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Yoko Sato at Nara Deer Park
(permission required from Yuko Shirako for photo use)

 
Yoko's Hopes and Losses
by Yuko Shirako

Yoko Sato, a 16-year-old girl on her way to Tokyo to enter fashion design school, stopped in Osaka to visit with a distant relative, Osamu Shibata. Yoko had grown up in Beppu, a popular hot spring resort on Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu, and the Shibata family often visited the Sato family even though they lived far apart. Now Yoko was making the long trip by train in the spring of April 1943 from Beppu to the capital, where she looked forward to starting a new life with the dream of becoming a hat designer. The stopover in Osaka, about halfway between Beppu and Tokyo, was the idea of Yoko's mother, who thought Osamu would make a wonderful husband for her daughter.

Osamu Shibata, a slender 20-year-old geology student at Nippon University Osaka College, greeted Yoko warmly when she arrived at the train station. Osamu introduced his best friend, Norio Maehara, a tall, tough-looking young man who studied at the same college. The three decided to go together to see the sights at the nearby ancient capital of Nara. They first stopped by Nara Deer Park, where Osamu took photos of Yoko with the tame deer around her looking for food. Osamu, a skilled photographer at a time when few people had cameras, had his own camera nicknamed "Bonny."

While the three students strolled through Nara, Norio suddenly offered his hand to Yoko. She hesitated, since even Osamu had never touched her hand. Osamu laughed at them and said, "Oh, he's always like that. Come on, let's go race to the top of Wakakusa Hill!" He knew the area well since he had visited there several times to perform geological surveys as part of his studies. At the top of Wakakusa Hill, Osamu took several more photos of Yoko in the spring sunshine.

Osamu and Norio took Yoko to Tokyo on a night train because they thought it dangerous for a young girl to travel alone and also were happy to have a chance to visit Tokyo. When they arrived, Osamu sent a telegraph to her mother, "Yoko has just arrived safely in Tokyo. Banzai! Osamu Shibata." At that time Yoko considered Osamu like a big brother rather than a boyfriend. The two did not know then that their parents were discussing their marriage. When he developed the film of the photos taken in Nara, he wrote down "Bonny" on the back of Yoko's photos, mailed several back to his parents' home, and kept some with him. Osamu and Norio started a new term at college soon after Yoko left, but they found several classes replaced by military exercises.

Osamu Shibata
by Hayate Fighter
(permission required from Yuko Shirako for photo use)

 
College students began to realize later in 1943 that the war was swallowing their lives. In July, the Japanese government mandated a shorter number of years of study for college and business school students so that graduates could enter the military sooner. Osamu and Norio both thought it would be better to fight in the sky as pilots rather than die a miserable death as ground soldiers in distant jungles, so they took the exam to enter the Army's Special Cadet Pilot Training Program for college students. Osamu went to Tachiarai Flight School in Fukuoka Prefecture, and Norio started at Utsunomiya Flight School in Gunma Prefecture. Osamu often wrote to Yoko as he moved between air bases, including one in Manchuria where he was stationed for several months. After entering the Army, Osamu and Norio also corresponded frequently.

The parents of Yoko and Osamu arranged for them to be married, but they never had an official engagement ceremony due to Osamu's being away in the Army. Osamu may have been hesitant to marry during the war, since his older brother in the Navy died in battle on a ship near Singapore in November 1943, only two months after his marriage. Yoko moved back home to Beppu in the autumn of 1944 when the Tokyo designer's school she was attending closed due to the worsening war situation. She received a letter from Osamu on March 31, 1945, her 18th birthday. He wrote in the letter, "I am moving immediately to Kumanosho Airfield near Kumamoto City." Yoko's mother wanted to talk with him about the marriage, so Yoko and her mother went quickly to Kumamoto, located on the other side of Kyushu and a day away from Beppu by train. When they reached Kumamoto Station, Yoko saw her fiancé's smile for the first time since he had left her two years before in Tokyo.

Osamu was staying at Wataya Inn, near Kumamoto Castle, where eleven other pilots of the 60th Shinbu Squadron had been staying until recently moving to a farmhouse near Kumanosho Airfield. He had stayed at the inn a short time longer than the other pilots in order to meet with his fiancée and her mother. Yoko, proud to see Osamu as an Army officer, and her mother also stayed at Wataya Inn during their visit to Kumamoto. Yoko believed he would survive any difficult situation during the war, and at the war's end he would return to get married. One day Osamu brought two pilots of the 60th Shinbu Squadron to her room at the inn so they could see her beauty.

