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Naze wakamonotachi wa egao de tobitatte itta no ka (Why did the young men take off with smiling faces?)
by Hatsuyo Torihama
Chichi Shuppansha, 2014, 186 pages

Tome Torihama ran a small restaurant called Tomiya in the town of Chiran, where the Japanese Army had an air base used for special (suicide) attacks in the spring of 1945. Many kamikaze pilots [1] frequented her restaurant as Tome treated them with affection like a mother. In 1980, Hatsuyo Torihama graduated from junior college and started to work in Chiran as a nutritionist in a nursing home for the aged. In 1983, Hatsuyo married Tome's grandson Yoshikiyo and lived together with Tome for four years until she went to a nursing home. Tome passed away in 1992. During those four years together Hatsuyo come to know Tome's personality and to hear her stories about the many kamikaze pilots she knew during the war. She found out that Tome always put priority on other people rather than herself. This book tells about Tome, her family, and the kamikaze pilots who she had met before they went to their death.

In 1995, Hatsuyo become the third proprietress of Tomiya Ryokan, an inn next to Tomiya Restaurant (now Hotaru Museum), in order to continue Tome's legacy. Tome opened Tomiya Ryokan in 1952 for families with sons who had lost their life during the war. Tome's daughter Miako, mother of Hatsuyo's husband Yoshikiyo, was the second proprietress of Tomiya Ryokan, but she passed away in 1974 due to cancer. Tome's other daughter Reiko had moved to Tokyo after the war's end. In 1995, Hatsuyo's husband Yoshikiyo passed away at the age of 39, so she became the person who would continue to tell visitors about Tome and the kamikaze pilots who flew from Chiran Air Base. At that time she struggled over whether she was the appropriate person to continue Tome's legacy, since she had financial and other issues with her husband's death, and she did not immediately want to take on the responsibility of running the inn.

The Prologue tells the story of Katsuo Katsumata, who joked with Tome and others that he had a beneficial name for battle since both his given name and family name contained the kanji (Chinese character) of katsu, which means "win." On May 4, 1945, Katsumata took off from Chiran as part of a special attack squadron and never returned. Chapter 1 tells how Hatsuyo became proprietress of Tomiya Ryokan and explains how she continues Tome's practice of telling visitors to the inn about the kamikaze pilots who Tome met and their desire to protect their nation and family. She is disappointed that many people do not realize that they gave their precious lives to protect their country but instead think that they died uselessly, were victims in the war, or were forced to go on their missions of death to Okinawa. Hatsuyo believes they gave their lives voluntarily in battle for peace and for the survival of their families and the Japanese people. She thinks that their feelings and beliefs can be known from the contents of their last letters even though some say that they were forced to write a certain way or they did not express their true beliefs since the contents would be censored.

Chapter 2 tells the history of the life of Tome, who lived with her husband Yoshitori for about ten years before they became formally a couple due to opposition to the marriage from his family. Like other books about Tome's life, almost no mention is made of their married life. In 1929 at the age of 27, Tome opened Tomiya Restaurant in Chiran. In December 1941, the Tachiarai Army Flight School in Fukuoka Prefecture announced the opening of a branch flight school in Chiran, which gave Tomiya Restaurant much more business, especially after being designated as an eating place for Army personnel. One time Tome was roughed up and questioned by the secret police for having pilots at her restaurant after curfew began. She provided meals and drinks for many kamikaze pilots soon to depart toward Okinawa. She secretly sent letters written by pilots if provided to her to escape the censors. After the war's end, Tome treated occupying American soldiers in Chiran with the same kindness that she had shown to the Japanese pilots. Her petitions to remember the pilots brought about the creation in 1955 of the Special Attack Peace Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) in Chiran. She used to go almost daily to visit in order to burn incense and bring flowers to remember the young pilots who died. She also supported the building of stone lanterns in Chiran, with each lantern to represent one Army airman who died in special attacks from March 1945 at the end of the Pacific War. These lanterns line the streets in Chiran and the road to the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, which opened in 1975.

