The Kaiten Corps
All personal stories are true and printed in italics as spoken.

On Okinawa, sixteen-year-old Miyagi Kikuko was also enduring unimaginable suffering. The wounded Japanese and Okinawan soldiers who were fortunate enough to be taken inside caves were not much better off than those lying outside in fields where shells were constantly falling. The student nurses had the job of changing the wounded soldiers’ dressings every week or two. So pus would squirt in our faces, and they’d be infested with maggots. Removing those was our job. We didn’t even have enough time to remove them one by one. Gas gangrene, tetanus and brain fever were common. Those with brain fever were no longer human beings. They’d tear their clothes off because of their pain, tear off their dressings. They were tied to the pillars, their hands behind their backs, and treatment stopped.

At first, we were so scared watching them suffering and writhing that we wept. Soon we stopped. We were kept running from morning to night. “Do this! Do that!” Yet as underclassmen we had fewer wounded soldiers to take care of. The senior girls slept standing up. “Miss Student, I have to piss,” they’d cry. Taking care of excrement was our work. Senior students were assigned to the operating rooms. There, hands and legs were chopped off without anesthesia. They used a saw. Holding down their limbs was a student job.

Outside was a rain of bullets from morning to night. In the evening, it quieted down a little. It was then that we carried out limbs and corpses. There were so many shell craters—it sounds funny to say it, but we considered it fortunate: holes already dug for us. “One, two, three!” we’d chant, and all together we’d heave the dead body into a hole, before crawling back into the cave. There was no time for sobbing or lamentation.

Toward the end of May, we were ordered to withdraw. All the men we had nursed were simply lying there. One of us asked, “Soldier, what are you going to do for these people.” “Don’t worry,” he responded, “I’ll make it easy for them.” Later we heard that the medics offered them condensed milk mixed with water as their last nourishment, and the gave them cyanide and told them, “Achieve your glorious end like a Japanese soldier.” The Americans were nearby. Would it have been so terrible if they had been captured and revealed the Japanese Army’s situation? Instead they were all murdered to protect military strategy. Only one person crawled out to testify.

The road to Ihara was truly horrible, muddy and full of artillery craters with corpses, swollen two or three times normal size, floating in them. We could only move at night. Sometimes the American forces sent up flares to seek out targets. Ironically, these provided us with enough light to see the way. This light revealed people pulling themselves along on hands and knees, crawling desperately, wounded people calling to us, “Students! Students!” I had an injured friend using my shoulder as a crutch. Another friend had night blindness and malnutrition. She kept falling over corpses and crying out. We’d become accustomed to the smell of excrement, pus and the maggots in the cave, but the smell of death there on the road was unbearable. And it poured rain every day.

Tens of thousands of people moving like ants. Civilians, grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers with children on their backs, scurrying along, covered in mud. When children were injured, they were left along the roadside. Just thrown away. Those children could tell we were students. They’d call out, “Nei, nei!” and try to cling to us. That’s Okinawan dialect for “Older Sister!” It was so pitiable. I still hear those cries today.

Finally, on the tenth of June we reached Ihara . . . at last reaching the entrance to the first surgery cave. When I stood up and put my foot in, the ground felt wet and slippery. I smelled blood. I thought instantly, “They’ve just been hit!” We lived in darkness and sensed everything by smell. From below I heard my classmates’ voices, “I don’t have a leg!” “My hand is gone!” At my teachers urging, I descended into a sea of blood. Nurses, soldiers, students killed instantly or severely wounded, among them a friend of mine, Katsuko-san, with a wound in her thigh. “Quick, teacher, quick,” she was crying. “It hurts!” I was struck dumb. There was no medicine left, and near me a senior student was desperately trying to push her intestines back into her stomach. “I won’t make it,” she whispered, “so please take care of other people first.” Then she stopped breathing. Now her words chill me to the bone. But a militaristic girl could say such a thing. How could she have been so strong?

