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Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots

Chiran, which served as the main special (suicide) attack sortie base for Japanese Army attacks on Allied ships around Okinawa, has become the principal place that Japanese people associate with kamikaze pilots even though the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps was part of the Japanese Navy rather than Army. The Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots opened in 1975 on the site of the former Chiran Army Air Base, and enlargement of the museum building to 17 thousand sq. ft. was completed in 1986. The Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots was known as Chiran Tokkō Ihinkan (Chiran Special Attack Items Museum) from 1975 until opening of the new building in 1986. Chiran also has several statues and memorials related to Special Attack Corps pilots, and stone lanterns dedicated to the pilots line the town's main street and the road leading to the museum.

Many tour buses, especially with school children and retired people, stop at Chiran Peace Museum, which displays about 4,500 photos, final letters, and articles left behind by Special Attack Corps pilots. The museum's exhibits on Special Attack Corps pilots are the most extensive of any museum in Japan. The display cases, lighting, and spacing in the museum's four large exhibition rooms make it easy for visitors to view the exhibits. The museum displays four aircraft: Hayabusa (Army Type 1 Fighter), Hien (Army Type 3 Fighter), Hayate (Army Type 4 Fighter), and the wreckage of a Navy Zero fighter. These plane types were used in suicide attacks on Allied ships near Okinawa.

A museum guide gives a 30-minute talk at scheduled times each day in the main exhibition room with the pilot photos and letters. The guide mentions in his talk that over 2,000 people per day on average visit the museum. Several Japanese films that feature Chiran have contributed to the museum's popularity as a tourist destination. For example, the movie Hotaru (The Firefly), released in 2001, is a story about Special Attack Corps pilots at Chiran, and several scenes from the movie were shot in the town. Shintarō Ishihara, novelist and Tōkyō Governor, produced a popular film in 2007 entitled Ore wa kimi no tame ni koso shini ni iku (I go to die for you) about Chiran's pilots based on stories from Tome Torihama, who ran Chiran's Tomiya Restaurant, frequented by many pilots during the war. A screen in the entrance hall has continuous showings of a 15-minute program about the movie including Tome Torihama's story and Chiran's history.

The key figure in the opening and growth of Chiran Peace Museum was Tadamasa Itatsu, who was a Sergeant in the Army's 213th Shinbu Special Attack Squadron. He took off from Chiran Air Base toward Okinawa on May 28, 1945, to make an attack on the Allied fleet, but he had to make a forced landing on the island of Tokunoshima when his plane's engine developed problems. He returned to Chiran and received orders twice more for special attacks, but they were cancelled due to rain. After the war's end, he returned to his home in Nagoya and worked for Nagoya City Hall. In 1974, after he attended a memorial service in Chiran Town, he started to try to obtain materials and verify facts about Army Air Special Attack Corps members such as photographs, last writings, and details about how they died in battle in order to understand accurately their deaths and to tell future generations the facts regarding this page in history. Because almost 30 years had passed since the Pacific War, he had great difficulties in contacting bereaved families with only the addresses that he had obtained from a listing prepared in 1953 by the government agency for demobilization. In 1979, he left his job with several years remaining until retirement in order to dedicate himself totally to the task of gathering information and historical artifacts related to the Army Air Special Attack Corps. He visited over 600 bereaved families and donated the many writings, photographs, and other items that he received to the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, where he served as Director from 1984 to 1988 during a period when the number of visitors doubled to about 400,000. [1]

Type 4 Hayate Fighter

 

The museum's name and exhibits lead visitors to a misunderstanding of the facts regarding Japan's aerial suicide attack operations. The museum's English name includes "Kamikaze Pilots," so visitors with no previous knowledge of kamikaze history assume the museum will include history and exhibits related to all kamikaze pilots. However, the museum exhibits almost exclusively relate to Special Attack Corps pilots in the Army, and exhibit explanations do not mention that over 60 percent of the Special Attack Corps pilots came from the Navy. The exhibits say that 1,036 kamikaze pilots died [2], but this number does not include about 400 Army pilots who died in kamikaze attacks on Allied ships around the Philippines and elsewhere [3]. The figure of 1,036 includes only Army airmen who died in attacks around Okinawa, starting on March 26, 1945. Not all of the 1,036 airmen made plane attacks on Allied ships. The total includes 88 paratroopers and the unit's pilots who made a suicide attack against Yontan Airfield in Okinawa in May 1945 to destroy American aircraft on the ground (O'Neill 1999, 234-5; Tokkōtai Senbotsusha 1990, 300-3).