Miako Torihama (second from left),
Tome Torihama (second from right), and
Shintaro Ishihara, author and politician (far right)

The stories of five kamikaze pilots from Chiran are included in Chapter 3:

  • Fumihiro MItsuyama - Korean pilot who sang Korean song Arirang to Tome on the night before his kamikaze mission on May 11, 1945
  • Saburō Miyagawa - promised Tome that he would return as a firefly after his kamikaze mission on June 6, 1945, and a firefly did appear at 9 p.m. that day at Tomiya Restaurant
  • Toyozō Nakajima - flew from Chiran on June 3, 1945, even though his right arm was injured, and on the evening before went to Tomiya and took bath where Tome cried when she thought of his not being there any more
  • Masaya Abe - first flew from Chiran on April 29, 1945, but was stranded on Kuroshima Island, and after returning by small boat made final sortie on May 4 when he dropped medicine and supplies over Kuroshima before continuing on to Okinawa area for special (suicide) attack
  • Tadamasa Itatsu - took off from Chiran Air Base on May 28, 1945, but crash landed at Tokunoshima, and in 1975 became first director of Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots

The stories about kamikaze pilots and Tome Torihama can also be found in other books about Tome including the two books listed as Sources at the end of this book: Hotaru kaeru (The firefly returns) (2001) by Reiko Akabane (Tome's daughter) and Hiroshi Ishii and Hana no toki wa kanashimi no toki: Chiran tokkō obasan Torihama Tome monogatari (Flower season, a sad season: Story of Tome Torihama, aunt of Chiran's kamikaze pilots) (1992) by Masako Aihoshi.

Tome Torihama with Tadamasa Itatsu,
 first director of Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots

Hatsuyo Torihama never answers or directly addresses the question in the book's title: Naze wakamonotachi wa egao de tobitatte itta no ka (Why did the young men take off with smiling faces?). Based on the book's content, it might be more appropriately titled Guidance for Today from Tome Torihama's Life and Her Experiences with Tokkō (Special Attack) Pilots. Hatsuyo believes that her life, philosophy, and sayings can provide guidance for persons who live in today's world. Some of Tome's sayings that Hatsuyo presents in Chapter 4 include the following:

  • "Desire only good things. Surely good things will come."
  • "A person should not live and judge by appearances."
  • "Every person is born good."
  • "There are things more important than life. That is keeping one's goodness."
  • "Since I received life from these youths [pilots], in this way it allowed me to live long."

The final chapter presents more lessons that can be learned from Tome Torihama's life with emphasis on how she had a simple lifestyle where she treated others like family especially when they were in a difficult situation such as the kamikaze pilots before they departed Chiran. A puzzling section in Chapter 5 describes that many residents of Chiran Town did not think good about Tome even after she became famous throughout Japan. Hatsuyo does not say what were the specific allegations against her, and she just has some speculations as to why people may have felt that way.

Hatsuyo Torihama, proprietress of Tomiya Ryokan,
with Bill Gordon, creator of Kamikaze Images web site
(June 2004)

Hatsuyo Torihama provides a unique perspective by her living with Tome Torihama for four years and not knowing her prior to meeting her husband. Although mostly told before by others, Hatsuyo's stories both in this book and in her talks to Tomiya Ryokan visitors add to Tome's legend, which already reached a high level with the release of two movies about her relationships with kamikaze pilots: Hotaru (Firefly) in 2001 and Ore wa kimi no tame ni koso shini ni iku (I go to die for you, English title: For Those We Love) in 2007.


1. The word kamikaze was not used by the Japanese Army to refer to pilots who carried out special (suicide) attacks. The Japanese Navy had the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps. This review uses the word kamikaze to describe the Army pilots who went on suicide attacks, since this is the common name used outside Japan for both Japanese Navy and Army airmen in the Special Attack Corps.