On the eighteenth, the order of dissolution was issued. From then on, they told us, if we behaved as a group we would stand out too much. The U.S. forces were quite close, so we were to “escape” as individuals. Everyone shed tears, but what could we say? We didn’t know what to do. Many knew they would be left behind. There was no way to take them with us. Absolutely none.

One of the students accepted milk from the medics. She might have been given cyanide too. The other didn’t want to die and forced her immobilized body to crawl. She was still crawling in the mud when attacking American troops rescued her. They took her to the U.S. military hospital and nursed her with great care, but I heard she died there anyway. That was in May. After the war, one who’d heard her reported that she said, “I hated and feared these Americans, but the treated me with great care and kindness, while my classmates, my teachers left me behind.”

Nineteen of us left the cave together, three teachers and sixteen students. A severe attack was in progress. So close! When we looked around, we saw we were surrounded by tanks. Americans were whistling to each other. Tanks moved forward attacking. Until then, we had to flee at night. Now we clung to the edge of the road. I heard a great booming sound and passed out. Eventually, I came to my senses. I was covered with mud and couldn’t hear a thing. In front of me, two classmates were soaked in their own blood. Then they were screaming in pain. Third year student Akiko wasn’t moving. She’d died there. Two teachers in their twenties had disappeared. We never saw them again. Already, on just that first morning, nineteen people became twelve.

Nearby, Japanese soldiers were running for their lives, yelling, “Armor! Armor!” Behind us, the tanks were coming on, spewing out a stream of fire. I was shaking with fear. The vice-principal, the only teacher left, shouted, “Follow me! and we all crawled after him. My friends were covered with blood. We urged them to keep up and though they were moaning, “I can’t. I can’t go on. It hurts,” come they did. We friends promised each other, “If I’m unable to move, or you’re disabled, I’ll give you cyanide.” We each kept a hand-grenade like a talisman.

“If we stand up, they’ll shoot us,” we thought, so we stood up. We walked with dignity, but they held their fire. We were slightly disappointed. It was weird, eerie. Yesterday it had been Hell, why was it suddenly so quiet? We reached the cliff’s edge, an incredible precipice, and we climbed down, soon covered in blood, all the way to the sea. If they wanted to, I thought, they could kill us with a single salvo. Yet, we all reached the breaker. Everywhere the shore was full of people, all civilians. Later, I learned that nearly one hundred seventy thousand people were crammed into that narrow bit of island.

A small boat came toward us from a battleship. Then, for the first time, we heard the voice of the enemy. “Those who can swim, swim out! We’ll save you. Those who can’t swim, walk towards Minatogawa! Walk by day. Don’t travel by night. We have food! We will rescue you!” They actually did! They took care of Okinawans really well, according to international law, but we only learned that later.

We thought we were hearing the voices of demons. From the time we were children, we’d been educated to hate them (Americans). They would strip the girls naked and do with them whatever they wanted, then run them over with tanks. We really believed that. Not only us girls. Mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers all were cowering at the voice of the devils. So what we had been taught robbed us of life. I can never forgive what education did to us! Had we known the truth, all of us would have survived.

So we climbed back up, but the top of the cliff was being scoured by flame-throwers. We had to cling on midway. When we looked down, we saw the white surf . . . Our hands were growing weaker. “Teacher, teacher, I can’t hold on!” Climb up,” he’d say. Finally, we clawed our way to the top and just collapsed. Twelve of us. There we all cried out, “We can’t take anymore.” The third-year students cried the most. “Teacher, please kill us. Kill us with a grenade!”

Teacher had always urged us on, but finally even he said. “I guess it can’t be helped.” We felt great relief with those words. At last, we could become comfortable. “Teacher, here’s good enough. Please make us comfortable.” For the first time, we all sobbed. We all wanted to see our mothers. “Okaasan!” came from out mouths. We’d struggled hard not to speak of our families up until then. [Her voice chokes.] I wondered how Father, Mother, and my younger sister were doing in this battlefield . . . That night, we completely forgot we were completely surrounded by American soldiers.

