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Yuki wa jūnanasai tokkō de shinda (Yuki died at 17 in a kamikaze attack)
by Tsuneyuki Mōri
Popurasha, 2004, 286 pages

A photograph of five smiling pilots gathered around a puppy has become the most famous Japanese image of kamikaze pilots. Several Japanese museums with kamikaze exhibits prominently display an enlarged copy of this photo, and a number of Japanese books include this photo. The web site of the Tokkōtai (Special Attack Forces) Commemoration Peace Memorial Association has this photo on its top page. The photo's five kamikaze pilots, part of the Army's 72nd Shinbu Squadron, took off to make an attack on the American fleet near Okinawa on May 27, 1945. Corporal Yukio Araki, the pilot in the middle holding the puppy, died in a kamikaze attack at the age of 17 years and 2 months on the day after this photograph was taken. Yuki wa jūnanasai tokkō de shinda (Yuki died at 17 in a kamikaze attack) tells the story of the life and death of Yukio Araki, nicknamed Yuki. In addition to being a biography, the author spends many pages telling how he carried out his research to learn about the history of this famous kamikaze pilot. ōū

Tsuneyuki Mōri has written three novels on kamikaze: Gekkō no natsu (Summer of the moonlight sonata) (1995), Gekkō no umi (Moonlit sea) (2001), and Seiten no hoshi (Stars in the blue sky) (2003). Yuki wa jūnanasai tokkō de shinda (Yuki died at 17 in a kamikaze attack) is his first nonfiction book on kamikaze, although the other three books can be best described as documentary novels since they contain much historical background based on in-depth research. These four books, together with his 1993 movie Gekkō no natsu (Summer of the moonlight sonata), have earned Mōri the reputation in Japan as today's most influential writer about kamikaze.

Yukio Araki grew up in the small city of Kiryū in Gunma Prefecture, and as a child he loved model airplanes and won first prize in a contest to keep a model plane aloft for the longest time. He volunteered for the Army's Youth Pilot Training Program at the age of 15. In September 1943, he went to Tachiarai Air Base in Fukuoka Prefecture for six months of basic training, and at graduation he received the highest award for outstanding achievement, skill, and attitude. After graduation, he transferred to nearby Metabaru Air Base in Saga Prefecture for a couple of months of flight training, and he then went to Pyongyang, Korea, in May 1944 for training in a squadron assigned to fly Army Type 99 assault planes (Mitsubishi K-51s).

In about February 1945, all men in Araki's 23rd Rensei Flight Squadron in Pyongyang volunteered to make suicide attacks. In the latter part of March, the men flew to Kakamigahara Air Base in Gifu Prefecture so their Type 99 assault planes could be outfitted for kamikaze attacks. During this stay at Kakamigahara, Araki's unit was renamed the 72nd Shinbu Squadron, and Araki had the opportunity on April 5 to take the train to Gifu Prefecture for a final overnight visit to his family. Although details related to his joining the Army's special attack corps and its plans for suicide attacks were supposed to be secret, his older brother and probably his parents guessed by his words that this would be his last visit. He gave three separate letters to his parents, older brother, and three younger brothers to be opened after announcement of his death. After Yukio returned to Gifu Prefecture, his older brother came alone to the air base there to visit him one last time.

After the Type 99 assault planes had been converted for suicide attacks, the twelve young men of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron returned to Korea to wait for orders. On April 21, 1945, they received orders to proceed to Nanking, China, probably due to confusion in the military command at the time. One pilot lost his life and another was injured in China when American P-51 fighters attacked them. Orders came on May 5 to proceed back north to Metabaru Air Base in Saga Prefecture (where Araki had flight training in 1944), so the ten remaining pilots returned first to Pyongyang to make the planes ready. On May 17, they reached Metabaru to await further orders.

On May 25, the 72nd Shinbu Squadron flew from Metabaru to the Army's secret Bansei Air Base, located at the southern tip of Kyūshū, Japan's southernmost main island. On May 26, a photographer from the Asahi Shimbun took the now famous photo of Araki holding a puppy with four other members of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron around him. In the early morning of May 27, Araki wrote his last letter to his family, and soon after the ten planes took off from Bansei but one developed engine trouble so the pilot had to return. Six of the nine members of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron who continued on toward Okinawa were teenagers. That day the Japanese Navy and Army sent 175 kamikaze planes in total against Allied ships off Okinawa. Based on Mōri's research of U.S. Navy records and examination of photographs, he concludes that two Type 99 assault planes of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron caused damage to the destroyer Braine, which lost 66 men killed and 78 men wounded (Warner 1982, 259-60).

Based on this book, Yukio Araki always displayed an excellent attitude toward his family, friends, and Army superiors, and he selflessly volunteered to die in defense of his country and loved ones. The author portrays him as a role model for today's Japanese youth. The book does not mention any of Araki's conflicts, and he quickly overcame his one setback of failing the examination to get into the Navy's Flight Training School by instead getting into the Army's Youth Pilot Training School. This lack of struggle and conflict by the book's main character and the fact that the reader knows at the book's beginning how his life will end can make this book slow-moving at times.

Mōri did very thorough and extensive research in order to write this biography of Yukio Araki. Not only did Mōri use many written references as evidenced in the two-page bibliography, he also personally interviewed several people who knew Araki. Yukio's older brother Seiichi provided by far the most information, including Yukio's diary and letters written while in the Army. Mōri also visited the key places in Araki's life, including Kiryū, Tachiarai, Metabaru, and Bansei. For example, he visited the Bansei Tokkō Peace Museum, which displays letters and other items of the kamikaze pilots who made sorties from Bansei Air Base. He went with the museum director to the location of the former air base to look at the exact location of the runway, now a road, where Araki and the other members of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron took off toward Okinawa.

Although this book concentrates on Araki's life and death, from beginning to end Mōri weaves in numerous details about his investigation and includes his personal feelings toward Araki's life. He also mentions his previous three novels on kamikaze several times, but he does not do this in a self-serving manner but rather tries to relate only relevant parts from these novels to Araki's life. The book also contains valuable historical background information related to kamikaze attacks and the Army's flight training schools.

Mako Sasaki (1999), as a high school student during the 1994/5 academic year, wrote the award-winning essay entitled "Who Became Kamikaze Pilots, and How Did They Feel Towards Their Suicide Mission?" Her research focused on the 72nd Shinbu Squadron and especially on the life of Yukio Araki. In the same way as Mōri, she interviewed Yukio's older brother Seiichi several times and examined Yukio's diary entries and letters as part of her research. She explains that Yukio's diary and letters rarely had expressions of personal emotions since the military checked all writings.

This well-documented book presents the personal side of one the most famous kamikaze pilots in Japan, but ultimately readers may wonder whether they really know much about Araki's personality. He did not disclose his personal conflicts and doubts in his diary or letters, and the personal incidents related in the book also do not reveal much of his motivations. Despite these difficulties in getting insight into his thinking, Mōri has written an excellent biography that weaves his personal feelings as the author and his numerous steps as a researcher together with the story of Yukio Araki's life and death.

Sources Cited

Sasaki, Mako. 1999. Who Became Kamikaze Pilots and How Did They Feel Towards Their Suicide Mission? <http://www.tcr.org/tcr/essays/EPrize_Kamikaze.pdf> (May 8, 2005). Originally published in The Concord Review 7 (Fall 1996):175-209.

Warner, Denis, Peggy Warner, with Commander Sadao Seno. 1982. The Sacred Warriors: Japan's Suicide Legions. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.