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When the Suicide Pilots Said Goodbye

A kamikaze plane on display at the Peace Museum of Kamikaze Pilots in Chiran in Japan. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS.

A kamikaze plane on display at the Peace Museum of Kamikaze Pilots in Chiran in Japan. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS.

CHIRAN (Japan), Jan 26 2014 (IPS) - They were known as the Kamikaze who swooped down on enemy ships with their bomb-laden planes – with the pilots inside. A museum here is now planning to register the last letters of Japan’s famed World War II suicide bombers as a Unesco Memory of the World document. The museum is calling these records “symbolic” of the country’s commitment to peace.

The move comes amid continuing political tension between Japan and its former East Asian colonies, China and the Korean peninsula, over its war past.

The Kamikaze pilots were a special task force assigned to protect their country from Western Allied forces at the tail end of World War II. The official number of Kamikaze deaths is 1,036.

“Goodbye. I have nothing more than wishes for your happiness.”

Storytellers employed by the Peace Museum of Kamikaze Pilots describe them as brave young men who sacrificed themselves to protect Japan from the invading Western colonial powers.

“The last letters written by the Kamikaze before they took off on their planes show that remarkably they did not hate their enemy but rather only wanted to serve their country and protect their families,” said Satoshi Yamaki, the curator.

“The registering of their messages as a world document is to recognise their courage and Japan’s pledge to never enter a war again. Their letters are symbolic of Japan’s commitment to peace.”

Yamaki heads the impressive Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots launched in 1988. It nestles among the quiet green hills of Chiran town in Kagoshima prefecture on the island of Kyushu.

Chiran was host to a former airstrip where the Kamikaze took off in 1944 to dive with their planes into American naval ships approaching Okinawa. The southernmost island is the site of the only land battle fought in Japan before surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

“Goodbye. I have nothing more than wishes for your happiness,” 23-year-old Capt Toshio Anazawa wrote to his sweetheart. “Forget the past. Live in the present,” Lieutenant Aihana Shoi Heart wrote in a letter.

Funded by the local Southern Kyushu government, the museum hosts more than 700,000 visitors annually.

The move to resurrect the Kamikaze stories, almost 70 years after Japan surrendered to U.S. forces and pledged to become a nation of peace, symbolises the mixed emotions and the continuous struggle of the Japanese to come to terms with their nation’s fractured war past, say analysts.

“The story of the Kamikaze is tragic and courageous and there is a national yearning for world recognition. But the Japanese mourning has become increasingly sinister against the [backdrop of] political exploitation of Japan’s war past,” said Yoshio Hotta, an expert on Japan-U.S. relations.

A prominent visit in December by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a nationalist, to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are enshrined among the dead, exposes vividly how the country remains mired in its difficult past.

While Abe declared he went “simply to pay respects to Japan’s war dead” and also to pledge not to wage war again, the visit provoked condemnation by Chinese and South Korean leaders who accuse Japan of continuing to be unrepentant of its past aggression in Asia.

Japan occupied northern China in the 1930s and is also held responsible for the infamous Nanking massacre in 1937 when the Japanese army was accused of raping and killing civilians and of pillage.

The Korean peninsula was invaded from 1910 to 1945. Japan imposed a brutal leadership, including a ban on the local language and culture. During World War II, tens of thousands of Koreans were conscripted into the Japanese army and as forced labour for Japanese companies.

The controversial system of “comfort women” – mostly young Korean women and also others in Chinese Manchuria and other parts of Asia who had to provide sex to Japanese soldiers – remains a simmering bilateral issue.

Abe’s Yasukuni decision has led to greater volatility between Japan and China, which are already clashing over territorial claims. The Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are claimed by both countries. The Chinese name for the islands is Daiyou.

Reflecting historical bitterness, a scheduled meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Abe to discuss the comfort women issue was cancelled last month by Korea. The United States also took the unprecedented step of criticising the visit.

But old timers remember the Kamikaze with reverence.

Sho Horiyama, 91, a former Kamikaze who visits the Chiran museum every May to pay respects to his former colleagues, expresses frustration over the long unresolved clash with Japan’s neighbours over war history.

