Who became kamikaze pilots, and how did they feel towards their suicide mission?

Who became kamikaze pilots, and how did they feel towards their suicide mission?





This extended essay is about the Kamikaze pilots who made suicide attacks from the

air during the Pacific War. This paper aims to find who the pilots really were and how

they felt about their suicide mission. The hypothesis for the research was that any pilot

could become a Kamikaze pilot, and that the pilots probably felt scared, yet took the

responsibility to carry out their mission.

Most of the investigations were made through primary sources. Since the Kamikaze

attacks were made from bases in Kyushu, there are several museums there where

information may be found. There, the actual letters and diaries that the pilots had left

behind are displayed. Also, fifteen interviews with survivors of the attacks, relatives and

other people related to the attacks were made. Since the Kamikaze attacks were made

only fifty years ago, a great quantity of documents was available.

The time period in concern is from early 1944 to 1945, and the topic being the

Kamikaze pilots, and the region of research was within Japan, mainly Kyushu.

The conclusion of this extended essay was that the pilots were ordinary, average young

men of the time who volunteered, and that most felt that their dying in such a mission

would improve the war situation for the Japanese. However, exactly how the pilots felt

could not be fully understood by a student researching the topic fifty years after the

actual attack.

In blossom today, then scattered:

Life is so like a delicate flower.

How can one expect the fragrance

To last for ever?

--Admiral Onishi Takijiro


During World War II in the Pacific, there were pilots of the Japanese Imperial Army

and Navy who made suicide attacks, driving their planes to deliberately crash into

carriers and battle- ships of the Allied forces. These were the pilots known as the

Kamikaze pilots. This essay focuses on how they felt about their suicide mission.

Because right-wing organizations have used the Kamikaze pilots as a symbol of a

militaristic and extremely nationalistic Japan, the current Japanese respond to the issue

with ignorance and false stereotypes and with generally negative and unsympathetic

remarks. The aim of this essay is to reveal the often unknown truth concerning the

pilots, and above all to give a clearer image as to who the pilots really were.

The hypothesis behind the question, "Who were the Kamikaze pilots and how did they

feel towards their suicide mission?" is that any pilot devoted to the country, who

volunteered and was chosen felt scared, yet took the responsibility to carry out his


Part One

The death of Emperor Taisho may be the point when Japan had started to become the

fascist state that it was during the Pacific War. Although the military had been active

ever since the Jiji period (1867-1912) in wars such as the Sino-Japanese War

(1894-1895), and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), it became extremely active

when Crown Prince Hirohito became Emperor Showa. Coup d'etats became frequent,

and several political figures were assassinated. By Emperor Showa's reign, the military

had the real authority.[1]

According to those who have lived through the early Showa period (1926-1945), the

presence of Emperor Showa was like that of a god and he was more of a religious

figure than a political one.[2] In many of the haiku that the Kamikaze pilots wrote, the

Emperor is mentioned in the first line.

Systematic and organized education made such efficient "brainwashing" possible. In

public schools, students were taught to die for the emperor. By late 1944, a slogan of

Jusshi Reisho meaning "Sacrifice life," was taught.[3]

Most of the pilots who volunteered for the suicide attacks were those who were born

late in the Taisho period (1912-1926) or in the first two or three years of Showa.

Therefore, they had gone through the brainwashing education, and were products of

the militaristic Japan.

Censorship brought restrictions on the Japanese people. The letters, diaries, and

photographs of individual soldiers were all censored. Nothing revealing where they

were, or what they were doing concerning the military, could be communicated.[4]

Major restrictions were placed on the press, radio and other media. The public was not

to be informed of defeats or damage on the Japanese side. Only victories and damage

imposed on the Allies were to be announced.[5]

Another factor that created the extreme atmosphere in Japan were the "Kenpeitai," a

part of the Imperial Army which checked on the civilians to see if they were saying or

doing anything against the Emperor or the military.[6]

Since the time of feudalism, especially during the Tokugawa period, a warrior must

follow the Bushido. This Code, and a culture which viewed suicide and the death of

young people as beautiful were factors contributing to the mass suicides.[7]

