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Kanoya Air Base Museum

From March 1945 to the end of World War II, almost half of the kamikaze attacks made by the Japanese Navy departed from its air base at Kanoya, opened in 1936 in the southernmost mainland prefecture of Kagoshima. The Kanoya Air Base Museum, established in 1972 and operated by the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), seeks to present aviation history of both the Imperial Japanese Navy and the JMSDF.

The second floor of the museum's two-story building constructed in 1993 covers the history of Japanese naval aviation from its beginnings to the end of World War II, with the highlight being a restored Zero carrier fighter. The first floor has exhibits and models of equipment previously used by the JMSDF, including plane engines, radar stations, and a rescue helicopter that visitors can climb into. The park outside the museum building has 15 planes and helicopters used in the past by the JMSDF.

The main exhibition room dedicated to Kamikaze Special Attack Corps members highlights their photos and letters. The photos of over 800 Kamikaze Corps members, about one third of the total number who died, are ordered chronologically by date of death, starting with the first official kamikaze attack in the Philippines on October 25, 1944, and ending with pilots who died in the attack led by Vice Admiral Ugaki, Commander of the 5th Air Fleet, soon after he heard the radio message of surrender by the Emperor on August 15, 1945. Each photo gives the pilot's name, squadron, rank, date of death, age at death, training class, and home prefecture. The room also has photos of 12 Army Special Attack Corps pilots who departed from Kanoya when the Navy and Army had joint operations [1].

The pilots' letters and other writings are shown around the main Kamikaze Corps exhibition room in about 20 different display cases. A few letters have typed versions next to the pilots' writings to make them easier to read. One entire display case has writings and two photographs of Second Lieutenant Ichizō Hayashi, a former Kyōto Imperial University student whose heartfelt final letters to his mother are among the most well-known last writings of Kamikaze Corps members. A table in the exhibition room has a notebook of writings with English translations including 12 that were written after assignment to the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps. Many of these writings come from one of ten volumes of Eirei no koto no ha (Words of the spirits of war dead) published by Yasukuni Jinja (Shrine) from 1995 to 2014. The museum entrance desk has available for purchase a book entitled Kokoro no sakebi (Cries of the heart) (2003) of about 50 writings with most written after selection for the Kamikaze Corps.


The museum's exhibits present the Navy's entire kamikaze operations, and several charts give historical summaries. For example, one chart shows the distribution of ages of Navy Kamikaze Special Attack Corps members, with over 90% being between the ages of 18 and 24. The youngest pilot was 16 years old, and the oldest one was 35. A relief map of East Asia shows the location of Navy kamikaze air bases, and a chart lists by base the total number of Kamikaze Corps members who died in sorties. One corner of the room has a plaque with the names of all the Navy Kamikaze Corps members who died. The room also has two large notebooks that contain information compiled by the museum about each Kamikaze Special Attack Corps member who died during the war [2].

The Jinrai Butai (Thunder Gods Corps) Type 1 Attack Bombers (Allied code name of Betty) and ōka missiles, which made sorties from Kanoya Air Base starting on March 21, 1945, receive considerable attention in the museum displays. The main Kamikaze Corps exhibit room has an ōka model, one of the rocket engines used for an ōka, a painting of a Betty bomber carrying an ōka, and two photos of an ōka at Iruma Air Base. The room also shows several historical photos and last letters of Jinrai Butai members. The museum displays many Japanese Navy model planes, including Betty bombers and ōka glider bombs, in several places on the second floor.

The second floor balcony above the lobby contains several exhibits related to the Kamikaze Corps. One board tells the history and has ten photos of the Azusa Unit, which included 24 Ginga bombers (Allied code name of Frances) that made sorties from Kanoya to make a long-range attack on American ships at the Ulithi anchorage on March 11, 1945. Next to the exhibit board, a diorama with plane models depicts the attack.

Two huge Type 2 Flying Boats with 12-man crews served as lead planes in the mission for Ginga bombers to attack Ulithi. An American bomber shot down one of these flying boats. The area outside the museum has on display a Type 2 Flying Boat (see photo at bottom of page), which originally belonged to the Takuma Naval Air Group in Kagawa Prefecture. The American military took it back to the U.S. after the war to study its technology, and it was returned in 1979 to the Museum of Maritime Science in Tōkyō, where the flying boat's exterior was restored. In 2004, it was moved to the Kanoya Air Base Museum. The balcony above the lobby also has a Type 2 Flying Boat display with photos, a model, and a diagram showing the interior.

The museum has several other noteworthy exhibits. There is a metal piece from Shunsuke Tomiyasu's Zero fighter that hit the aircraft carrier Enterprise on May 14, 1945. The fragment was identified based on writings recovered from his flight suit pocket, and the item was returned to Kanoya in 2003. The museum also displays information about Kōichi Honda, another member of Tomiyasu's Kamikaze Special Attack Corps 6th Tsukuba Squadron that made sorties from Kanoya. On May 11, 1945, Honda caught ten strike balls thrown by former professional baseball pitcher Shin'ichi Ishimaru, a member of the 5th Tsukuba Squadron, before he took off toward Okinawa in his Zero to make an attack. The main Kamikaze Corps exhibit room also has several photos of Vice Admiral Ugaki's preparations for a final kamikaze attack after the Emperor had announced surrender. The words of his final letter and his final message sent from his aircraft are also displayed.

Kamikaze pilot statue
at entrance of main
Kamikaze Corps exhibit room


Almost two million visitors, with about a third from Kagoshima Prefecture, have visited the new museum building from its opening in 1993 to February 1, 2020. Over 800 thousand people visited the previous museum building, still standing behind the new one, between its opening in 1972 and its closing in 1993 (Kanoya Kōkū Kichi 2003, 143). The museum maintains a web site with summaries and photos of some of its exhibits, but it has no detailed information on the exhibits of kamikaze operations. Entrance to the museum is free, and Kanoya can be reached from Kagoshima Airport by bus in 1 hour and 40 minutes. The museum has a couple of 10-minute films, one on Japan's naval aviation history with some excellent clips showing sendoffs of kamikaze pilots, and another on the history of the Zero and the restoration of the Zero on display. The museum has few explanations in English, and no details about the exhibits on kamikaze operations are in English.

Kanoya City also has a couple of other sites related to kamikaze pilots. A memorial tower was built on Kotsuka Hill in 1958 to honor the 908 Special Attack Corps members who made sorties from Kanoya Air Base. There is also a small stone monument in remembrance of ōka squadrons that made sorties from Kanoya. The base used to have dozens of concrete shelters to protect and hide planes from enemy bombers, but only one remains. However, the general public can no longer view this shelter since it is located on the grounds of the JMSDF base.

The following last letters and diary entries were written by Kamikaze Special Attack Corps members who took off from Kanoya Air Base and died in special attacks:

Date of most recent visit: October 10, 2018


Kanoya Air Base Museum (Japanese)


1. Based on interview with Sachio Matsunaga, Director of Kanoya Air Base Museum (June 17, 2004).

2. The two large notebooks have the following information on each Kamikaze Special Attack Corps member: name (including pronunciation), where died, sortie squadron name, sortie date, sortie time (if known), official announcement number, plane type and total planes in squadron, date of death, rank, birth year, age, training class, home prefecture, sortie base, place of death, and whether or not any items were left behind after death.

Source Cited

Kanoya Kōkū Kichi Shiryōkan Renraku Kyōgikai (Kanoya Air Base Museum Coordinating Committee). 2003. Kokoro no sakebi (Cries of the heart). Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture: Kanoya Kōkū Kichi Shiryōkan Renraku Kyōgikai.

Type 2 Flying Boat outside museum building