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Home » Archives » June 2005 » Kamikaze Images

Kamikaze Images

Monday, June 6, 2005 Posted: 07:32 AM JST [PHOTOS]

Photos of Japan by Kjeld Duits(by Bill Gordon) - Kamikaze pilots often conjure up images of fanatical warriors eager to die for the Japanese emperor. Many people, especially outside of Japan, link modern-day terrorist suicide bombings in Iraq and other places to suicide attacks made by Japanese pilots against Allied ships off Okinawa and the Philippines near the end of World War II. In the years after the war, even many Japanese showed contempt or indifference toward former kamikaze pilots who had trained for suicide attacks but survived the war. In recent years in Japan, kamikaze pilots have regained their status as national heroes in the eyes of many people.

(by Bill Gordon) - Kamikaze pilots often conjure up images of fanatical warriors eager to die for the Japanese emperor. Many people, especially outside of Japan, link modern-day terrorist suicide bombings in Iraq and other places to suicide attacks made by Japanese pilots against Allied ships off Okinawa and the Philippines near the end of World War II. In the years after the war, even many Japanese showed contempt or indifference toward former kamikaze pilots who had trained for suicide attacks but survived the war. In recent years in Japan, kamikaze pilots have regained their status as national heroes in the eyes of many people.

Last letters written by kamikaze pilots have had a profound effect on Japanese readers' opinions and emotions for many decades. The bestseller Kike Wadatsumi no Koe (Listen to the Voices from the Sea), first published in 1949 and later revised and reprinted many times, contains letters, diary entries, and poems written by soldiers from Japan's elite universities. This collection of writings, which include several by kamikaze pilots, had as its goal the promotion of peace so as to never repeat the tragedy of war.

The influence of kamikaze pilots' letters and poems continues in Japan even today. When I first visited the museum at Yasukuni Jinja in 2000, there was a special exhibit of last letters written by kamikaze pilots and other soldiers who died in the war. The letters contained a variety of sentiments, including resolve, patriotism, and love for family. Many visitors sobbed quietly as they read these moving letters. When Prime Minister Koizumi visited the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, which displays many letters and poems, he is reported to have wept as he read a final poem written by a kamikaze pilot to his brother.

Two movies about kamikaze pilots also have had significant influence. Over two million people saw the 1993 film Gekko no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata), which tells the story of two kamikaze pilots who visit an elementary school to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the school's grand piano before they leave on their suicide mission. They both loved piano music rather than fighting, an image in stark contrast to the typical view of kamikaze pilots as fanatical in battle. Ken Takakura and Yuko Tanaka, two of Japan's most famous movie stars, played the roles of a surviving kamikaze pilot and his wife in Hotaru (Firefly), a popular 2001 film that received thirteen Japanese Academy Award nominations. The movie depicts the humanity and friendship of three Japanese Army kamikaze pilots, including a Korean pilot who dies in a suicide attack and his two Japanese comrades who survive the war.

In contrast to the kamikaze pilots' anonymity outside Japan, most Japanese people consider kamikaze pilots as real people with personal feelings and interests. These views arise in Japan from letters, museums, films, and veterans' memoirs that present stories of individual pilots. Japanese consider the kamikaze pilots to have died tragically in defense of their homeland. Even though only in their late teens or early twenties, the kamikaze pilots demonstrated their courage in a desperate wartime situation by willingly dying to defend their country and families.


Bill Gordon first became interested in Japan's kamikaze in April 2000 when he visited a special exhibit of last letters written by kamikaze pilots at the museum at Yasukuni Jinja in Tokyo. He realized that Japanese views of kamikaze pilots differed immensely from opinions held by Americans and started his research. His findings on how kamikaze pilots are viewed in Japan in the US are published on Kamikaze Images.

In Kamikaze Connections Gordon tells about his experience researching kamikaze pilots.

(Copyright 2005 Bill Gordon.) This article was exclusively written for iKjeld.com.

iKjeld.com welcomes contributions with insights and fresh viewpoints. Please contact us if you are interested in contributing.

Keywords: special_report

Related Links:

  1. Kamikaze Images
  2. Bill Gordon talks about his research at iKjeld.com
  3. Listen to the Voices of the Sea
  4. More books about kamikaze pilots at iKjeld.com Shop
  5. Sites about kamikaze pilots at Japan Links
  6. Discussion about kamikaze pilots at iKjeld.com

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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