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Last Writings of Second Lieutenant Ryōji Uehara

On May 11, 1945, Second Lieutenant Ryōji Uehara took off from Chiran Air Base and died in a special (suicide) attack west of Okinawa at the age of 22. He was a member of the 56th Shinbu Special Attack Squadron and piloted a Hien Type 3 Fighter (Allied code name of Tony). After his death in a special attack, he received a promotion to Captain. He was from Nagano Prefecture, attended Keiō Gijuku University, and was a member of the 2nd Class of the Army Special Cadet Officer Pilot Training (Tokubetsu Sōjū Minarai Shikan) Program.

He wrote the following during the evening before his death and handed it over to news crew member Toshirō Takagi [1]:

Shokan (My Thoughts)

56th Shinbu Squadron Army Second Lieutenant Ryōji Uehara
Born September 27, 1922
Registered domicile: 173 Wada Village, Higashi Chikuma District, Nagano Prefecture
Current domicile: 168 Ariake Village, Minami Azumi District, Nagano Prefecture
School Attended: Keiō Gijuku University Economics Department

I strongly feel that there is nothing that surpasses the honor of being selected for the Army Special Attack Corps, which is considered the exemplary attack force of my glorious homeland of Japan.

If I think with universal theoretical logic to state my belief that I acquired through my long time in school, I think liberty's victory is evident, even though perhaps I might be called a liberalist. Like the Italian Croce [2] is saying, I think that it is a fact that liberty, an essential part of human nature, absolutely cannot be destroyed. Even though it appears as if it is suppressed, deep down it is always fighting, and in the end it surely will win. Although authoritarian and totalitarian countries may prosper temporarily, it is certainly a plain fact that they will be defeated in the end. I think that we can see that truth in the Axis countries of the present world war. How about Fascist Italy? Nazi Germany also already has been defeated, and now authoritarian countries are collapsing one after another like buildings whose stone foundations are destroyed. The factual universality of this is being confirmed based on current reality like history showed in the past, and it appears that the greatness of liberty will be proven forever. That my belief was correct may perhaps be fearful for my homeland, but I am very glad. I think that what makes up the foundation of any current conflict is surely ideologies. Based on existing ideologies, I believe that the war's outcome can be seen clearly.

The ambition to make my beloved homeland Japan a great empire like the former British Empire became futile in the end. I think that if persons who truly love Japan had been allowed to stand up, Japan would not have been driven to a situation like now. The ideal in my dreams was Japanese people who walk confidently anywhere in the world.

It is certain what one friend said that a Special Attack Corps pilot of the skies is nothing more than a machine. The machine that takes the control stick, without personality, without feelings, and of course without reason, is nothing more than an iron molecule in a magnet that will stick to an enemy aircraft carrier. If one thinks with reason, it is truly incomprehensible. When forced to consider it, can one say that they are even suicidal? I think that this can be seen only in a spiritual country as Japan. As for me, who is a machine, there is no right to say anything. However, I only wish that the Japanese people will make my beloved Japan great.

If I go in a mental state such as this, it certainly may be nothing even if I die. Therefore, like I stated in the beginning, I feel honored to have been selected for the Special Attack Corps.

I am nothing but a machine when I get into my plane, but since of course I am a human once I come down, there I have emotions also, and my passions also are moved. When my beloved sweetheart died, I also died spiritually together with her. When I think of her waiting for me in heaven and that I can see her in heaven, death is of no concern since it is nothing more than being on the way to heaven. Tomorrow is the sortie. These extreme ideas of course should not be made public, but in the above words I conveyed my state of mind without deception. Please forgive me for arranging my ideas in a disorderly way as I thought them without any organization. Tomorrow one liberalist will depart from this world. His appearance from behind is lonesome, but his heart is full of contentment.

I said only what I wanted to say. Please forgive any discourtesy. Well, here I will stop.

Written night before sortie

He wrote the following last letter to his parents. The contents of the letter indicate that it was written sometime between February 1944 and June 6, 1944 [3].