On a rainy day, the pilots got off flight training early in the afternoon, so Osamu returned to Wataya Inn. Yoko had left earlier in the day to get blue cornflowers for Osamu's room, so Osamu and Yoko's mother talked for a long time while she was out. He revealed to Yoko's mother that he would soon give his life as a kamikaze pilot, maybe within a week. On March 29 at Akeno Air Base in Mie Prefecture, the 60th and 61st Shinbu Squadrons had been formed with 12 pilots each to make suicide attacks on American ships. Almost all of the Army's suicide attack squads used during the Battle of Okinawa were named Shinbu, which means "military might" in Japanese.

Late in the day, Osamu and Yoko sat by an inn window watching the rain. Osamu, quiet by nature, said little but smiled cheerfully at her now and then. However, Yoko sensed a feeling of doom in his face as he turned his eyes to the blue flowers she had picked for him. He said, "The sunset in Manchuria is breathtaking. I want to show it to you sometime." He never said a word to her about the planned suicide mission of the 60th Shinbu Squadron. The next day he flew his Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate over Yoko, who looked up excitedly from the garden at the inn. This was the first and last time she saw him flying.

Norio Maehara
(permission required from Yuko Shirako for photo use)

 
Osamu let Yoko and her mother return to Beppu since he had to move to the farmhouse near Kumanosho Airfield to stay with the rest of his squadron members, who expected to sortie on a suicide attack in a few days. On the morning after the two women took a train back to Beppu, while Osamu was taking the wife of a pilot in his squadron to the airfield in a truck, he said to her, "I asked my fiancée to return home. Time did not allow me to marry her." The kamikaze pilots of the 60th and 61st Shinbu Squadrons soon moved from Kumamoto to the eastern airfield at Miyakonojo in Miyazaki Prefecture and waited for orders to sortie. However, the sorties were delayed due to unusually heavy April rains, and the two squadrons stayed in Miyakonojo for many days. On April 28, the 61st Shinbu Squadron left Miyakonojo to make suicide attacks on American ships off Okinawa. The 60th Shinbu Squadron pilots saw the 61st pilots' empty rooms, showing them the reality of their own impending deaths. As Osamu waited for his sortie date, he selected the items to take with him in the cockpit. These included the "Bonny" photos of Yoko.

On April 30, Osamu wrote the following short letter to Yoko:

Dear Yoko,

Since the telephone line had problems, I have taken up a pen. I did not have anything special to talk about. If you really want to come here, you can visit. I usually get back to our place about 7 each evening, and we finish dinner at 8:30 or 9. The fellows who stayed downstairs at the inn in Kumamoto have departed from here. I will write again soon.

Osamu

P.S. - Recently we have had bombings around here, so please keep this is mind if you decide to come.

He sent this letter by express mail and enclosed a travel certificate so that Yoko might easily obtain train tickets to Miyakonojo.

In the early morning of May 4, the 60th Shinbu Squadron sortied from the eastern airfield at Miyakonojo toward Kadena Bay in Okinawa. The official record of the Imperial Japanese Army states a radio message was received from Second Lieutenant Osamu Shibata at 8:32 a.m. saying he was making his final dive into an aircraft carrier. Yoko arrived just a few days later in Miyakonojo, where she found only a few items he left behind in his room. She found out he had died in battle but did not realize he had carried out a suicide attack.

In early June, Yoko received an unexpected postcard from Osamu's college friend, Norio Maehara. He now was stationed in Miyakonojo as a pilot in the Army's 47th Sentai (Squadron), which flew escort to protect planes on the way to Okinawa to make suicide attacks. Yoko quickly went to Miyakonojo, and her train stopped sometimes when strafed by U.S. planes. Norio's face reminded Yoko of their enjoyable trip to Nara Deer Park, where Osamu had taken so many photos. She opened up to Norio and told him all about her last meeting and correspondence with Osamu. Norio said, "Please forgive Osamu for leaving his dear girl. He is trying to stick to his own beliefs in this madness of war. He is such a man." Norio talked as if his friend was still alive somewhere else. She feared that Norio soon would be following Osamu to die in battle.

After Japan lost Okinawa in June, the 47th Sentai, known as the Army's best interceptors, moved north to Ozuki Airfield in Yamaguchi Prefecture. On July 28, American P-38 fighters suddenly attacked Ozuki Airfield, but emergency warning of the attack reached the 47th Sentai pilots late. Eight Hayate fighters, including one piloted by Second Lieutenant Norio Maehara, were shot down shortly after takeoff. Yoko had sent a postcard to Norio at Ozuki Airfield, but she received it back along with a brief notice of his death.

Edited by Bill Gordon


Please contact Yuko Shirako, daughter of Yoko Sato (maiden name), if you have any comments or questions about this story.

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