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Last Letters of Corporal Shun'ichi Kagawa to His Family

On April 28, 1945, Corporal Shun'ichi Kagawa took off from Miyakonojō East Airfield as a member of the 61st Shinbu Special Attack Squadron and died in a special (suicide) attack west of Okinawa at the age of 18. He piloted an Army Hayate Type 4 Fighter (Allied code name of Frank). After his death in a special attack, he received a four-rank promotion to Second Lieutenant. He was from Kagawa Prefecture and was a member of the 15th Class of the Army Youth Pilot (Rikugun Shōhi) training program.

He wrote the following final letters to his parents, two older sisters, one younger sister, and three younger brothers. The first three letters also contain a death poem in tanka form (31-syllable poem with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7).

Dear Parents,

Being able today to be an Army Air Special Attack Corps member is entirely due to your efforts. Regarding how was my lack of filial piety up to today, I have completely forgotten everything before tomorrow's sortie as I only hope for an instant sinking. However, deep inside my heart there are things that I cannot overlook, so I am writing a note to you. With deep emotions I have thought anything and everything. No, I am not able to think. Please understand that state of mind.

I am happy, but when I think of you and my brothers and sisters, before I realize it I find myself becoming teary-eyed. Everyone in the family, please do not cry and be glad when you hear news that I made a heroic taiatari (body-crashing) attack and instantly sank an aircraft carrier. I think of this. Wearing a hachimaki (headband) with a red circle, I quickly jump into my plane carrying a bomb, and smiling I am able to carry out a taiatari attack, hitting the target of an enemy aircraft carrier. It is truly inexcusable that I caused you only troubles. Please forgive me. This is my only request.

Parents' heart surpasses children's heart for parents [1]
How will they see the cherry blossom that goes to fall?

I thought that I would write individually to each of my relatives, but I depart for battle tomorrow. Please give them a message of my regards.

Army Special Attack Corps
61st Shinbu Squadron
Army Corporal Shun'ichi Kagawa

Older Sister Hisako

Older Sister, I am truly sorry for having only bothered you since I was young. It is truly regrettable that I was not able to provide you any comfort. However, we are brother and sister. As an Air Special Attack Corps member, I with pride can sink an aircraft carrier. Until the very end with a pure heart and a pure body, I will fall splendidly.

The blooming does not surpass that of a mountain cherry blossom in the mountains, but nothing surpasses falling as a man's long-cherished desire. Please do not cry. Please be glad.

Recently I went to the comfort association of an elementary school. The elementary school teachers were persons who were exact copies of you. When I talked to them about you, I had memories of you. Embarrassingly, I could not stop my tears as I wept before I realized it.

Tears flow for some reason when thinking of older sister
A mountain cherry blossom blooming the same way

My last words to you are that you please always, always do not forget Father and Mother and show parental filial piety to them.

I ask that you do my part also. I pray for your health and happiness.

From Shun'ichi

Older Sister Yoshie

Older Sister, I truly thank you for the many ways that you cared for me.

Tomorrow is the sortie. I will carry out a splendid instant sinking so you will not be ashamed as my older sister.

Even though we had a relationship as brother and sister, I argued with you and bothered you most. Even now this brings back memories. Even though I do not say anything at all, you probably can sense what is in my heart. Please show filial piety to our parents like you have done until now. I ask that you take on my part also. Please take good care of our younger brothers and sisters.

There is a branch that does not bloom
There is a branch that blooms and a branch that falls

To Younger Sister Nobuko

Nobuko, I am sorry that I as an older brother did not provide you care and give you assistance but only caused you worry and trouble.

Please think when I joined the military at the age of 17. I was determined to be loyal. Please do your best for the filial piety that I could not show directly.

Keep forever and ever the pure heart and pure body of a young lady. When you tend to forget our parents and yourself, please remember me so that you will not bring shame to me.

I will become a spirit to guard over you forever so that you and the family may be happy.

Masahiro, Teruyoshi, and Takashi,

I regret departing forever without doing anything as an older brother.

However, being eager for the Special Attack Corps, I truly am glad that I was selected as a member of this. As your older brother, I am determined that my way of dying will not be shameful.

Masahiro, please do not cause concerns for Father and Mother, and strive as hard as you can to study and help out. I always will be watching all of your actions.

Teruyoshi, you already have become a 2nd-year student. How are your studies? Do not dislike them, and strive as hard as you can. Also, you must not worry Father and Mother. Do not forget your usual help.

Takashi, it is very good that I hear that you always are in high spirits. You must not be unreasonable with your older brothers and sisters. I will scold you. When you get big, will you ride in a plane? In any event, follow after me.

My plane is a Hayate.

Please forgive my sloppy writing when tomorrow is the sortie.

Letters translated by Bill Gordon
September 2018

The letters comes from Terai (1977, 37-40). The biographical information in the first paragraph comes from Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai (2005, 205), Osuo (2005, 200), and Terai (1977, 37).


1. The first line of this poem is the same as the death poem of Yoshida Shōin (1830-1859) in tanka form (31-syllable poem with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7). Yoshida strongly advocated the Emperor's restoration to power, which challenged the ruling shogunate.

Sources Cited

Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai (Chiran Special Attack Memorial Society), ed. 2005. Konpaku no kiroku: Kyū rikugun tokubetsu kōgekitai chiran kichi (Record of departed spirits: Former Army Special Attack Corps Chiran Base). Revised edition, originally published in 2004. Chiran Town, Kagoshima Prefecture: Chiran Tokkō Irei Kenshō Kai.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (rikugun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Army)). Tōkyō: Kōjinsha.

Terai, Shun'ichi, ed. 1977. Kōkū Kichi Miyakonojō Hayate Tokkō Shinbutai (Miyakonojō Air Base Hayate Special Attack Shinbu Unit). Tōkyō: Genshobō.