he had any suggestions on how to have the search results limited to pages on Kamikaze Images without having to obtain a new base URL. He explained that Wesleyan licensed Google software that indexed the Wesleyan site each night, and the code for the search feature at the Wesleyan Davison Art Center could be modified for my site. When I tried this, I found that the indexing did not include personal sites on the Wesleyan servers, so I experimented with changes in the HTML code to see if I could use the Google index directly. I finally got it to work, so this is the search feature used for this site. Although Google does not index this site daily like the Google-licensed software used by Wesleyan, this factor matters little since this site will not change that rapidly. Also, the use of the Google index directly allows me to move this site to another URL without any ties to the Wesleyan server embedded in the HTML code of individual pages.

Simplicity

I reviewed some other technology options for use on this site, but I decided to forego them. At the beginning of this project, I read Jakob Nielson's book on Designing Web Usability to get ideas on what technology to use and on how to structure the site. Nielson (2000, 97, 160) argues that simplicity should be the goal of page design, since users rarely come to a site to enjoy the design but rather to focus on the content. Also, users want a web site design that allows them to locate quickly the page or information in which they are interested. Keeping Nielson's advice in mind, I tried to keep the design of Kamikaze Images simple, so I stayed away from technology that would complicate the site or detract from the main goal of providing relevant content that users can quickly locate.

Animation and Graphics - A few people recommended that I consider animation, graphics, and videos in the design of this site. Although many excellent web sites have been developed using this type of technology, my skills do not lie in this area. Moreover, the vast majority of people have more interest in the content rather than fancy graphics decorating a site. I have tried to include various historical photos that illustrate kamikaze images, but I have avoided animation or more complex graphics.

Message Board - I like the idea of a message board where site visitors can write their opinions and questions. This allows interaction between visitors and the webmaster, and it also allows the free flow of ideas between anyone in the world interested in the web site topic. However, the message board for my first web site on Friendship Dolls drifted to topics not directly related to the site's primary purpose, and at times inappropriate advertising would be posted in messages. As a result, I decided to discontinue that message board. Most postings on a message board on one Japanese site (Kamikaze) are relevant to my web site's topic, so I decided to direct people to this message board rather than try to establish my own. This Japanese site encourages postings in both Japanese and English, but over 90% are written in Japanese. The small number of English postings may discourage people who do not read Japanese, but I prefer to support this existing message board rather than establish a competing one.

Insertion of One HTML Page in Another - I investigated how to insert one HTML page inside another in order to have only one file to maintain for the header, which contains the site name, the image of the two Japanese characters for "kamikaze," and the Google search feature. Although technologically feasible, I decided against it since this option seemed overly complex and since few other people construct their web pages in this manner. As a result, if I ever decide to change the page header, I will need to change the HTML code for each page on the web site.

Style Sheets for Documentation - When I started this project, I envisioned that visitors would not want to get bogged down with citations and notes, so I tried to find a way to use cascading style sheets and HTML tags to create two versions of the same page, one with documentation and the other without. Readers could use a link at the beginning or end of a page to go between two versions of the same page. I found that such an approach would be very complex, since I had to deal with how to eliminate the non-documented version spaces where there were notes or citations in the other version. I decided then to create two files of each page, one with documentation and one without. However, this made the site design overly confusing to users. In some cases, the amount of documentation required on a page is limited, so someone reviewing it might have a hard time distinguishing the differences between the two pages. Also, search engines would index two versions of each page, which would be very confusing to someone seeking information. As a result, I concluded that one documented version of each page is the best approach.

Blog - Blogs (weB LOG, or journal available on web) have increased rapidly in popularity, and my project advisor suggested to use one to record my ideas at the beginning of this project. The blog allowed my advisor to see my progress at any time. Although this seemed like an interesting idea, it did not seem like technology added anything to existing tools. I usually recorded my thoughts while not connected online, so I created a separate Word file of my ideas. Then I posted my written ideas periodically to the blog. However, I could have accomplished the same purpose by creating a separate web page on my own site, or I could have sent periodically an e-mail to my advisor with a file attached of all observations and ideas recorded to date. In the end, I stopped posting to the blog since other ways to communicate seemed more effective.

Source Cited

Nielsen, Jakob. 2000. Designing Web Usability. Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders Publishing.