Although Chiran served as the Army's main air base for special attacks on ships near Okinawa, several other bases were used in the attacks. The museum displays a table that summarizes the sortie bases for the 1,036 Army airmen who died in special attacks: Chiran (439 men), Taiwan [4] (135), Kengun (128), Bansei (120), Miyakonojō (83), and others (131). Chiran's number of 439 displayed at the museum is actually less, since it includes pilots who made sorties from Chiran's two forward bases at Kikaijima (23 pilots) and Tokunoshima (14 pilots) (Chiran Tokkō 2005, 69).

The main exhibition hall has individual photos of the 1,036 Army Special Attack Corps pilots. These photos are arranged by date of death and include each pilot's name, squadron, home prefecture, age at death, and date of death. The back wall of the main hall has group photos of many Shinbu Special Attack squadrons. The main exhibition hall has numerous letters and other writings, both originals and copies, in 25 glass display cases and almost 200 pull-out drawers at the bottom part of 16 vertical display cases. The museum also provides three large books of about 120 writings in total with pilot photographs and biographical information where visitors can sit down and read them.

Entrance to Chiran Peace Museum
for Kamikaze Pilots

 

In 2008, the museum added a touch-panel display system in both Japanese and English for a large selection of the kamikaze pilots' writings on display. The main exhibition room has five screens where visitors can view an image of the original writing along with either an English translation or a typed Japanese version showing pronunciation of kanji characters. The system provides basic biographical information about the writer and indicates where the writing is located in the main exhibition room. The system classifies the 123 writings into the following categories in English (number of writings shown in parentheses): wills and letters (50), deathbed poems (36), essays kamikaze pilots left before death (26), and writings kamikaze pilots left before death (11). The "essays" section is a mistranslation of the Japanese word zeppitsu, which means pieces of writing of any length. For example, one "essay" written by a pilot only has two Japanese characters meaning "certain death." Although the English translations of the writings have some shortcomings, this addition of both English translations and typed Japanese versions with pronunciations greatly increased the accessibility of writings displayed at the museum.

The other three exhibition rooms have less organization and many more miscellaneous items than the main hall. For instance, the back exhibition room includes an assortment of both Army and Navy uniforms and numerous miscellaneous wartime items not directly connected to Special Attack Corps pilots. Other than brief historical summaries at the beginning of the main exhibition hall, the rest of the museum usually just shows photos and items with brief labels rather than providing historical background information. The Multipurpose Exhibition Room has temporary exhibits. In 2019, the final writings of eight Army Special Attack Corps members were in separate display cases with each one showing the original writing, typed writing with pronunciation of Japanese characters, an English translation, and a photograph with basic biographical information in Japanese and English. These included writings of Toshio Anazawa, Mitsuharu Gotō, Hirohiko Ikoma, Yoshio Itsui, Masanobu Kuno, Seiichi Shiojima, Kunihiko Suzuki, and Fujio Wakamatsu. In 2018, this room included similar exhibits of the writings of eight more pilots, but these were removed to allow space for the display of the diary by Sergeant Major Shinpei Satō, which does not have any English translation that is provided.

A 30-minute film entitled Tokkōtaiin no kokoro ni manabu (Learning from kamikaze pilots' hearts), mainly about the Special Attack Corps pilots' final letters and poems, is shown at several times each day in the museum's auditorium. This film and another two films shown at the museum effectively supplement the displays. A continuously running five-minute film with several museum photos and wartime film clips tells the general history of the pilots and Chiran Air Base. A 20-minute film features Tome Torihama, who owned Tomiya Restaurant in Chiran Town, giving her remembrances of several pilots. Tome's daughter Reiko and two women who ran inns in Chiran during the war also talk about the young pilots.

Type 1 Hayabusa Fighter on display outside museum. Used in filming of Ore wa kimi no tame ni koso shini ni iku (I go to die for you).

 

The museum's photos, exhibits, films, and 30-minute presentation by a guide present a very positive image of Special Attack Corps pilots as brave young men with great patriotism and love for their families. The museum portrays the pilots as willingly giving their lives for their country and their families to establish peace and prosperity for Japan. The English brochure explains that this peace museum was "built to commemorate the pilots and expose the tragic loss of their lives so that we may understand the need for everlasting peace and ensure such incidents are never repeated."

Although there are almost no English translations in the display areas, the museum offers an audio guide program in English, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese for 200 yen with 34 segments in order to view the museum's highlights while listening to the stories and history behind the exhibits. The audio guide includes the following 11 letters written by Special Attack Corps pilots (guide states pilot ranks based on two-rank promotions for commissioned officers and promotion to Second Lieutenant for noncommissioned officers given by Army after deaths in special attacks): Captain Toshio Anazawa, Captain Kanji Eda, Major Hajime Fujii, Captain Mitsuharu Gotō, Lieutenant Colonel Yoshio Itsui, Second Lieutenant Torao Katō, Lieutenant Colonel Masanobu Kuno, Captain Hiroshi Maeda, Captain Minoru Nakamura, Major Toru Shinomiya, and Second Lieutenant Fujio Wakamatsu. The guide includes brief passages from these letters such as the following excerpt from Toshio Anazawa's letter to his fiancée Chieko: "As the man who was engaged to marry you, as a young man about to vanish, I want to say a little to the woman you are before I leave. I have nothing more than wishes for your happiness. Let go of past injustices. You are not to live in the past. Be courageous and forget the past, and you will soon discover a new way of life. From now on you are to live in the present moment. Anazawa does not exist in the physical world any more." Second Lieutenant Fujio Wakamatsu wrote the following letter on the day before his sortie from Chiran Air Base: "Mother, I have nothing to say now. In my last moment and as my first act of filial piety, I will smile and conquer. With dry eyes and knowing that I have done well, please offer some rice dumplings at our Buddhist mortuary tablet. Please think of the figure there as Fujio. Give my best to Older Brother, Older Sister, and Kazumi. Please look at this hectically written letter. Please give my regards to the whole neighborhood. Mother, Fujio will smile and came in triumph. Take care. Farewell."

The museum's audio guide states that Japan's purpose for the Greater East Asian War was "liberation and prosperity for Asian countries," which is a belief that over the years has generated much controversy among people outside Japan who speak Chinese, Korean, or English. A couple of segments on the audio guide describe Korean pilots (Second Lieutenant Shigeru Katō and Captain Fumihiro Mitsuyama) who were two of the 11 Korean pilots out of the 1,036 Army pilots who died in special attacks. Other audio guide sections cover various topics such as different types of Army planes used for special attacks, the layout of Chiran Air Base, Captain Masaya Abe's forced landing at Kuroshima Island and his return by small boat to the mainland, the photo of the cheerful 72nd Shinbu Squadron with five pilots aged 17 to 19 around a puppy, Mount Kaimon as the last thing that pilots saw on the way to Okinawa, Captain Masaharu Takano who grew up as an American living in Hawaii, the Giretsu Air Airborne Special Forces attacks on Yontan and Kadena Airfields at Okinawa, the shin'yō motorboat for use in a suicide attack against a ship, the triangular barrack replica just outside the museum building, and the Tokkō Peace Kannon.

In 2014 and again in 2015, Minamikyūshū City submitted an application of 333 last writings and other items at the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots for acceptance to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, which caused negative reaction in the foreign press. USA Today reported, "In neighboring China and South Korea, the kamikaze letter nomination was denounced as part of an effort by right-wing agents to portray Japan as a victim of the war, rather than a perpetrator" (Spitzer 2014). The Japanese government subcommittee that performs preliminary evaluations of UNESCO documentary heritage program submissions rejected the one for the Chiran Peace Museum's writings for several reasons, including that they were explained from only a Japanese viewpoint and that it was desired that their worldwide significance be explained from more diverse perspectives. Also, the application needed strengthening in its explanations of "completeness" and "uniqueness" of Chiran's writings, and it was limited to special attacks only during the Battle of Okinawa with no explanation (Monbukagakushō 2014).

Since 2004, the museum has added a small number of exhibits that mention Navy Kamikaze Corps pilots but does not provide with them any historical background of the Navy's Kamikaze Corps operations. The museum displays large and small replicas of Navy shin'yō explosive motorboats. In the smaller display room behind the main display hall with photos and letters, there are two exhibits related to Navy Kamikaze Corps pilots who came from the local area. One exhibit lists brief biographical information of 73 Navy kamikaze pilots from Kagoshima Prefecture who died in battle, but only about a third of these pilots have photos. The other exhibit shows larger photos and provides detailed biographical information of 20 Navy kamikaze pilots from Kawanabe-gun (where Chiran is located) and Ibusuki-gun. In the same area as these two exhibits, there are also some hachimaki (headbands) with the two Japanese characters for "kamikaze." Army suicide pilots who died during the Battle of Okinawa generally belonged to units called Shinbu (meaning "military might" in Japanese) instead of "kamikaze."

The museum has a computerized display system with three monitors to allow visitors to learn more about the history of Special Attack Corps operations. A narrator reads the explanations shown on some screens, but the low volume makes it difficult to hear, especially when noisy tour groups enter the museum. This plus the limited time allowed by most groups to tour the museum probably explain the infrequent use of the computer system by visitors. The system has a touch-button menu system allowing visitors to view a museum map and choose a museum section to get a brief description and photos. The computer system also has search capabilities, where a visitor can choose a pilot's prefecture, city, and name to get complete information about the pilot, including photo (and where displayed at museum), rank, plane type used in attack, date of death, and age at death.

The computer system can provide visitors much information if they spend time to go through its many screens. For example, one screen explains how Army officers used three methods to get volunteers for special attack corps to be used in suicide attacks:

  1. have men gather together with eyes closed and have volunteers raise hands
  2. have men write on paper one of following three options: strongly desire (to volunteer), desire, or do not desire
  3. have men line up in row and then have volunteers step forward

Although many computer system screens have interesting information or helpful historical summaries, a few screens go to great length to not mention the Navy's role in Special Attack Corps operations. For example, the system's explanation of the founding of the Kamikaze Corps does not credit the Navy, only saying that the Japanese military initiated special attacks in the Philippines in October 1944.

The former Chiran Town, 34 km (21 miles) to the southwest of Kagoshima City, became part of Minamikyūshū City in December 2007 when it merged with neighboring towns. Chiran can be reached by bus with a stop at the entrance road to the museum. Admission to the museum costs 500 yen. Museum displays, except the touch-panel display system of Special Attack Corp pilots' writings, generally are in Japanese. The museum has a free 22-page English booklet with many photos. Also, the museum published a 75-page book in English entitled The Mind of the Kamikaze, which contains a brief history and selections of writings displayed at the museum. This English book costs only 500 yen. The book's author works on the museum's staff and also provided the English translations in the touch-panel display system of kamikaze pilots' writings. The museum store sells a variety of souvenir items and about 20 books related to the Special Attack Corps, most about Chiran. Since 1989, many visitors have purchased the book Chiran tokubetsu kōgekitai (Chiran special attack forces) with its many photographs and pilot writings. Most of the book's writings by 36 pilots after being named to the Special Attack Corps are short, but the first one is a 13-page diary entitled Ryūkonroku (Record of Everlasting Spirit) by Sergeant Major Shinpei Satō.

The museum's web site in Japanese and English has about ten pages with many photos that give an overview of the museum's history and exhibits.

Date of most recent visit: September 8, 2019

Notes

1. The following sources were used for this paragraph: Asahi Shimbun Seibu Honsha 1990, 119-21; Itatsu 1979, 292-3; Itatsu Jii-chan Ganba no Kai 2019; Seaton 2018, 8.

2. One of the detail pages of Chiran Peace Museum's computerized display system indicates that the source for the 1,036 total is the book Tokkō Kōgekitai (Special Attack Operations) by the Tokkōtai Irei Junshōkai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Memorial Association) with no date. This figure could not be located in the latest edition (published 1990) of the book by the Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyoukai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). [Note: The name of the organization was changed.] Based on the detail information on pages 264-295 and 300-303 of the 1990 edition, the total of Army special attack corps soldiers who perished in Okinawa is 1,019. However, it is difficult to compare this to the number provided by the Chiran Peace Museum, since the reference on the museum's system does not have a publication date and page.

3. Figure from museum source described in Note 2.

4. There were several Army air bases located in Taiwan.

Sources Cited

Asahi Shimbun Seibu Honsha. 1990. Sora no kanata ni (To distant skies). Fukuoka: Ashishobō.

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.

Itatsu, Tadamasa. 1979. "Tokkō • junreikō" (Going on special attack pilgrimage). In Ichioku nin no shōwa shi (Nihon no senshi 4): Tokubetsu kōgekitai (Shōwa history of 100 million people (Japan's war history, Volume 4): Special Attack Corps), edited by Kikuo Makino, 292-3. Tōkyō: Mainichi Shinbunsha.

Itatsu Jii-chan Ganba no Kai. "Itatsu Tadamasa-shi no kore made no keireki" (Tadamasa Itatsu's personal history to date). Last updated February 19, 2019.  <http://www.itatsutadamasa.jp/profile/profile.html> (February 28, 2019).

Monbukagakushō (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). 2014. "'Yunesuko kioku isan kigyō' no heisei 26nen no shinsa ni fusuru anken no sentei ni tsuite – dai 128 kai bunka katsudō shōiinkai no shingi kekka" (UNESCO Documentary Heritage Program 2014 topic selections for judging: 128th Cultural Activities Subcommittee session results). June 12. <http://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/houdou/26/06/1348757.htm> (February 13, 2019).

O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II Special Operations. Originally published in 1981. London: Salamander Books.

Seaton, Philip. 2018. "Kamikaze Museums and Contents Tourism." Journal of War & Culture Studies: 1-18. doi:10.1080/17526272.2018.1424432.

Spitzer, Kirk. 2014. "Japan city wants kamikaze letters in historical register." USA Today, June 5. <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/06/05/kamikaze-letters-japan/10003139/> (March 14, 2019).

Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai (Tokkōtai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association). 1990. Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (Special Attack Corps). Tōkyō: Tokkōtai Senbotsusha Irei Heiwa Kinen Kyōkai.