In the Faraway Mountains and Rivers (Harukanaru Sanga ni): More Voices From A
Lost Generation of Japanese Students
Compiled by Todai Gakusei Jichi-kai Senbotsu Gakusei Shuki Hensan Iinkai
(Committee for Compiling the Writings of the University of Tokyo Students Killed
in the War, the University of Tokyo Student Council)
Translated by Joseph L. Quinn and Midori Yamanouchi
University of Scranton Press, 2005, 163 pages
The Japanese book entitled Harukanaru Sanga ni (In the Faraway
Mountains and Rivers), originally published in 1947, contains letters, diary
entries, and poems written by University of Tokyo students who died in the
Greater East Asia War. Most students had not completed their studies since the
government in late 1943 eliminated deferral of military service for university
students except those in selected technical fields. In 2000, Midori Yamanouchi
and Joseph Quinn translated Listen to the
Voices from the Sea (Kike Wadatsumi no Koe): Writings of the Fallen Japanese
Students, which was first published in 1949 with letters, diary entries,
and poems by students from Japan's elite universities, including the University
of Tokyo, who had died in the war. In the Faraway Mountains and Rivers is
a follow-up volume by the same translators to provide English readers with "more
voices from a lost generation of Japanese students."
This translation is based on a newly designed edition published in 1989 by
the University of Tokyo Press. Most
students included in this volume died in the last two years of the war. Two died
in China in 1941 before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and four died after the
war's end due to illnesses or wounds suffered during the war. Each student's
basic biographical information (e.g., dates of birth and death, when entered
university, major, when entered military) is provided before his writings. Some
writings can be difficult to understand with no background information. The
writings have no particular order.
The writings of 37 students in this book include seven who became Special
Attack Corps (tokkōtai) members and trained to carry out special
(suicide) attacks. However, the writings of three of these seven students are
dated before they were Special Attack Corps members, so readers can consider the
thoughts of only four students as they waited for a mission that involved
certain death. Of these four, two trained to be kaiten human torpedo pilots, and
two trained as crewmembers of floatplanes to carry out suicide attacks. The book
includes only a short excerpt from a last letter written by Takenori Nakao, who
made a sortie from Ibusuki Air Base in southern Kyushu toward Okinawa and died
in a special attack on May 4, 1945 . The other
three students have much longer writings dated after they became Special
Attack Corps members. Below are short excerpts from their writings.
On July 25, 1945, Minoru Wada died in an accident while training as a member
of the Kaiten Special Attack Corps. Unlike the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps,
deaths during training in kaiten human torpedoes were recognized officially by
the Japanese military as special attack deaths. On February 1, Wada started his
diary entry with the following words about literature and poetry that reflect
his high level of education (p.90):
I had my first ride in Kaiten.
I read Kokoro (Heart) by Sōseki (Sōseki Natsume,
1867-1916), and also Jinsei Gekijō (Life Theater), by Shirō Ozaki (a
popular novelist, 1898-1964). I have read both books before, but now that I
am in this predicament and surrounded by an atmosphere of death, I find
myself touched by them more than ever. I even had tears in my eyes! Works of
literature and poetry in particular have lately come to appeal to me
collectively—not so much as specific works but rather as literature and
poetry in general. I realize that, on the face of it, this must seem way off
the mark and even a little ridiculous, but how else am I to account for the
fact that they—en masse, as it were—affect me so powerfully, even moving me
I no longer need anything. Consolation and encouragement—particularly if
it is to be offered by way of a long-winded, militaristic harangue, or from
a speaker who is playing to his audience—are nothing more to me than
occasions for anger.
On May 6, Wada included the following words in a longer diary entry (p.93)
Up until now, and just because I was so shallow, I managed to maintain a
calm and expressionless front. And now, for the very first time, I am truly
at a loss over how to make sense of my past. Impatiently, I am struggling to
find my true self, that is, without any pretense in my remaining life of
just a month.
It already seems to me that I no longer really exist.
Yasuhiko Isumi (incorrectly translated by Quinn and Yamanouchi as Yasuhiko
Gaikaku ) died on board a submarine during a
kaiten mission. The introduction to his will addressed to his mother, written at
the time of his departure as a member of the Kaiten Special Attack Corps from
Otsushima Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture on April 3, 1945, indicates he was
"killed in action near Okinawa, April 14, 1945." Isumi and three other kaiten
pilots were aboard I-44 submarine. All 126 I-44 crewmen and four
kaiten pilots were determined to be lost as the base was unable to contact I-44
submarine after leaving Otsushima . His will starts off
with the following explanation (p. 124):
Mother, although I suppose I should begin with the conventional "I trust
that you are as well as usual," I can very well imagine the many hardships
you must be undergoing nowadays. The reason for my picking up a pen today is
to write something which I hope will be considered my will. As you know, I
am such a touchy soul to begin with that I find it rather unacceptable for
someone like myself, who am so full of life, to be forced to think about
death and what comes after it and to feel tragic about himself. I have
personally meant to leave nothing behind, and neither do I need to leave any
instructions for you about how to handle my affairs in the event of my
He later explains his state of mind as he faces death (p. 127):
I am happy about the fact that, because of the very nature of my job, the
details surrounding my death—when and where and under
what circumstances it occurs, etc.—will never ever be told to my family. I
wrote the note simply because there was an off-chance that you might wonder
and worry about just what my state of mind was when I died. I wanted you to
know how very much I enjoyed my life until its final moment and that, with a
peaceful heart, I am simply going to disappear from this world just as a
light goes off.
On March 1, 1945, Yasuo Sawada was named as a member of the First Kitaura
Special Attack Unit. In a letter dated April 12, 1945, to his family, he
includes the following paragraph near the end (p. 123).
To convey the emotional truth of the time from which I was first named as
a member of a Special Attack Force and then trained to hit the enemy with my
own body, is not something that one can set down with a pen. The state of
mind involved here is something which only those with the same experience
can feel and understand, and I would not even attempt to write about it.
Sawada did not die in a special attack, since his name is not listed in
Japanese records with the men who died in special attacks in floatplanes .
The book's introduction to his writings states he was "killed in action,
May 1945, in the skies over mainland Japan." It is not clear how specifically he
lost his life, but something probably happened during his flight south to
Ibusuki Air Base in southern Kagoshima, from where he planned to make a special
attack toward Okinawa.
Yasuo Sawada's writings include a romantic theme. On January 7, 1945, prior
to his assignment to a special attack unit, he writes the following somewhat
awkward expression of love at the end of his letter to Ms. K:
I can say with all sincerity that I am not asking for your flesh. A
woman's body is no more necessary to me than it is to other men—I have not
sunk that low. I always wanted to respond to the tolling of the bell that is
your beautiful soul—to the sound of your heart. It is true that one's soul
cannot be separated from the physical body, but please do not think that
just because I wanted your heart that I also lusted after your body.
Just listening to the voice of your soul will be enough for me, because I
know that bodily desires are selfish. You too, while you await the time for
our physical union, will meet the miserable fate of hoping for something
which will never come about. It is because I love you that I must tell you
simply to give up the idea of being united with me physically, and advise
you to choose someone else. I realize how hurtful this must be, but I dare
to say it because I do love you.
Finally, let us—you and I—continue our beautiful relationship for the
rest of our lives, realizing both the dream we had and the beautiful
platonic love and friendship we currently enjoy. With a prayer for your
happiness I am ready to set my pen down, adding only that my love for you is
exactly as I described it in my last letter, and that it will remain so
forever—even through eternity.
Soon I shall be called to the battlefield.
