The Seventh Stone
by Nancy Freedman
Dutton, 1992, 372 pages
The Pacific War shakes the foundations of a strongly
traditional Japanese family in this remarkable novel. The Sanogawa family
becomes engulfed in tragedy after the only son Noboru dies in a kamikaze
suicide attack made in an ohka, a piloted bomb propelled by three rockets and
launched from underneath a "mother" plane. Momoko, Noboru's wife,
struggles with the bonds of tradition, but she finds love again when she
marries Takeo, Noboru's friend who was the only member of his ohka squadron who
survived. They later divorce because of Momoko's not bearing a child, but they
remain in love and continue to meet secretly on Wednesdays for many years.
Momoko bears Noboru's son Akio, who is
born just before her spiteful mother-in-law notifies her of Noboru's death.
Momoko and others consider that Akio must be possessed by an oni
(demon), since he malevolently plots the demise of any person who crosses him.
He becomes a megalomaniac as his economic and political power increase due to
the stunning success of his businesses, but he utterly fails in his personal
relations. Finally, the former ohka pilot Takeo stops him as he hijacks Akio's
private plane with Akio inside, and the man who had faced death many years
before plunges the plane into the sea near Okinawa where he was destined to die
in the war.
Nancy Freedman, author of ten novels, took ten years to write
The Seventh Stone, an intricate story covering four generations and a
half-century up to 1989. She skillfully develops distinct personalities for
each of the fifteen or so major characters, and she depicts the complex
conflicts and strong influences between them. The book demonstrates that the
effects and memories of the war extend many decades beyond its end.
Although Freedman expertly weaves numerous historical events
and Japanese cultural practices into the narrative, she does not succeed in her
depiction of ohka pilots. Late in the war in March 1945, Noboru applies and
undergoes an examination to become a member of an ohka kamikaze unit, and the
military immediately sends him to the front lines to wait to make an ohka
attack. In reality, although most ohka pilots had relatively little flight
training, even those pilots with the least experience had graduated already
from reserve officer training programs or the naval training school before
beginning several weeks of intensive training on how to fly the ohka . Also,
the military did not select someone for an ohka unit if he were an only son or
married , both of which would have disqualified Noboru from joining. Also,
the novel does not realistically represent the postwar attitude of the Japanese
public toward the pilots in the special attack forces who engaged in suicide
attacks. Takeo is described as "venerated" for his being a famed ohka
fighter, and the pilots are said to have returned honor to a defeated country
by their deaths in a cause already lost. The real ohka pilots who survived give
a different story, such as the following one, "It might interest you to
know, if I pointed out, that after the war all of us surviving Special Attack
pilots were not only looked on askance or indifferently, but were also
disparaged by being called 'Special Attack degenerates' and 'those ex-Special
Attack fanatics'" .
The wartime details regarding the ohka and regular kamikaze
pilots contain a number of historical inaccuracies. The author writes that the first
Shinpu (or kamikaze) attack began on March 21, 1945, by the 201st Naval Air
Group, composed of bombers with attached ohka weapons. When Noboru joined the
201st, he flew to Mabalacat in the Philippines to await orders to make an
attack. In actuality, the first kamikaze attacks took place five months before
in October 1944, but the first ohka attacks did occur in March 1945. Pilots in
the renowned 721st Naval Air Group (also known as the Thunder Gods Corps), not
the 201st, flew the ohka weapons. Also, the Allies effectively captured the
Philippines in January 1945, so the Japanese military could not use airfields
there after that time. The first and subsequent planes carrying ohka missiles
did not sortie from Mabalacat but rather from Kyushu, the southernmost main
island of Japan.
This novel has several plot similarities to Kerri Sakamoto's
book, One Hundred Million Hearts. Both novels have two ohka pilots, one
who switches places with the other at the last minute. One pilot dies, and the
other survives. Both books deal extensively with the effects that these pilots'
deaths had on the next generation. Although the two novels have some
resemblances on the surface, they diverge in their portrayals of the ohka
pilots who survived. The surviving pilot in One Hundred Million Hearts
suffers silently from guilt and shame as a failed kamikaze who never completed
his mission of death. In contrast, Takeo goes on to become a highly powerful
official in the Ministry of Finance, and throughout his life he maintains pride
in being an ohka pilot. Takeo, making his final flight with Akio to plunge into
the Okinawan Sea, explains to him that becoming a Special Attacker meant
looking past the war to "give us the courage and pride we needed for a
surrender that would not defeat us" (p. 366).
Although The Seventh Stone contains some inaccuracies
regarding ohka pilots, the novel has a fascinating plot and gives a thoughtful
portrayal of the effects that the death of an ohka pilot had on his family, both at
the time of his death and many years into the future.
1. Naito 1989, 88.
2. Hagoromo Society 1973, 22, 200.
3. Hagoromo Society 1973, 173.
Hagoromo Society of Kamikaze Divine Thunderbolt Corps
Survivors. 1973. The Cherry Blossom Squadrons: Born to Die.
Edited and supplemented by Andrew Adams. Translated by Nobuo
Asahi and the Japan Tech Co. Los Angeles: Ohara Publications.
Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell
Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha