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.
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 , but
this number does not include about 400 Army pilots who died in kamikaze attacks
on Allied ships around the Philippines and elsewhere . 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 
(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
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
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
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,
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
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
The museum has a computerized display system with three
monitors to allow visitors to learn more about the history of Special Attack
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:
- have men gather together with eyes closed and have volunteers raise hands
- have men write on paper one of following three options: strongly desire (to
volunteer), desire, or do not desire
- 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
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
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
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.
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.