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Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers
by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney
University of Chicago Press, 2006, 227 pages

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney's latest book, Kamikaze Diaries, rehashes the same themes and material as her 2002 book, Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms. She reuses numerous previously published paragraphs, most slightly edited and rearranged, without specific attribution to her preceding book other than the book title's inclusion in her six-page section on References [1]. The University of Chicago Press published both books, so the publisher has the copyright needed to recycle old material without specific acknowledgment to the prior book. However, it is surprising that a well-known academic publisher would not warn readers that the latest book contains considerable portions from the author's earlier book.

The title of Kamikaze Diaries does not accurately describe the contents. The book's six chapters cover the writings of seven student soldiers, but only three were kamikaze pilots in Japan's special attack forces (tokkotai in Japanese) [2]. These include Sasaki Hachiro (Ch. 1), Hayashi Ichizo (Ch. 5), and Nakao Takenori (Ch. 6). Almost all writings in Chapters 1 and 6 are dated before the young men joined the special attack forces and even before they entered the military, but Chapter 6 does include Nakao's last letter to his parents written six days prior to his death. Chapter 5 contains several writings after Hayashi was assigned to a special attack squadron, but about half of the writings in this chapter are letters to family members and friends rather than diary entries as indicated in the book's title.

The book cover for Kamikaze Diaries has some incorrect and misleading statements. The back cover's second and fourth endorsement quotations suggest that the book will deal only with writings of tokkotai pilots who took part in suicide missions, even though less than half of the soldiers covered in the book were tokkotai pilots. The third endorsement quotation states that "during World War II, not a single graduate of their military academies volunteered for one-way bombing missions" (also implied on pp. 1-2), but in actuality about 160 Naval Academy and about 180 Army Air Corps Academy graduates died in special attack missions [3]. The inside front cover starts with a quotation from Irokawa Daikichi, who is introduced as one of the many kamikaze pilots, or tokkotai. However, the book's text does not include this quotation, and Irokawa did not serve as a kamikaze pilot [4].

The Introduction runs almost 40 pages and covers in summary fashion the same main points published in Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms, including tokkotai operations and pilots, student soldiers' education and beliefs, and militarization of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture. Ohnuki-Tierney cuts down her discussion on cherry blossoms to only eight pages, whereas about half of the chapters in Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms cover this topic. The main section of Kamikaze Diaries discusses writings of individual student soldiers. Out of the book's six chapters, only Chapters 3 and 4 introduce student soldiers not covered in the author's previous book, but both of these chapters do not deal with tokkotai members. Chapter 4 introduces two brothers, Matsunaga Shigeo and Matsunaga Tatsuki, who fought with the Japanese Army in China and who died in November 1938 and 1944 (no month given), respectively. Both may have died even before Vice Admiral Ohnishi organized the first kamikaze squadron in October 1944.

Ohnuki-Tierney's stated purpose in writing this book is to provide "more first-hand sources that would offer insight into the thoughts of these young men" (p. xvii), but a long introduction with few "first-hand sources" precedes the book's six chapters, which contain the young men's writings. However, even some of these chapters contain relatively little of their writings in comparison to the author's commentary. For example, Chapter 1's 31 pages on Sasaki Hachiro include only about seven pages of his actual writings. This contrasts sharply with the book Listen to the Voices from the Sea (2000) [5], which also has English translations of writings of fallen Japanese student soldiers. This other book's 12-page section with Sasaki Hachiro's writings (pp. 118-29) has only about a half page of background and commentary.

