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Portrait of Shigeo Imamura as Naval Cadet
(November 1943)

Books - Personal Narratives

Books written by former members of Japan's special attack corps provide readers great insight into the soldiers' motivations, feelings, and opinions. General books and film documentaries about Japan's kamikaze attacks often try to speculate on how pilots felt before making attacks that would lead to certain death, but personal narratives give much more insight into the thinking of individual pilots and the men assigned with them to go on missions of death. The authors of the five books examined in this section wrote their stories several years after the actual experiences, so some specific details may have been difficult to remember. Since they had many years to reflect on their actions and experiences, there may have been a tendency to try to justify, hide, or alter some incidents when preparing a written record. However, the five personal narratives reviewed on this web site generally appear to be sincere attempts to present accurately the authors' wartime experiences.

The personal narratives include The Divine Wind, the most influential book on kamikaze history both inside and outside Japan. In 1951, two Imperial Japanese Navy officers published in Japanese their firsthand account of the Navy's kamikaze operations, and the U.S. Naval Institute published an abridged English version in a journal article in 1953 and the full translation in a book in 1958. The authors are Captain Rikihei Inoguchi, who served as senior staff officer to the vice admiral who initiated Japan's kamikaze attacks in October 1944, and Commander Tadashi Nakajima, who worked as flight operations officer for the air group from which the first kamikaze special attack corps was formed. Authors of most other books on Japan's kamikaze history usually use The Divine Wind as one of their key sources.

I Attacked Pearl Harbor is an English translation of the Japanese memoirs of Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, America's first POW in WWII when he was captured after his midget submarine got stuck on a coral reef. The book covers not only his training and the attack at Pearl Harbor but also his four years in POW camps and his return to Japan after the war.

Kamikaze Submarine weaves together Yutaka Yokota's exciting personal experiences with the complete history of the Navy's kaiten, manned torpedoes launched from submarines. Yokota joined the kaiten program in its early stages and went out on three unsuccessful missions to steer his explosive kaiten into an enemy ship.

Requiem for Battleship Yamato gives Ensign Yoshida's account of this great battleship's suicidal final mission and his unexpected survival. Yoshida, an assistant radar officer on Yamato, was rescued by an escort destroyer after witnessing the famous battleship's sinking, which resulted in over three thousand men dead.

Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze by Shigeo Imamura is an excellent autobiography written almost fifty year after the end of the war. The book does not try to cover the entire history of the kamikaze special attack forces but rather focuses on the personal experiences of the author in the military and in the kamikaze corps. He starts his account with his childhood experiences, so readers can better understand his actions and feelings when he became a young man in the Japanese Navy. This book not only relate personal incidents but also provides insights into the personalities and feelings of others with whom he served in the military.

In I Was a Kamikaze, author Ryuji Nagatsuka recounts his fears and inner struggles as he faced impending death. This author's contemplation of death has a philosophical tone, but at times he seems to be looking back on past events rather than describing his feelings and opinions during the war.

Since its publication in 1957, Kamikaze by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred has been considered to be a personal narrative of Kuwahara's experiences in the Japanese Army, including his serving as an escort pilot for kamikaze squadrons and being assigned to a kamikaze mission. However, the article Ten Historical Discrepancies (October 2006) discusses significant inconsistencies between the book's contents and historical facts. This article concludes that the Kuwahara most likely never flew as an Army pilot, so this web site now classifies the book as fiction rather a personal narrative.

Some of these personal narratives have had a significant influence on how foreigners view kamikaze pilots. Since the publication of The Divine Wind in the 1950s, it has exerted a very strong effect on subsequent writings and documentaries. This book is an essential primary source for understanding the motivations and feelings of the military leaders involved in the formation of the first kamikaze corps in the Philippines in October 1944, and the book's two authors also provide many personal observations and stories about the young men who served as kamikaze pilots. I Attacked Pearl Harbor by Kazuo Sakamaki sparked interest when published in the US in 1949, but it was never reprinted so has had almost no influence in recent years. Kamikaze by Kuwahara and Kamikaze Submarine by Yokota were published in 1957 and 1962, respectively, and both of these paperback books reached a wide audience through several reprints over many years. Although Requiem for Battleship Yamato has become a minor classic of wartime literature in Japan since its publication there in 1952, the English translation did not get published until 1985, and the book's publication by an academic press probably means its distribution has been much less than the paperbacks by Kuwahara and Yokota. I Was a Kamikaze by Nagatsuka was first published in France in 1972, and the English translation came out the following year, but it appears to not have had as much influence as the other books. Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze came out in 2001, three years after the author's death. This memoir by Shigeo Imamura has been available only at a private web site through 2004 and appears to have had limited distribution and influence.

Personal narratives written many years after the actual events have some limitations when compared to contemporary writings by kamikaze pilots during the war. However, personal narratives have a definite advantage in regards to no restrictions being placed on their contents, whereas letters and diaries written by pilots during the war were generally subjected to military censorship. Discovery of secret letters or diaries criticizing the war, military, or specific orders would have resulted in extreme punishment by military leaders. The personal narratives in this section provide many details of the harsh physical punishment inflicted on soldiers by their leaders. Also, the freedom of a personal narrative allows the author to freely describe the actions and words of their leaders. For example, The Divine Wind (1958, 180) includes the following quotation from Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi, who organized the first kamikaze unit, "We will tolerate no criticism of any kind of the operations that are about to be undertaken. . . . Stern discipline will be meted out to anyone who criticizes orders or neglects to carry them out. In flagrant cases there will be no hesitancy about exacting the extreme penalty." Such honest reporting of a superior's words would never have been tolerated during the war.

Source Cited

Inoguchi, Rikihei, Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau. 1958. The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.