Otōsan e no senbazuru (A thousand origami cranes for father)
by Hiroshi Tokita
Tendensha, 2007, 47 pages
This picture book's very simple story about a kamikaze pilot
suggests that the intended audience must be children from about ages 4 to 7
whose parents will read the book aloud and explain it to them due to the
difficult kanji (Chinese characters) in some places. However, the author
information at the back of the book has a puzzling brief remark that the author
is engaged in a new field creating picture books that adults can enjoy, and his
motto is to "put more spirit into Japan through picture books." If the
author really intended this book to be for adults, then very few will get much
out of it due to its extreme simplicity and lack of details. The author and
illustrator Hiroshi Tokita worked in the Tōkyō Metropolitan Police Department
until his retirement in 2003, and his one previous picture book, Kyūbanme
no sensha (Tank No. 9), was published in 2004. This lack of experience in
the field of children's literature may partially account for the ambiguity of
the book's intended audience.
The plot centers around a fictional kamikaze pilot named
Gentarō and his young daughter named Tomoe. He visits home for three days to
see his wife, daughter, and parents about a week before the date of his
kamikaze mission. His wife gives him a thousand white origami cranes with
messages written by her, Tomoe, and others to encourage him. Gentarō promises
Tomoe that he will be fine and will return.
Gentarō hangs the thousand origami cranes in the rear of the
cockpit of his fighter carrying a bomb underneath. He spots an aircraft carrier
and heads toward it, but he gets hit by enemy fire. As his engine catches fire
and as blood soaks his control stick, the white origami cranes start floating
around the cockpit. He manages to keep flying and hit the aircraft carrier. Then
he finds himself in a place where the cranes have become as large as humans,
and he can still read the messages written on them by Tomoe, his wife, and
others. He rides on the back of one of the large cranes to return to his
hometown, where he still watches over his family from above the sky even though
Tomoe now has become a great-grandmother.
The story focuses on how the daughter lovingly remembers her
father, although very few kamikaze pilots were married with children, and even
fewer had a child old enough to write messages. During Gentarō's kamikaze
mission, he wants to return and hug Tomoe again, but he decides to carry out
his mission as a human bomb in order to protect his precious family.
The end of the book gives a half page on the significance of
senbazuru (thousand origami cranes), which represent the sincerity and
fervency of the prayers and hopes of a person who takes such a great amount of
time to create them for someone else. The paper cranes can represent the hopes
for another person's safety, recovery from sickness, accomplishment of a wish,
or resting in peace. The author tries to link the making of senbazuru,
which ignores one's personal interests and focuses one's hopes on the happiness
of others, to the deaths of the soldiers of that time typified by the Kamikaze
Special Attack Corps members.
The end of the book has another page listing nine Japanese
museums and other places where parents and children can experience the spirit
of the tokkōtai (Special Attack Corps). The mention of "parents and children"
implies that both may be the intended audience for the book.
The idealized fantasy world presented in this book probably
will hold little interest for either young children or adults. Children will
enjoy the parts of the story concerning the thousand cranes and the
relationship between the father and daughter, but it is unlikely that many
young children will be captivated by the military particulars of the attacks
make by kamikaze pilots. On the other hand, adults will find the story lacks
any real details, such as historical background and names, needed to hold their