Several of the author's claims related to Japan's tokkotai are incorrect. She states, "None of these manned weapon systems was equipped with any means of returning to base" (p. 1). Although kaiten (human torpedoes) and ohka (rocket-powered gliders) could not return to base, planes and explosive motorboats not only could but frequently did return to base for various reasons such as bad weather, mechanical problems, or not being able to locate the enemy. For example, the first kamikaze squadron, led by Lieutenant Yukio Seki, returned to base four times before its final sortie on October 25, 1944 [6]. In another example, Ohnuki-Tierney writes that "no officers above the rank of lieutenant and lieutenant junior grade who were graduates of the Naval Academy were sent on tokkotai missions" (p. 8). However, on March 21, 1945, Lieutenant Commander Goro Nonaka, 1933 Naval Academy graduate (61st class), led 160 men of the First Kamikaze Ohka Special Attack Unit, Thunder Gods Corps, in a suicide attack [7]. Also, Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1912 Naval Academy graduate (40th class), led a squadron of 11 Suisei dive bombers in a suicide attack on August 15, 1945 [8], but the Japanese government did not officially recognize this as a tokkotai mission since he undertook it after the Emperor's order to surrender.

The book has quite a few other errors. The author incorrectly uses "Demizu" as the name for "Izumi" Naval Air Base in Kagoshima Prefecture (pp. 105, 118). She introduces a long quotation as a description of "the night before their final flights" of tokkotai pilots from Tsuchiura Naval Air Base (p. 9), but no tokkotai pilots made a final sortie from this air base [9]. The first sentence of the Preamble mentions the kamikaze pilot named Nakao Teketoku (p. xiii), but Chapter 6 gives his name as Nakao Takenori (p. 185). Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms (2002, 218) has a third name, Nakao Taketoku. She states, "A single cherry blossom was painted in pink on a white background on both sides of the tokkotai airplane, . . ." (p. 29). In reality, tokkotai airplanes did not have a cherry blossom painted on each side, but ohka glider bombs did have this symbol.

The most interesting chapter is the one on Hayashi Ichizo, a devout Christian with a very close relationship with his mother. His diary, written at Wonsan Air Base in Korea from January 9 to March 21, 1945, covers the period right before and after his assignment to a tokkotai squadron on February 22, 1945. The chapter also includes letters to his mother, brother, and friends during 1945 up to his sortie toward Okinawa from Kanoya Air Base on April 12, 1945. The book Listen to the Voices from the Sea also contains Hayashi's long last letter to his mother written from Wonsan Air Base [10], but the chapter in Kamikaze Diaries has several more of his writings and additional biographical information. Individual sentences in the final letter to his mother from Wonsan Air Base show both his strong patriotism and firm Christian belief (pp. 173-4): ". . . I am happy to go as a tokkotai pilot. . . . I will do a splendid job sinking an enemy aircraft carrier. . . . I read the Bible every day. . . . I will sing a hymn as I dive on an enemy vessel. . . ."

Even though Kamikaze Diaries has a captivating title and some interesting writings by kamikaze pilots, this book has a number of errors and extensive repetition of material from Ohnuki-Tierney's previous book. Most chapters do not provide any idea about how young Japanese men felt after they joined the tokkotai dedicated to suicide attacks, since more than half of the pilots introduced in the book were not tokkotai members. Even in the three chapters that discuss tokkotai pilots, the focus is their intellectual development prior to joining the military rather than a depiction of life in the military and in a tokkotai squadron.


1. The following listing identifies paragraphs in Chapter 1 on Sasaki Hachiro that were taken from Ohnuki-Tierney's 2002 book, Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms. The author slightly edited the 2002 paragraphs, but the content and sentence order are generally the same for the listed paragraphs.

