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Toshio Shimao Literature Monument

Toshio Shimao Literature Monument
Setouchi Town, Kagoshima Prefecture

Toshio Shimao was Commander of the Navy's 18th Shinyō Special Attack Squadron, which had 52 one-man Model 1 shinyō motorboats loaded with explosives in the bow. The pilots of these boats expected to carry out special (suicide) attacks by crashing into enemy ships as they neared the shore. After the end of the Pacific War, Shimao became an accomplished writer whose novels and fictional stories, including those about his tokkōtai (special attack corps) experiences, received many literary awards.

The base for the 18th Shinyō Squadron was established in November 1944 at the inlet of Nominoura on Kakeroma Island (Kakeromajima) just south of Amami Ōshima. Toshio Shimao had a romantic relationship with an elementary school teacher named Miho who lived in the nearby village of Oshikaku on Kakeromajima, and they got married in the year after the war's end.

In 1988, a monument in remembrance of Toshio Shimao and his literary works was erected at the site of the former shinyō boat base on Kakeromajima. The left-hand plaque has the following inscription on the side facing the monument:

Monument's Intent

This location of Nominoura encountered Toshio Shimao in November 1944. Shimao led 183 men of the 18th Shinyō Squadron. The inlet of Nominoura was deep, and he landed here to construct a base. As Shinyō Special Attack Squadron Commander, he had responsibility for his men's lives as to when they might be given up, and he lived day after day working hard in preparation for death. When he met Miho Ōhira, who was working at Oshikaku National School, even during such a wartime situation, from time to time he could spend a peaceful day when he visited her. With Shimao's special attack sortie, the youths of these two persons were expected to be lost at this place, but they got unexpected life due to losing the war.

After the war, Shimao's work left behind for literary history could not ever have been told without his experiences here. As we remember the second anniversary of Toshio Shimao's death, we erect the Literature Monument at Nominoura, a place connected to his literary works, in order to commend his achievements and to memorialize these.

December 4, 1988
Toshio Shimao Literature Monument Erection Committee

The right-hand plaque has engraved on front the words "Toshio Shimao Literature Monument" with the following biographical information about the author on the back:

About Toshio Shimao

Born in Yokohama in 1917. During summers of his youth, often spent time at his parents' hometown of Sōma in Fukushima Prefecture. In September 1943, graduated from Kyūshū Imperial University with concentration in Asian History. Became Navy Yobi Gakusei (Reserve Student). Next year was appointed Commander of 18th Shinyō Special Attack Squadron. Constructed base at Nominoura, and waited for sortie (death). In these circumstances met Miho Ōhira of Oshikaku, and life and love burned brightly. War ended without sortie by shinyō squadron. It is said that his experiences here were the foundation of his literature. Married with Miho at Kōbe in 1946. Their children Shinzō and Maya were born. They continued to move residences throughout their lives as people who seemed to be on a journey, but for twenty years from 1955 to 1975 they lived in Naze [largest city on Amami Ōshima at time]. Besides novels such as Shi no toge (The sting of death), which recorded love's heights of ferocity, many works were published such as poems, essays, interviews, cultural studies from an historian's viewpoint, and Theory of Yaponesia. Art Academy member. Received nearly all distinguished author awards such as 1st Postwar Literature Prize, Ministry of Education Art Award, Japan Literature Grand Prize, Junichirō Tanizaki Prize, Yasunari Kawabata Literary Prize, Noma Literary Prize, and prizes from many newspaper companies. He had hopes for a large work that would open up a new path, but these hopes were cut short by his sudden death in Kagoshima City in November 1986. Now he sleeps in Sōma in Fukushima Prefecture.

The front of the left-hand plaque has the following tribute to Toshio Shimao:

Mr. Shimao, Your Voice
by Kunio Yamakawa

You were a gentle person. As you smiled and mixed in humor, you were considerate to others in trying to understand their viewpoints. I about forgot that you spoke so forthrightly. You were a person who once was plunged into a harsh maelstrom, and even now that maelstrom is moving for your friends. Therefore, after I met you, I read again several of your novels. I became fascinated and absorbed in them, and when for some time I was pursuing this literature, your experiences seemed to become my experiences. While the contents generally were natural, mysteriously there also were parts where my heart ached. However, what remained after finishing reading was that gentle way of telling the story. Whatever tormented me, it seems to have made me calm. It was your voice.