Part Two

Although it was only from 1944 that the General Staff had considered mounting

organized suicide attacks,[8] "suicide attacks" had been made since the Japanese

attack on Pearl Harbor.[9] Two types of suicide attacks had been made. The first was

an organized attack which would, in 90% of the cases, result in the death of the

soldiers. However, if the plan had worked on the battlefield as it did in theory, there

was some possibility that the soldiers would survive.[10] The other type of suicide

attack that had been made was completely voluntary, and the result of a sudden

decision. This was usually done by aircraft. The pilots, finding no efficient way to fight

the American aircraft, deliberately crashed into them, and caused an explosion,

destroying the American aircraft as well as killing themselves.[11]

Because these voluntary suicide attacks had shown that the young pilots had the spirit

of dying rather than being defeated, by February, 1944, the staff officers had started to

believe that although they were way below the Americans in the number of aircraft,

battleships, skillful pilots and soldiers, and in the amount of natural resources (oil, for

example), they were above the Americans in the number of young men who would fight

to the death rather than be defeated. By organizing the "Tokkotai," they thought it

would also attack the Americans psychologically, and make them lose their will to

continue the war.[12] The person who suggested the Kamikaze attack at first is

unknown, but it is often thought to be Admiral Takijiro Onishi. However, Onishi was in

the position to command the first Shinpu Tokubetsu Kogekitai rather than suggest


In October, 1944, the plans for the organized suicide attacks became reality. Having

received permission from the Minister of the Navy, Admiral Onishi entered Clark Air

Base prepared to command the first organized suicide attacks.[14] Onishi had not

thought the organized suicide attacks to be an efficient tactic, but that they would be a

powerful battle tactic, and he believed that it would be the best and most beautiful

place for the pilots to die. Onishi once said, "if they (the young pilots) are on land, they

would be bombed down, and if they are in the air, they would be shot down. That's

sad...Too sad...To let the young men die beautifully, that's what Tokko is. To give

beautiful death, that's called sympathy."[15]

This statement makes sense, considering the relative skills of the pilots of the time. By

1944, air raids were made all over Japan, especially in the cities. Most of the best

pilots of the Navy and the Army had been lost in previous battles. Training time was

greatly reduced to the minimum, or even less than was necessary in order to train a

pilot. By the time the organized suicide attacks had started, the pilots only had the

ability to fly, not to fight. Although what happens to the pilot himself in doing the suicide

attack is by no means anywhere near beauty, to die in such a way, for the Emperor,

and for the country, was (at the time), honorable.

One thing that was decided upon by the General Staff was that the Kamikaze attacks

were to be made only if it was in the will of the pilot himself. It was too much of a task

to be "commanded."[16]

The first organized suicide attack was made on October 21, 1944 by a squadron

called the Shinpu Tokubetsu Kogekitai.[17] Tokubetsu Kogekitai was the name

generally used in the Japanese Imperial Navy and Army. The public had known them

as the Tokkotai, the abbreviated form. Tokkotai referred to all the organized suicide

attacks. Shinpu is what is better known as Kamikaze.[18] The captain of the first

attack was to be Captain Yukio Seki.[19]

How was Captain Seki talked into such a task? According to the subcommander of the

First Air Fleet, Tamai, who brought the issue up to Captain Seki, the Captain had in a

short time replied "I understand. Please let me do it."[20] According to another source,

the reply that Captain Seki gave was, "Please let me think about it one night. I will

accept the offer tomorrow morning."[21]

The document which seems to have the most credibility is the book, The Divine Wind

by Captain Rikihei Inoguchi and Commander Tadashi Nakajima. According to this

account a graduate of the Naval Academy, Naoshi Kanno, was originally nominated as

the leader of this mission. However, he was away from Mabalacat on a mission to

mainland Japan. Therefore, to take Kanno's place Captain Seki was chosen, and was

called to Commander Tamai's room at midnight. After hearing of the mission, it

appears, Seki remained silent for a while, then replied, "You must let me do it."[22]

The reason this is the most credible document is because it had been written by

Captain Rikihei Inoguchi, who was actually there with Tamai and Seki, and named the

first unit, Shinpu. It is doubtful that there was a flaw in his memory since the book was

published in 1959, only 14 years after the war.