When Japanese Kamikaze pilot, Araki Haruo was leaving his new bride of just four hours, she asked him, “When can I see you again?” He said only, “I’ll be back when it rains.” He left with only those words.

All of us waited for him whenever it rained. From April to June. “He’ll be back today,” we’d all say when the rain fell. We didn’t lock the entrance, so he could come in at any time. We’d wait until the last train, but he couldn’t come back, of course. He’d died in action long before. We waited for him, waited and waited for him, all of us, without knowing that he was long dead.

At first, it wasn’t so lonely. Araki Shigeko had many wonderful memories of Haruo. I’d always fought with him. “I can’t stand the sight of you,” he used to say. I’d tell him, “I don’t care either. There are lots of boys better than you. I’ll marry one of them.” We were the same age. We made good opponents. He must have always thought he’d marry me. Somehow, I thought if he became a lieutenant we’d be together, even if we did fight. I was always conscious of his presence, as if we were engaged. If he’d married someone else, I’d have been furious.

He was a tall, handsome man. A man like that was blown to bits, so that not even a shred of flesh was left. It’s all right if he crashed into an enemy ship, but it’s possible he is alive if he were shot down on the way. You cannot be certain he was hit in the head or heart. If he’d been hit in the leg or arm, he could have survived. I hate having thoughts like that.

“I’ll go first. I’ll meet you at Yasukuni” is what the lead pilots said to their groups. It was their pledge. To meet at Yasukuni. They were clinging to the idea of meeting again. They couldn’t help themselves. I believe their courageous spirit is there. Haruo took off in the lead plane, just after six A.M. The headband he wore bears the rising sun emblem. The students at the girls school near the air base at Chiran had cut their fingers and filled the red sun with their own blood.

When I at last learned he’d died, people said, “That’s good; congratulations.” I replied, “Yes, it is. It’s for the country,” and then I returned home to cry alone. I let no one see my tears . . . Nobody expressed their sorry or sympathy for us. They only said, “It was an honorable death in battle, wasn’t it?” and we’d agree . . . Nobody held me tight in their arms and comforted me with words of sympathy.

My grandson says, “Grandma always looks up when a plane flies over.” I look up because it’s as if the Tokko planes are overhead as they once were, forty-five years ago. That won’t ever change, I remember these things as if they happened yesterday . . . I try to tell myself not to look back, to keep everything bottled up. But once the dike breaks, it seems like it never stops flooding out.

From June to July, the tokko (Special attack) planes were practically all shot down one after another as they approached their targets. I don’t know if he actually crashed into the enemy, but some did. There were results. I want to believe that. I want to believe that he didn’t die in vain. Otherwise he still lies at the bottom of the cold Okinawan sea for nothing. I want to raise him even now. I know there’s nothing left, but I can’t help this feeling.

Later, she asks, “Would you like to see his will?” She brings out a brownish, single sheet. It reads:


Are you well? It is a month now since that day. The happy dream is over. Tomorrow I will dive my plane into an enemy ship. I will cross the river into the other world, taking some Yankees with me. When I look back, I see that I was very cold-hearted to you. After I had been cruel to you, I used to regret it. Please forgive me.

When I think of your future, and the long life ahead, it tears at my heart. Please remain steadfast and live happily. After my death, please take care of my father for me.

I, who have lived for the eternal principals of justice, will forever protect this nation from the enemies that surround us.

Commander of Air Unit Eternity
Araki Haruo

A half century later, a tiny woman with black, short-cut hair, wearing a bright red sweater comes to the station on a bicycle. When she talks about her parents and her brother, her gaze seems to drift off. Sadness, happiness, and despair are vividly expressed by her passionate alto voice. She is active in the Association to Memorialize the Students Who Died in the War. Most of these students left their campuses when university deferments were ended in late 1943. Many of these highly educated young men were drawn into the special-attack forces. They frequently left behind letters or diaries in which they grappled with issues of life and death which they were facing just as the war reached a fever pitch. Nishihara Wakana remembers these students well, one was her brother Minoru.

The morning after his return in May of 1945, I announced, “Elder Brother’s back; I’m not going to school.” It was a small town, and everyone knew everything about everybody. “Let’s go for a walk,” Elder Brother said to me that morning. I’d loved going for walks with him from the time I was really small. If I were a dog, I’d have been shaking ten imaginary tails, that’s how excited I was—and I hadn’t even begged for that walk. He’d suggested it.

Right in front of our house was a pine grove, and just beyond that, the sea. With me practically clinging to him, we went down to the shore . . . Unaware my elder brother’s departure (for battle) in his Kaiten was imminent, I played with him, skipping stones on the sea . . . Elder Sister was only a year younger than him. The next morning, they went for a walk, but could say nothing to each other and turned back halfway through their course. I bitterly regret that I didn’t notice anything. But, at the same time, I pray that my childish innocence, my inability to fathom his feelings, was a comfort to him.

The war would have to come to an end before the family would learn the outcome of the Kaiten war and the fate of Minoru. The war ended August 15 . . . That morning we were told there would be an important broadcast and we were instructed to listen without fail . . . We knew from the introduction that his Imperial Majesty would address us, but then we really couldn’t understand the high-pitched voice that came next … We hardly understood what was said. I sat there listening absentmindedly. My father wiped away tears with his fist and groaned loudly, so I became sad and cried.

That night, my father said for the first time, “Minoru will come home!” Of course he’d return! We didn’t have any thought that he’d died. Who cares if the country’s lost? Minoru-chan will be back! A smile returned to my mother’s face. “It’s all right to take these down, isn’t it?” my other brother said of the black cloth over the windows. He tore them all down. I played the piano that night as if possessed. I was so happy. “Minoru-chan will come home!” That’s all I could think about. For ten days we waited like that. On the morning of the 26th, the family was given the notice that Minoru was dead. A half century later, the eleven year old girl remembers the impact on her family:

I’m frightened of ideology, of -isms, and of nations. I prefer an unjust peace to a justified war. No matter what the ideals are, if they are going to lead to war, I prefer a corrupt, immoral, unprincipled, unredeemed peace.

I cannot forget my father howling, crouched like a wounded beast.

Not all of the Special attack students were as aware of their fate and as resigned to it as Nishihara Minoru. For student Kozo Naoji, it was a different story.

At the time of Pearl Harbor, I was only nearing the end of my second year at the Higher School. The war was being fought by adults. Students were still deferred from the draft. If everything had gone normally, I wouldn’t have graduated from the university until March 1946. I was sure I was absolutely safe, and acted that way. Then they changed the rules . . .

Everything was in an uproar at the Tokyo Imperial University. Nobody knew anything. Some said, “They’ll never take students from the Imperial universities . . . But as things turned out, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. In October, I was pulled into the military. Forced in.

I was skinny. I didn’t think I’d be able to take it if they got hold of me. I was sure I wasn’t cut out to be a soldier or a sailor. Officers from the army had been attached to our schools since my middle- school days. They were swaggering bastards. I couldn’t stand them. The navy looked better from the outside, and I found myself in the navy, a second-class seaman, the lowest thing possible to be. I took the officers examination. They felt that those of us from the Law Faculty of Tokyo Imperial University had the qualifications to sit for the paymaster exam in the Imperial Japanese Navy.

What happened was that with one exception, everyone in my group who wore glasses became paymasters. In those days, seventy percent of the Todai students wore specs. Then they called out the names of those who’d been assigned to gunnery, navigation, torpedo school, but they didn’t call mine. Next they announced the names of those who had been selected for service as “defense specialty reserve students.” Mine was the only name called.

“Defense specialty?” At that time I didn’t know that we were losing battles one after another; I thought, “I don’t have to attack!” That’s great. Things have really worked out well. But in the kind of war they were really fighting, “defense specialist” was a black joke. I was sent to the antisubmarine warfare school in February 1944 and was stuck there until the end of October. I was fed up with school by then.

“What am I doing in this place?” I asked myself that when they started calling for volunteers who were “full of energy,” who were willing to take on a dangerous job,” and “willing to board a special weapon” that would “reverse the tide of war at once.” Why not? It’s got to be better than this. I applied for it carelessly. Almost ninety percent of us volunteered.

Since they only wanted forty of us, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be one of those selected. They called us out a second time, a third time. Each time some of our classmates hadn’t been chosen. In the end, we began dimly to grasp the criteria used in selection. Eldest sons were removed from the list. You had to be a second son or lower. Even then, if you had an older brother at the front, they took you off the list. If you were a third son, but neither of your elder brothers had a chance to survive, you were dropped. I was a second son. My younger brother was still in middle school. My eldest brother was an officer in the navy. I supposed they thought my younger brother had a good chance to survive, so I was picked. But I never imagined I’d be going to a place from which I’d have absolutely no chance to return alive.

So forty of us entered the Kaiten Corps. We arrived at Kawatana on the twenty-fourth of October. There weren’t any weapons for us yet. They couldn’t even tell us what these secret weapons would be. Highly classified, was what they said. At Kawatana they had these plywood motorboats—they called them Shinyo, “Ocean Shakers.” We charged into “the enemy” on those! You fixed the helm three hundred meters before impact, locking the rudder in place. A hand-engaged lever controlled acceleration. Once you let go of it, it didn’t automatically let up like the pedal of a car. Then you jumped into the sea. The unmanned boat would then plunge into a target representing the enemy.

They weren’t telling you that had to die. We were wearing life jackets, but you had to wonder if it was possible to survive this kind of attack. I thought it was damned outrageous, but they told us not to worry, the Kaiten would be a much superior weapon. How could I have imagined they wouldn’t include any escape system at all?

As we were beginning our training, the first announcement of Kamikaze attacks was made. I think that was October 29. Reading the news of the “Divine Wind” Special Attack Corps in the newspapers—planes crashing into the enemy ships—I was bowled over. Even then, I didn’t grasp the true nature of the kamikaze. I still wondered, “What are they going to do if they parachute down in the middle of the enemy fleet?” Yet there I was. We couldn’t share our doubts with each other. We were from different universities. If I had expressed my disquiet, my university could have been disgraced. I had to keep my own counsel.

As we were waiting to move to our final staging base at Hikari, we received a postcard from one of our comrades who’d gone there ahead of us. On it was “Say hello to Kudo.” That was our code phrase for “Escape is impossible.” Until that moment we had no confirmation that the Kaiten was a self-exploding weapon which gave you no chance to escape death.

There were many Kaiten pilots who did not share student Koko Naoji’s views of their suicide mission. Yakota Yutaka was one of a different breed. “Your Motherland faces imminent peril. Consider how much your Motherland needs you. Now, a weapon which will destroy the enemy has been born. It there are any among you who burn with a passion to die gloriously for the sake of the country, let them step forward.”

We heard these words as we stood assembled before the commander of our school. We were all graduating from Youth Flying Corps, the Yokaren Naval Air Station. At that very moment I decided. “I’m going!” At the time, I was afraid I might not be chosen, even though I had one of the very best records in our squad and was very strong in judo . . . “Without reservation, I request that you select me. Yokota Kan.” I wrote it in big letters and handed it in. I was picked first.

When selected I felt a slight sense of sadness. My life now had no more than a year to go … I wasn’t thinking of surviving the war. Rather than getting shot down by some plane, better to die grandly. Go out in glory. We trained desperately. You couldn’t complain of pain of anything. You had to push on: “If I don’t hit the target, if I have to ‘self-detonate,’ I’ll die without doing what I must.” It was agony. For everybody. Once you become a member of the attack force, you become deathly serious. Your eyes became set. Focused. If you’d had two lives, it wouldn’t have mattered, but you were giving up your only life. Life is so precious. Your life was dedicated to self-sacrifice, committed to smashing into the enemy. That’s why we trained like that. We practiced hard because we valued our lives so highly.