His desire for love of Ms. K turns out sadly as he writes in a diary entry
dated March 1 (p. 122):
It seems that Ms. K is getting married, so I am feeling a little
lonesome. There is only one complete solution to all the vastly complicated
problems surrounding such a business: marriage. Perhaps under these
particular circumstances it is indeed the best solution. Most probably, she
will be wed without saying anything to or about me and I do not plan to say
anything either—not even a word of congratulation. I do not wish to bring
the ideal relationship between us down to the level of reality merely by
mouthing words. If all this were only a dream dreamt in the springtime of my
life, then it would be fine as a dream; it would be a lot better than an
ugly reality. Still, the feeling of letdown refuses to go away. I will
remain behind the scenes, but shall pray for her happiness.
The Committee for the Compilation of Writings of the Students Killed in the
War wrote the book's Postscript entitled "The Humanity That Was Never Lost." The
Postscript includes several comments about the Special Attack Forces, but it
supplies no names or dates to verify the statements, some which cannot be found
in other references. The Committee mentions someone who adamantly refused to
join the Special Attack Forces (p. 158):
Since they loved their fatherland and their home, most of them gladly
accepted their fate and went to the battlefield. Some even flew single
planes and then courageously dove into an enemy battleship, believing in the
immortality of the "Emperor."
Perhaps even a more poignant case would be someone who survived by
stubbornly refusing to volunteer to be a member of the Special Attack Forces
while in the Air Corps. Scorned as a traitor and an enemy conspirator by
superior officers, and ridiculed by colleagues as a coward, he absolutely
refused to volunteer (to be a member of the Special Attack Force).
In this way some survived the war.
The following paragraph includes this curious explanation of how the students
felt during the war and why they acted in the way they did, but few student
writings included in the book support such contentions (p. 158):
To begin with, we were always thinking seriously, and we never lost our
humanity during the war regardless of how horrible the war got. We were even
looking with the eyes of deep love at the enemy nations, although we had to
kill each other just because we were born as different nationalities (i.e.,
the members of different nations). Even though it was not clearly
understood, what we were really hating was something that was hovering over
us like a dark cloud—something that forced us to kill those we did not hate.
The following three paragraphs explain the feelings of survivors of the war
in generalities that most likely did not apply to everyone (p. 159):
When the war ended what we felt so strongly, more than anything else, was
the simple fact that we had survived. That powerful emotion immediately
spread over the defeated fatherland. That reconstruction of the fatherland,
or rather, more accurately, the creation of a new Japan, was the most
important duty for all of us who survived the war—we felt that with our
whole hearts and souls. Actually, many of us were quietly and secretly
anticipating this day even before the end of the war.
It was for that reason that the survivors dared not join the Special
Attack Forces. It was not just because they did not want to die, or that
they casually sat back and saw friends fly off. They were not coldly
watching with disdain those of full youthful vigor, but were confident that
their own action was the correct one. They too were human though, and so
were not watching with hearts of stone those who flew off, carrying bombs in
their chests. They cried. They were in pain and agony. Yet, they did not
volunteer (to join the Special Attack Forces); their true hearts did not
allow them to do so.
This was the way in which we survived the war, but this collection of
writings also contains several pieces which were written by members of the
Special Attack Forces just before they left for their sorties. When we read
these and imagine the faces of those numerous young people who were killed
in the war, we cannot help but think that we all share something that
permeates our minds—our fate was simply much too dark. Under that black
cloud each of us had to think alone and to be distressed alone.
Contrary to the sweeping statements above, many survivors of the war had
joined the Special Attack Forces but had not ever been sent on a suicide mission
by the end of the war.
1. Osuo 2005, 239.
2. Kaiten Kichi 1999, 64, 70; The
Mediasion Co. 2006, 82.
3. The Mediasion Co. 2006, 54.
4. Osuo 2005, 237-40.
Kaiten Kichi o Hozon Suru Kai (Kaiten Base Preservation
Society). 1999. Kaiten Kinenkan gaiyō, shūzō mokuroku (Kaiten Memorial
Museum summary and collection listing). Tokuyama (now Shunan), Yamaguchi
Prefecture: Kaiten Kichi o Hozon Suru Kai.
The Mediasion Co. 2006. Ningen gyorai kaiten (Kaiten
human torpedo). Hiroshima: The Mediasion Co.
Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (kaigun
hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.