Shinyō motorboat replica in one of wartime
storage tunnels that remain at Nominoura

Around the Toshio Shimao Monument there are five plaques slanted diagonally near the ground that show excerpts from Shimao's fictional stories. Each story relates to his experiences on the island of Kakeromajima. The following plaque translation is the beginning of a story published in 1948.

Shima no hate (The Farthest Edge of the Islands)
Toshio Shimao

This story takes place long ago, when the whole world was at war.

One could say that To lived among the roses. Surrounded by a hedge of rose bushes, in the middle of a garden carpeted with withered rose leaves, she lived in a room separated from the main house. Here in Kagerōjima, the roses bloomed the year round.

The above translation is from Shimao (1985, 11). This book entitled "The Sting of Death" and Other Stories contains six stories translated into English by Kathryn Sparling. There are two stories based on Shimao's experiences as commander of the shinyō explosive motorboat squadron at Nominoura. In addition to "Shima no hate" (The Farthest Edge of the Islands), the book contains the story "Sono natsu no ima wa" (This Time that Summer) published in 1967.

The following plaque translation is an excerpt from a story by Toshio Shimao that was published in 1949:

In the moonlight, the suicide boat pilots, with cooperation of maintenance unit workers and explosives personnel, fine-tuned their boats that they would pilot to the end of the southern seas during this moonlit night.

Soon notice was received that preparations were completed for each boat unit.

The moon also rose to high in the sky.

There was nothing to do but continue to wait for the order to make a sortie.

Curiously I lost my attachment to this world.

from Shutsu kotōki (Departure from a lonely isle)

The following plaque translation is an excerpt from an incomplete story written by Toshio Shimao:

The three commandeered fishing boats that carried about a hundred shinyō special attack squadron members with only one combat medic departed from Sesō Pier, where the Ōshima Defense Unit was located, and left behind Kakeromajima of the Amami Islands.

from (Fukuin) Kuni yaburete ([Repatriation] The country defeated)

Shinyō motorboat replica

The following plaque translation is an excerpt from a story by Toshio Shimao that was published in 1945:

When I emerged at the top of the mountain pass, it was just like a painting where before my eyes the blue sky spread out, the mountains of the nearby islands had repeated shades of purple, and the outlines of the far-off islands seemed like brushed-on gray to me as they rose up on the horizon in the far distance. I could look down at Ujirehama at the foot of the mountain on one side and Nijinura in the opposite direction, which seemed like very small box gardens. When there was wind, the loud sound of the surf and the rustle of pine trees at the mountain pass like a lullaby made me feel as if the people standing at the pass were part of a dream. On a moonlit night, these two villages looked exactly as if sunken on the bottom of the blue, blue sea. On the beach with adange and yunaki leaves, at sunset the south sea gently lapped at the shore, and sometimes blue phosphorescent sea sparkles [1] were shining in the water.

Ujirehama - Oshikaku
Nijinura - Nominoura

from Hamabe on uta (Song of the beach)

One of the five plaques around the monument has the following excerpt from a 1962 story by Toshio Shimao:

At last after a year and a half of preparation for death, on the evening of August 13, 1945, an order came from the Defense Unit to stand by for a special attack operation. Finally it was made known that the final day had come. In both heart and body, I put on my death clothes, but while the signal to sortie did not come at all, I was marking time. Therefore, approaching death suddenly stopped my walks.

from Shuppatsu wa tsui ni otozurezu (The departure finally never came)

Gabriel (1999) in his book Mad Wives and Island Dreams: Shimao Toshio and the Margins of Japanese Literature provides an in-depth analysis of Shimao's literature including the first chapter that covers his tokkōtai (special attack corps) stories. The scope and influence of Shimao's wartime stories are summarized in the following excerpt (Gabriel 1999, 3).

