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Grandson Akihisa speaks of his memories of Tome Torihama (December 3, 2014, Hotaru Museum in Chiran, Minamikyūshū City)

Substitute Mother: Telling About Last Days of Her "Children" (Hahagawari: "Kodomo"ra no saigo tsutaeru)
Researched and written by Shūji Fukano and Fusako Kadota
Pages 26-8 of Tokkō kono chi yori: Kagoshima shutsugeki no kiroku (Special attacks from this land: Record of Kagoshima sorties)
Minaminippon Shinbunsha, 2016, 438 pages

This story is based on an interview with Akihisa Torihama, grandson of Tome Torihama and director of Hotaru Museum in Chiran.

"I will not be able to go. Many people will be waiting for me."

"It's OK. I will take you."

These were the last words exchanged with grandson Akihisa (54 years old) by Tome Torihama, who ran the military-designated Tomiya Restaurant in Chiran Town and was affectionately called "Aunt" or "Mother" by Special Attack Corps members who gathered there.

At the beginning of 1992, she was in poor condition and entered a hospital in Makurazaki City. She seemed to be worried about whether she could attend the Special Attack Base War Dead Memorial Service held each year in May before the Chiran Special Attack Peace Kannon Temple.

From about the end of March she would often say, "I will not be able to go."

Akihisa begins, "I will tell you about this letter to Nakajima's father."

As a member of the 48th Shinbu Squadron, 19-year-old Sergeant Toyozō Nakajima made a sortie from Chiran Airfield and died in battle on June 3, 1945. Soon afterward, a letter that told about his situation before the sortie arrived at his home in Aichi Prefecture. The sender was 42-year-old Tome.

After she told his father that she ran a restaurant in Chiran, she continued. "Since I also wanted to take care of him like my child, I asked him what he would like to have in this world. He said that he wanted to eat egg soup with shiitake mushrooms, so I made it for him." Also, she told his father the date and time that he took off.

Special (suicide) attacks were a military secret. When newspapers in those days reported about a base, they published it as "OO Base" and withheld the name. In letters that Special Attacks Corps members sent that were subject to military censorship, they were prohibited from writing where they were at that time. Also in information regarding death in battle, even the family was not told the detailed date, time, and place.

In such conditions, Tome wrote letters to many relatives. Akihisa says, "It seems that she went in the morning to send them at a mailbox that was furthest away in order to avoid surveillance by military police. I think they were letters that she was resolved to send."

There was something that Tome did not dare to tell Sergeant Nakajima's father. A few days before Sergeant Nakajima's sortie, he had sprained one of his arms. He took off with this arm, which he could not move freely, fastened to his flight stick by a bicycle inner tube.

However, Tome recorded only, "He went smiling in high spirits." If she thought about a parent's feelings, there probably was nothing that she could write other than this.

The letter that Tome wrote is now kept in a glass case at Hotaru Museum where Tomiya Restaurant stood. In the museum there are many photographs of Special Attack Corps members next to their parents or wife and child.

In the postwar period, Tome used to say, "Those persons also were humans, men who held life dear and children of parents somewhere. I want to live until 100 to console their spirits." On April 22, 1992, not being able to go to that year's memorial service, she departed at the age of 89.

Translated by Bill Gordon
August 2022