“When I heard Emperor Hirohito declare Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, I cried that I had not died for my country,” he told IPS. “Why cannot Japan be proud of the Kamikaze after their incredible sacrifice?”

Horiyama was 22 in 1945 and ready for his mission that was thwarted when his country was defeated. More than a million people died, including 250,000 Japanese soldiers, during the war, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Takeshi Kawatoko, 86, a storyteller at the Chiran museum, says, “Can we not respect their bravery and commitment to their country?”

He told IPS that the Kamikaze represent the Japanese samurai traits of putting loyalty over personal needs, a character that is deeply embedded in the national psyche.

“This is what I want the world to understand. It fills me with sadness when we cannot explain the past to Japan’s younger generation that has grown up hardly knowing the brave deeds of their ancestors.”

 
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  • ziguku

    “Goodbye. I have nothing more than wishes for your happiness,”
    23-year-old Capt Toshio Anazawa wrote to his sweetheart. “Forget the
    past. Live in the present,” Lieutenant Aihana Shoi Heart wrote in a
    letter.

    this letter says it all. let forget the past and live in the present please …… what more do we want???/

  • Ne Pacific

    I have read a book about the pilots and have nothing but admiration for them. They did what they had to do in a difficult time. I sympathize with the people at the museum, but under current circumstances, their plans would harm rather than help peace. Japan has not yet convinced either China or Korea that it really is ashamed of what it did. Mr. Abe’s direct and intentional insults to China and Korea are despicable, and dangerous to peace.

  • http://www.jjvanka.net/ JJ

    The pic is upsidedown. Why?

  • Hitokiri 1989

    The museum must also mention how many young men were pressured to join the kamikaze squadrons and that their superior officers used them as disposable tools. Any omission of this would confirm Allied propaganda that the Japanese were indeed a fanatical race that was willing to die rather than surrender. After all, the Germans were also faced with certain destruction at the hands of the vengeful Soviets, but they did not resort to suicide squads.

  • topolcats

    What next?…. The glorification of the Waffen SS?
    Are Kamikaze’s any different from the modern day suicide bomber in the Arab world?

  • Alex Wijaya

    I think Japan also need to thank the US for dropping atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those bombs ended the war sooner than later and saved more lives. Japan should celebrate the event annually instead of remembering it in solemn.

  • Banlas Theway

    It appeared that the two bombs were inadequate enough to convince nor deter Japan that it should behave itself instead of trying to instigate all its neighbors with all hostile actions like trying to whitewash the history of its heinous crimes, worshipped war time criminals as well as its stubborn stance not to abide by its terms of its surrender in regards to the stolen war loot like Diaoyu Islands.

  • panasian

    For your information, China never has been a Japanese colony. Where did you get this stupid idea? Saying China was a Japanese colony is just like saying that Russia was a German colony because Germans occupied some parts of the Soviet Union during the World War2. On the other hand, Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.

  • topolcats

    That inaccurate purported historical fact is untrue Alex!
    Japan wanted to surrender but it was held up by the USA.
    Also bearing in mind Japan was complete destroyed and under naval blockade. America could have simply starved them to death!

    But when the USSR invaded Manchuria the US had to show the soviets they had a super weapon to test, Moreover Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilian targets…Not Military!…..Why?
    Because America need the Japanese military to run Japan after the war and that is exactly what happened!

  • bombkiller007

    Yes they are. There is a fundamental difference between the Tokko (Kamikaze) and Shaheed (So called suicide bombers). The inculcation, motivation, and targeting methods are completely different. The Shaheed sees it as not a defensive method to protect his homeland on the whole, but as a method to attain Shaheed status. The lure of the 71 virgins and all that. The most telling is the selection of targets: The Kamikaze flew into the most heavily defended Naval fleets in history with nothing but sub-par machines that barely stayed in the air due to dwindling gas (Marianas gas was a substitute but engines performed at 80% power at best), and lack of spare parts. These Kamikaze attacked military targets. The majority of Shaheed from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel during the Intefada 1-3 were against civilian targets. The suicide bombers picked on the defenseless while the Kamikaze flew straight into goliath.

  • neild262196

    I’d gladly rip your stomach open with a chainsaw, and let your guts spill out.

  • benwoodsf5197j

    I want to sever your artery, and rip your heart out

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