In any case, Captain Seki agreed to lead the first Kamikaze attack, and, on October

25, 1944 during the battle off Samos, made one of the first attacks, on the American

aircraft carrier Saint Lo.[23] Twenty-six fighter planes were prepared, of which half

were to escort and the other half to make the suicide mission. That half was divided

into the Shikishima, Yamato, Asahi and Yamazakura.[24]

Part Three

The youngest of the Kamikaze pilots of the Imperial Army was 17 years old,[25] and

the oldest, 35.[26] Most of them were in their late teens, or early twenties. As the

battle in Okinawa [April to June 1945] worsened, the average age of the pilots got

younger. Some had only completed the equivalent of an elementary school and middle

school combined. Some had been to college. There was a tendency for them not to be

first sons. The eldest sons usually took over the family business. Most were therefore

the younger sons who did not need to worry about the family business.

Most of those who had come from college came in what is called the Gakuto

Shutsujin. This was when the college students' exemption from being drafted into the

military was lifted, and the graduation of the seniors was shifted from April 1944 to

September 1943.[27]

Many of these students were from prestigious colleges such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Keio,

and Waseda Universities. These students from college tended to have more liberal

ideas, not having been educated in military schools, and also were more aware of the

world outside of Japan.

Where were the pilots trained? All the pilots involved in the "Okinawa Tokko" had

been trained in/as one of the following: The Youth Pilot Training School, Candidates for

Second Lieutenant, The Imperial Army Air Corps Academy, Pilot Trainee, Flight

Officer Candidates, Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadet, Pilot Training Schools,

or Special Flight Officer Candidate.[28]

Part Four

Since the Kamikaze attacks were to be made only if the pilots had volunteered, and

could not be "commanded," there were two methods to collect volunteers. One was for

all pilots in general, and another was for the Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadet

(College graduates) only. The former was an application form, and the latter was a

survey. The survey asked: "Do you desire earnestly/wish/do not wish/to be involved in

the Kamikaze attacks?" They had to circle one of the three choices, or leave the paper

blank. The important fact is that the pilots were required to sign their names.[29] When

the military had the absolute power, and the whole atmosphere of Japan expected men

to die for the country, there was great psychological pressure to circle "earnestly

desire" or "wish." The Army selected those who had circled "earnestly desire." The

reason that the Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadet had to answer such a survey

rather than send the applications at their own will was probably because the military

had known that the students who had come from college had a wider vision, and would

not easily apply for such a mission. For the regular application, the Army was confident

that there would be many young pilots who would apply. They were correct. Every

student of the 15th term of the Youth Pilot Training School had applied. Because there

were so many volunteers, the military had decided to let the ones with better grades go


There are several factors which made so many young pilots volunteer for such a

mission. Extreme patriotism must have been one factor for sure. Added to that, there

was the reverence for the Emperor, a god. Some say that it was generally believed that

if one died for the emperor, and was praised in Yasukuni Shrine, they would become

happy forever.[31]

The effect of the brainwashing that the military had done to the students is surprising.

The pilots felt it was "obvious" that they were to take part in the Kamikaze attacks.

Most pilots mention in letters that they were happy, and proud of being given such an

honorable mission. It is true also that they believed that if they took part in the mission,

it might improve the war situation for Japan.[32]

What the military education was like was described in a diary kept by Corporal Yukio

Araki, from the time he had entered the Youth Pilot Training School, until the night

before his original date of departure for Okinawa.

Since anything written was checked by one of the military staff, nothing that would

upset the military or contradict the ideas of the Japanese government could be written.

However, more importantly, because of the lack of privacy, personal emotions could

not be written. Therefore, in Corporal Araki's diary, very rarely can anything "personal"

be found. The first several days in the Training school, he simply lists the subjects that

were studied that day, and what was done for physical training. Later on he mentions

what was done for training, the events that took place, and other things he had done.

However, most of what he wrote was about the "warning" he received.[33] The

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