From his earliest postwar stories down to the story he was writing at the time of his death, the war underscored Shimao's career. While many Japanese wished—and continue to wish—to confine the war to the realm of a collective amnesia, for decades Shimao insistently and painfully dissected the traumas of the war. Arguably no other Japanese writer known for war literature has so intensely examined, through a variety of literary genres (the fairy tale, the romance, surrealistic and realistic fiction), the personal and collective consequences of World War II, including the kamikaze experience. (To this day Shimao's war stories remain the only major fictional study of this experience.) Despite his protestations, Shimao continues to be read as spokesman for both the kamikaze victims and the generation of "failed kamikaze" (tokkōtai kuzure).

Toshio Shimao Literature Monument
with inlet of Nominoura in background

The shore around Nominoura still has some of the twelve tunnels dug to hide the shinyō motorboats. One of these tunnels has a full-size shinyō replica. An information sign outside this tunnel has a map of the former base with locations of the tunnels along with the following history of the shinyō boat special attack weapon.

In April 1944, one of the special weapons numbered from (Circle) 1 to (Circle) 9, which were proposed by the Naval General Staff for the purpose of reversing the decline in the war situation and which actually would be used, was the shinyō (4) along with the kaiten (6). On May 27, a trial run was carried out by prototype boats of steel and wood. After several modifications, it moved immediately to mass production. The Model 1 Rev. 1 piloted by one man was a motorboat that carried explosives in its bow to be crashed into an enemy ship at full speed with an explosion. It used a car engine as the primary motor for mass production. Afterward, mass production began of the two-man command boat, with a machine gun and rocket launcher, that would go along with the other boats.

In August 1944, the first shinyō boat squadron of 50 boats finished training at Nagaura (Yokosuka) and left for Chichijima as the Ōchō Unit. Afterward from August 1944, training was carried out at the Kawatana Guard Unit in Kyūshū and Enoura at Etajima [2]. Shinyō squadrons were deployed to the Philippines, Nansei Islands, various places on the mainland, Izu Islands, Ogasawara Islands, China coast, and Southeast Asia (on-site production) and were prepared for an enemy invasion. The members of these squadrons included squadron commanders, who were young officers from the Naval Academy or Yobi Gakusei (Reserve Officers) program, and crewmen from the Yokaren (Preparatory Flight Training Program).

Inlet of Nominoura at Kakeroma Island

According to Shinyō Association (1990, 40-1), the 18th Shinyō Special Attack Squadron led by Toshio Shimao had a total of 186 members, including 7 officers, 50 shinyō boat pilots, 74 base workers, 34 maintenance workers (23 for engines and 11 for construction), and 21 headquarters personnel (4 for telegraph, 1 for signaling, 6 for medical, 10 for accounting). The squadron was formed on October 15, 1944. It left Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture on November 11 and arrived at Kakeromajima on November 21. After the war's end, on September 1, 1945, the first ship carrying squadron members left Kakeromajima for the mainland so the men could return home. The second and third ships left the island on September 11 and October 8, respectively. Starting in 1983 and up to 1990 (publication date of Shinyō Association 1990), former squadron members met together seven times. In 1988 at the unveiling ceremony of the Toshio Shimao Literature Monument, many former squadron members and Toshio Shimao's wife Miho attended.

In July 2017, the Japanese movie Umibe no sei to shi (Life and Death on the Shore) by director Michio Koshikawa was released. The film is based on Miho Shimao's 1974 book with the same title. Her book was a story based closely on the true romance of Toshio and Miho Shimao after the shinyō squadron arrived at Kakeromajima in November 1944.


1. The scientific name is Noctiluca scintillans.

2. It is unclear what is the source of this reference. There is no Enoura at Etajima in Hiroshima Prefecture, and no reference could be located to confirm that Enoura at any place in Japan was used as a shinyō boat training location.

Sources Cited

Gabriel, Philip. 1999. Mad Wives and Island Dreams: Shimao Toshio and the Margins of Japanese Literature. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Shimao, Toshio. 1985. "The Sting of Death" and Other Stories by Shimao Toshio. Translated, with introduction and interpretative comments by Kathryn Sparling. Michigan Papers in Japanese Studies No. 12. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan.

Shinyō Association (Shinyōkai), ed. 1990. Ningen heiki: Shinyō tokubetsu kōgekitai (Human weapon: Shinyō Special Attack Corps). Shiro Arai, general editor. Volume 2 of 2. Tōkyō: Kokushokankōkai.