2006 39, par. 1 = 2002 193, par. 1 (This can be read as follows: "The wording, content, and sentences of Paragraph 1 on p. 39 of Kamikaze Diaries (2006) are mostly the same as those in Paragraph 1 on p. 193 of Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms (2002). No specific attribution is documented in Kamikaze Diaries to indicate that this paragraph came from Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms.")
2006 40, par. 3 (last part) = 2002 194, par. 4
2006 41, par. 1 = 2002 195, par. 1
2006 41, par. 2 = 2002 194, par. 3
2006 42, par. 1 = 2002 195, par. 3
2006 42, par. 5 = 2002 204, par. 2
2006 48, par. 1 (last part) = 2002 199, par. 2
2006 49, par. 1-2 = 2002 202, par. 1-2
2006 49, par. 3; 50, par. 1-3 = 2002 200, par. 2-3; 201, par. 1-2
2006 51, par. 1 = 2002 200, par. 1
2006 51, par. 2 = 2002 201, par. 3
2006 52, par. 3; 53, par. 1 = 2002 198, par. 1-2
2006 53, par. 2 = 2002 196, par. 1
2006 54, par. 1-2 = 2002 199, par. 1
2006 57, par. 1 = 2002 202, par. 4
2006 57, par. 2 = 2002 203, par. 1
2006 58, par. 2 = 2002 203, par. 2
2006 59, par. 1-2 = 2002 205, par. 1-2
2006 59, par. 4; 60, par. 1-2 = 2002 196, par. 4; 197, par. 1
2006 61, par. 1-3 = 2002 208, par. 1-2; 209, par. 1
2006 64, par. 2 = 2002 206, par. 2
2006 65, par. 1-3 = 2002 206, par. 4; 207, par. 1-2
2006 67, par. 2-3 = 2002 209, par. 2-3
2006 68, par. 1-2 = 2002 210, par. 1-2

The Introduction and Chapters 2, 5, and 6 of Kamikaze Diaries (2006) also use material directly from Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms (2002), but the extent of this has not been quantified.

2. On May 30, 2006, I sent an e-mail note to the Publicity Department and the Marketing Department of the University of Chicago Press (UCP). The note gave the URL for this book review on Kamikaze Diaries and included the statement that "less than half of the soldiers covered in the book were tokkotai pilots." UCP apparently decided to ignore the facts. On July 18, 2006, UCP published a press release about Kamikaze Diaries with the following statement, "Fortunately, the kamizake [sic] also wrote diaries, and six of them are collected here in this heartbreaking but much needed corrective to their many caricatures." The press release is at the following URL:
http://www.press.uchicago.edu/News/0606ohnukiprs.html (August 13, 2006), link no longer available.
The introduction to the press release contains a similar incorrect statement. This introduction is at the following URL:
http://pressblog.uchicago.edu/2006/07/18/press_release_ohnukitierney_ka.html (August 13, 2006) (link no longer available).
As noted in my book review, "The book's six chapters cover the writings of seven student soldiers, but only three were kamikaze pilots in Japan's special attack forces (tokkotai in Japanese)."

3. Tokkotai Senbotsusha 1990, 129-312.

4. An Internet search of Japanese pages about Irokawa Daikichi did not locate any mention that he was a kamikaze pilot (i.e., member of tokkotai). The following two Japanese pages briefly mention his wartime service, and they indicate he was stationed at a Navy tokkotai base (no name given) on an island of Mie Prefecture. However, there is no indication that he was a tokkotai member.

Irokawa Daikichi no inori (Irokawa Daikichi's Prayer)
<http://www.hikoboshi.com/eba/inori/inori212Irokawa.htm> (May 29, 2006) (link no longer available).

Terebi no Irokawa Daikichi-san (Irokawa Daikichi on TV)
<http://suyiryutei.exblog.jp/691042/> (May 29, 2006).

5. Nihon Senbotsu Gakusei Kinen-Kai 2000.

6. Inoguchi 1958, 57.

7. Naito 1989, 115-8; Tokkotai Senbotsusha 1990, 155.

8. Ugaki 1991, 665.

9. Kanoya Naval Air Base Museum has an exhibit that lists the sortie bases for Japanese Navy kamikaze attacks (June 17, 2004), and this exhibit does not include Tsuchiura Naval Air Base.

10. Nihon Senbotsu Gakusei Kinen-Kai 2000, 215-8.

Sources Cited

Inoguchi, Rikihei, and Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau. 1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Nihon Senbotsu Gakusei Kinen-Kai (Japan Memorial Society for the Students Killed in the War—Wadatsumi Society), comp. 2000. Listen to the Voices from the Sea: Writings of the Fallen Japanese Students (Kike Wadatsumi no Koe). Translated by Midori Yamanouchi and Joseph L. Quinn.  Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. 2002. Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

Ugaki, Matome. 1991. Fading Victory: The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki, 1941-1945. Translated by Masataka Chihaya. Edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.