When the motor launch first took us to our mother ship, we jumped onto our own torpedoes and, standing with our legs apart, waved our Japanese swords in circles in answer to the cheers. Before that, let me tell you what I did. I actually kissed the bow of the Kaiten that carried the explosive: “Do it for me. Please. Get an enemy carrier for me.” I didn’t know anything about kissing then, but I kissed the Kaiten without thinking.

“In a week it’s Okinawa! Nothing less than thirty thousand tons! No suicide for any tiny ship!” We all shouted like that. Our voices probably didn’t reach other ships in the harbor, but we shouted anyway . . . There is an old expression, “Bushido is the search for a place to die.” Well, that was our fervent desire, our long-cherished dream. A place to die for my country. I was happy to have been born a man. A man of Japan. I don’t care if it makes me sound egotistical, but that’s how I felt. The country was in my hands.

As we passed Bungo Channel off Shikoku on March 29, 1945, I felt acutely that this was my last view of the Homeland. Even here, at the gates of Japan, enemy submarines were waiting for us. We sailed zigzags . . . Our submarine, I-47, with its six Kaitens on deck, was part of a four-sub attack plan, a total of twenty Kaitens in all. But we never made it to Okinawa. We were discovered two days out and bombed, and depth charged. Afterwards, our Kaitens looked like they’d been made of celluloid, all bent and twisted out of shape. We had to return empty handed.

I sailed the second time on April 20 for the American supply lines between Ulithi and Okinawa. When we reached the area where we might encounter enemy ships, they gave us pilots a feast . . . The captain toasted us: “We don’t know when we’ll encounter the enemy, so this will be our farewell party. I wish you a most satisfying dash against the enemy.”

“Kaiten pilots! Board! Prepare for Kaiten battle!” The sub’s speaker blared. Our time had come. Once again we tied our hachimaki about our heads. Because we were men we were vain. It would be a disgrace to lose composure. “We are now departing,” we declared. “Please await our achievements.” You clambered up the ladder to the hatch leading to your Kaiten. You didn’t have much time, but still you looked back down and forced yourself to smile. “I’m going now,” was all you said. You wanted to be praised after you died, just as much as you wanted it during your life. You wanted them to say, “Yokota was young, but he went with incredible bravery. He was dignified to the end.” . . .

At that moment, you’re sitting in the cockpit. “Compose yourself. Gather your thoughts. If you’re harried you’ll fail. You have only one life. You’re going to your mother.” I calmed myself like that. The crewman who took care of my Kaiten was Warrant Officer Nao. As he closed the hatch from below, he stretched out his hand. “I pray for your success.” In that tiny cramped space, he grabbed my hand. After the launching of the three Kaitens scheduled first and a wait of twenty minutes, Yutaka was given the news that there were no more targets. His launch was scrubbed. On his next trip out, his launching was again scrubbed due to a faulty fuel line on his Kaiten. He wanted to crawl into a corner and die from his failure.

The fact that he had no blame in any of these failures, didn’t help when he returned. I was really beaten up this time, called a disgrace to the Kaiten Corps for coming back alive! Because of this beating I still have difficulty hearing with my left ear, and I bear scars on my left hand, too. They envied me for having been chosen to go when they had not yet been selected.

One day, a maintenance mechanic told me that Japan had lost. “What are you saying, you filthy bastard?” I couldn’t believe it. That night, we were all assembled. The senior commander of the Special Attack Forces told us the news. He was in tears. I left the gathering, and went through the tunnel in the base toward the sea. I cried bitterly. “I’ll never launch! The war is over. Furukawa, Yamaguchi, Yangiya, come back. Please return!” I cried and cried. Not because Japan lost the war. “Why did you die, leaving me behind? Please come back!” My tears were not tears of resentment or indignation, nor were they in fear of Japan’s future. They were shed for the loss of my fellow pilots.