Dear Parents,

In the twenty-some years from when I received life, I was fortunate to have been brought up without any inconvenience at all. Under the love of my kind parents and due to the hard work of my fine brothers and sisters, I was able to spend pleasant days. I was inclined to be self-centered at times. During this time I caused you more worries than my brothers and sisters. It makes me sad that I will go before you while not repaying your kindness in any way. However, in Japan where loyal and filial piety are one and where it is said that rendering loyal service is showing filial piety, I think that you will forgive my action.

As a worker in the skies, I spent every day with the assumption of death. Each written character and each word were my daily last letter and will. High in the skies, death certainly is not the target of fear. In this way will I carry out an attack and die? No, no matter what, I cannot think about dying, and there were times when I was impelled with an urge to make an attack somehow. I am in no way scared of death. Instead, I feel glad. The reason why is that I believe that I can meet my dear Older Brother Tatsu. My greatest desire is to see him again in heaven. I do not have what they call a view of life and death. The reason is because I thought that such a view of life and death would try to give death meaning and value and that it would cause too much fear of an uncertain death. I believe that through death I will meet others again in heaven, and consequently I do not fear death. Death is nothing at all when you think that it is a process of going up to heaven.

Speaking clearly, I admired liberalism. It was because I thought that liberalism is needed in order for Japan really to continue on eternally. This may seem foolish. That is because now Japan is enwrapped in a totalitarian feeling. However, when I truly opened my eyes widely and thought of human nature, liberalism is the logical ideology.

When I try to consider victory or defeat in the war and look at that country's ideology, I think that it becomes known in advance. I think that the outcome for the country that had a natural ideology suited to human nature is perfectly obvious.

My ideal of trying to make Japan like the British Empire in the old days has been completely defeated. Beyond this, I only offer my life gladly for Japan's liberty and independence.

For a human, the rise and fall of one country is truly a great matter, but when thought of from the perspective of the entire universe, it is truly a trivial matter. As the saying "prides comes before a fall," even if America and Britain win this war, I know that the day will come when they certainly will be defeated. Even if they are not defeated, it is quite delightful when I think that several years afterward they will be turned to powder through an explosion of the globe. However, what's more, certainly death will come for them also who today live with good feelings. It is only the difference of sooner or later. 

There is a book that I left behind in the right-hand drawer of my bookcase in the attached room. If it does not open, please open the left-hand drawer and pull out the nail.

I pray that you take good care of yourselves.

My regards to my Oldest Brother, Kiyoko, and everyone.

Farewell, be in good health. Farewell forever.

From Ryōji

The above last letter was first published in Kike wadatsumi no koe: Nihon senbotsu gakusei no shuki (Listen to the voices of the sea: Writings of Japanese students who died in war) in 1949. It was the first letter in the book. Since 1949 was during the American occupation, the editorial committee of Kike wadatsumi no koe deleted the following from students' writings: militaristic content, militaristic expressions such as "seven lives to serve the country" (shichishō hōkoku), and any content that extolled the former government such as "let's meet at Yasukuni" and "long live the Empire of Japan" [4]. The above letter has been duplicated below, and the parts not included in Kike wadatsumi no koe are shown in bold red text [5].

Dear Parents,

In the twenty-some years from when I received life, I was fortunate to have been brought up without any inconvenience at all. Under the love of my kind parents and due to the hard work of my fine brothers and sisters, I was able to spend pleasant days. I was inclined to be self-centered at times. During this time I caused you more worries than my brothers and sisters. It makes me sad that I will go before you while not repaying your kindness in any way. However, in Japan where loyal and filial piety are one and where it is said that rendering loyal service is showing filial piety, I think that you will forgive my action.

