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Letters and other writings
by soldiers who
 died in war (published
by Yasukuni Jinja)

 
Letters, Poems, Diaries, and Other Writings

The letters, poems, and diary entries of kamikaze pilots and other special attack force members constitute an important primary source of the feelings and opinions of these men prior to their suicide attacks. These widely published writings have had a very strong influence on Japanese perceptions of the pilots, but the few English translations of these letters have had very little effect on American views. Kike Wadatsumi no Koe (Listen to the Voices from the Sea), which contains writings by several kamikaze pilots, sold over one and a half million copies in Japan from its first publication date in 1949 through 1982. Many Japanese people express that writings by special attack force members make them cry when they read the words written by the young men who sacrificed their lives for their country.

The Japanese military censored correspondence, which leaves doubt as to whether some last letters of special attack force members contain their true feelings. However, some writings with the men's true feelings escaped the censors and reached the addressees through other means. Nagasue (2004), former member of the Navy's Kamikaze Special Attack Forces Yashima Unit, writes about military censorship of correspondence:

In those days, letters that we sent to family and friends were submitted unsealed in a batch to the warrant officer in order to maintain military secrets. These letters could not be sent until he censored them. It was prohibited for anyone to send a letter freely. Therefore, it was a time when we could not write anything but typical sentences, such as, "I am earnestly performing my military service, so please rest assured."

Life in the barracks for us petty officers was subject to restraints in all ways. We did not have freedom. Even when sending a postcard, it was submitted to the warrant officer and was subjected to censorship. This was not an environment where we could write down our personal thoughts.

Nagasue continues by explaining the restrictions when someone joined the special attack forces and tried to send a last letter to his family:

Even though one tried to write a last letter upon entering the special attack forces, it was prohibited to even write any correspondence since it was said, "the special attack forces are a military secret, and nothing can be leaked outside one's unit." Also, even though one wrote a last letter, there was no guarantee that it would be passed to one's family. Moreover, if one thought that it would be looked upon by others' eyes to be censored, writing what really was in one's heart was unthinkable.

However, the censors' restrictions could sometimes be circumvented. Reiko Akabane, a high school student in Chiran during the four months when Army kamikaze pilots sortied from there, used to assist at the barracks with other girl students in cleaning, laundry, mending, and cooking. She describes how the girls smuggled out the kamikaze pilots' letters to avoid the censors (Chiran Koujo 1996, 188):

When we were about ready to return home, we frequently received requests from pilots asking us to send letters and other items to their families. Since at that time there was a food shortage, we were allotted two steamed sweet potatoes for lunch. We took these to the barracks inside a bag, and we secretly brought back the requested items concealed inside the bag. Whereas the pilots' private messages were strictly censored, luckily we could safely bring their items back home because the things we carried did not get inspected. After we returned home, we mailed these items with our own names as senders and our own addresses.

It is difficult to generalize about the writings of special attack force members. Sasaki (1999) divides the letters into "typical" letters, mostly written by military school graduates, and "unique" letters written by men drafted from college. This classification tends to oversimplify the hundreds of letters that remain today, but it does help for an overview of the letters. The typical letters of pilots tend to thank their families for everything they have done and to express their desire to strike the enemy to defend their country. Many of these typical letters may have been subjected to censorship, so it is difficult to determine that these represent the men's true feelings. However, even if they managed to avoid the censors and sneak letters out of the base, many men may have written a typical letter so as to not worry their families and to show their courage and patriotism so that their families could be proud of them after their death. 

Only a few letters, poems, and diary entries of special attack force members have published English translations. The two books that contain several writings of special attack force members are Listen to the Voices from the Sea and The Sun Goes Down, which are both English translations of the Japanese book Kike Wadatsumi no Koe. Some other English-language books on kamikazes have a few letters or contain excerpts of letters. The Japanese web site Kamikaze has a section with about 20 translated writings, including a few from published books. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney's 2006 book entitled Kamikaze Diaries, despite the title, contains only a few English translations of writings by kamikaze pilots. In 2008, the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots published a book entitled The Mind of the Kamikaze with the final writings of more the 20 Army kamikaze pilots, but these translations often sound awkward and contain some misspellings, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, and spacing mistakes due to the translator's not being a native English speaker.

A wide variety of Japanese sources have writings of special attack force members. These include numerous books and several museums that display originals or copies of the writings. The Japanese web site Tokkou (Special Attack Forces) has a large section on letters and poems written by special attack force members. The DVD Isho: Tokubetsu Kougekitai (Last Letters: Special Attack Corps) presents 24 last letters written by kamikaze pilots and one kaiten (manned torpedo) pilot, together with wartime film clips and special attack history.

The following writings of Special Attack Corps members have been translated:

I have translated several letters and poems for Stories of Bereaved Families, which are included on the Japanese web site Aozora no hateni (To the blue sky's end). The following web pages are a sample of these translated writings:

  • Final Duty to His Parents - Final letters of pilot to his mother and to his home village.
  • My Mother - Poem of 17-year-old pilot who died in battle with an enemy night fighter.
Sources Cited

Chiran Kōjo Nadeshiko Kai (Chiran Girls' High School Nadeshiko Association), ed. 1996. Gunjō: Chiran tokkō kichi yori (Deep blue: From Chiran special attack forces air base). Originally published in 1979. Kagoshima City: Takisyobō.

Isho: Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (Last Letters: Special Attack Corps). No date. Edited by Hichirō Naemura and Hakuō Izokukai. 45 min. Tokyo: Koala Books. DVD.

Nagasue, Senri. 2004. Bravely. <http://senri.warbirds.jp/19english/izoku/10/izoku10.htm> (September 30, 2004).

Sasaki, Mako. 1999. Who Became Kamikaze Pilots and How Did They Feel Towards Their Suicide Mission? <http://www.tcr.org/tcr/essays/EPrize_Kamikaze.pdf> (May 8, 2005). Originally published in The Concord Review 7 (Fall 1996):175-209.