As a worker in the skies, I spent every day with the assumption of death. Each written character and each word were my daily last letter and will. High in the skies, death certainly is not the target of fear. In this way will I carry out an attack and die? No, no matter what I cannot think about dying, and there were times when I was impelled with an urge to make an attack somehow. I am in no way scared of death. Instead, I feel glad. The reason why is that I believe that I can meet my dear Older Brother Tatsu. My greatest desire is to see him again in heaven. I do not have what they call a view of life and death. The reason is because I thought that such a view of life and death would try to give death meaning and value and that it would cause too much fear of an uncertain death. I believe that through death I will meet others again in heaven, and consequently I do not fear death. Death is nothing at all when you think that it is a process of going up to heaven.

Speaking clearly, I admired liberalism. It was because I thought that liberalism is needed in order for Japan really to continue on eternally. This may seem foolish. That is because now Japan is enwrapped in a totalitarian feeling. However, when I truly opened my eyes widely and thought of human nature, liberalism is the logical ideology.

When I try to consider victory or defeat in the war and look at that country's ideology, I think that it becomes known in advance. I think that the outcome for the country that had a natural ideology suited to human nature is perfectly obvious.

My ideal of trying to make Japan like the British Empire in the old days has been completely defeated. Beyond this, I only offer my life gladly for Japan's liberty and independence.

For a human, the rise and fall of one country is truly a great matter, but when thought of from the perspective of the entire universe, it is truly a trivial matter. As the saying "prides comes before a fall," even if America and Britain win this war, I know that the day will come when they certainly will be defeated. Even if they are not defeated, it is quite delightful when I think that several years afterward they will be turned to powder through an explosion of the globe. However, what's more, certainly death will come for them also who today live with good feelings. It is only the difference of sooner or later. 

There is a book that I left behind in the right-hand drawer of my bookcase in the attached room. If it does not open, please open the left-hand drawer and pull out the nail.

I pray that you take good care of yourselves.

My regards to my Oldest Brother, Kiyoko, and everyone.

Farewell, be in good health. Farewell forever.

From Ryōji

The book mentioned in the above letter was titled Croce (1939) by Gorō Hani. Inside the book there were written characters that were circled here and there. By putting together the characters in sequence, the following final letter of Ryōji Uehara to his sweetheart Kyōko can be read [6]:

Kyōko, farewell. I loved you. However, then you already were engaged. I suffered. And then, when I thought of your happiness, I gave up whispering words of love to you. However, I always will love you.

The date of this coded last letter was September 22, 1943, which was before her death by tuberculosis on June 6, 1944 [7].


Writings translated by Bill Gordon
May 2019

The writings come from Chiran Kōjo Nadeshiko Kai (1996, 76-81). The biographical information in the first two paragraphs comes from Chiran Kōjo Nadeshiko Kai (1996, 76), Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai (2005, 182), and Osuo (2005, 199).

Notes

1. Uehara 2005, 13.

2. Benedetto Croce was an Italian philosopher who lived from 1866 to 1952.

3. Uehara 2005, 228.

4. Hosaka 2005, 79-80.

5. Nihon Senbotsu Gakusei Shuki Henshū Iinkai 1949, 1-2.

6. Uehara 2005, 8.

7. Uehara 2005, 8, 222, 228.

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 air base). Originally published in 1979. Kagoshima City: Takishobō.

Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai (Chiran Special Attack Memorial Society), ed. 2005. Konpaku no kiroku: Kyū rikugun tokubetsu kōgekitai chiran kichi (Record of departed spirits: Former Army Special Attack Corps Chiran Base). Revised edition, originally published in 2004. Chiran Town, Kagoshima Prefecture: Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai.

Hosaka, Masayasu. 2005. "Tokkō" to nihonjin ("Special Attacks" and Japanese People). Tōkyō: Kōdansha.

Nihon Senbotsu Gakusei Shuki Henshū Iinkai. 1949. Kike wadatsumi no koe: Nihon senbotsu gakusei no shuki (Listen to the voices of the sea: Writings of Japanese students who died in war).  Tōkyō: Tōdai Kyōdō Kumiai Shuppanbu.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.

Uehara, Ryōji. 2005. Ā sokoku yo koibito yo (Ah, my country, my lover). Edited by Hiroaki Nakajima. Nagano: Shinano Mainichi Shinbun.