Their role: wav­ing bye to kamikaze pilots


As young army pilots took off on sui­cide-at­tack mis­sions in the clos­ing days of World War II, the school­girls in this south­west­ern Ja­panese town waved hand­ker­chiefs and branches of pink blos­soms.

“Remembering that still makes me trem­ble,” said Chino Kuwashiro, now a tiny 86-year-old with a stooped back. “We waved and waved un­til we couldn’t see them any­more. Why did we have to en­dure such sor­row?”

She and the other girls were called Nadeshiko, af­ter the frag­ile pink flow­ers seen as a sym­bol of fem­i­nin­ity in Ja­pan. They were or­dered to take care of the pilots at the army base in Chi­ran. Their jobs in­cluded clean­ing, do­ing the laun­dry, sewing on but­tons, and say­ing good­bye.

The 100 or so girls had their jobs for barely a month in the spring of 1945, but the farewell cer­e­mony, in which some were or­dered to take part, is etched painfully in their minds. Only about a dozen Nadeshiko women are alive to­day.

Chi­ran served as the take­off spot for 439 pilots on sui­cide-at­tack mis­sions, many of them also teenagers. Ja­pan sur­ren­dered four months later.

Kuwashiro broke into tears as she pointed to the green-tea groves and pump­kin patch where the run­way once stood. The planes tipped their wings three times in a farewell salute — a bomb hung from one wing, a fuel tank from the other.

Ja­panese here say Chi­ran to­day high­lights the hor­rors and ex­tremes of war, and want their town of 10,000 to be des­ig­nated as a UNESCO World Her­itage site. They have yet to gain even the ap­proval needed from the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment, but an ex­hibit thou­sands of miles away sug­gests there are pow­er­ful lessons in the lives lost here 70 years ago.

Photos, letters and po­ems from the pilots of Chi­ran are now on ex­hibit, for the first time out­side Ja­pan, on the Amer­i­can bat­tle­ship USS Mis­souri, berthed in Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii. The items are from the Chi­ran Peace Mu­seum, which is de­voted to the sui­cide-mis­sion army pilots.

‘We are all peo­ple who share the

same love’

Though such Ja­panese pilots in World War II are gen­er­ally known as kamikaze, that name ap­plied specif­i­cally to navy pilots. Their army coun­ter­parts, like those in Chi­ran, were called tokko. Those who re­fused to fly to their deaths were im­pris­oned.

“I have a big smile, Mother, as I am about to carry out my last, and first, act of fil­ial love. Don’t cry. Please think I did good,” wrote Fu­jio Waka­matsu, 19, in one of the letters on dis­play.

Michael Carr, the pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Bat­tle­ship Mis­souri Me­mo­rial, said that in­stead of re­coil­ing at the sto­ries, visi­tors are moved by the Chi­ran ex­hibit, which runs through Nov. 11.

“It shows that we are all peo­ple who share the same love for our fam­ily, love of coun­try, and obli­ga­tion to duty,” he said. “We need to con­tin­u­ally high­light and re­mem­ber history so that peo­ple can learn from it and move for­ward with a per­spec­tive of tol­er­ance, dig­nity and peace.”

A cor­ner of the Chi­ran mu­seum is de­voted to Nadeshiko, and in­cludes a video with in­ter­views made in the late 1980s.

Reiko Ak­a­bane, a Nadeshiko who died in 2006, said in the video that she went up to one of the pilots be­fore his de­par­ture, to re­turn change from the money he had given her to mail a let­ter to his par­ents. In­stead of tak­ing the coins, Shinji Sak­aguchi took out his wal­let and handed it to her as a keep­sake.

Another pi­lot who was stand­ing by, Nobuo Taniguchi, re­gret­ted that he had noth­ing to give her. He stooped down and picked up two small smooth rocks.

“These are the last stones that were un­der my feet,” Ak­a­bane re­called him as say­ing.

The wal­let and rocks are on dis­play at a small cot­tage-like build­ing called Firefly Hall in Chi­ran. It’s a replica of a res­tau­rant run by Tome Tori­hama, a woman many pilots came to see as their mother fig­ure, and it was built by Tori­hama’s grand­son in 2000.

The source of the build­ing’s name is a 19-year-old pi­lot named Saburo Miya­gawa. He had promised Tori­hama he would come back as a firefly, and right about the time his plane sank into the ocean, a par­tic­u­larly big glow­ing bug flew into the gar­den of Tori­hama’s res­tau­rant.

The firefly is an im­age of­ten used in Ja­pan to sym­bol­ize the kamikaze and death be­cause of its as­so­ci­a­tion with love, po­etry and a very short life. “They were all peo­ple who went straight to heaven,” said Tori­hama in the mu­seum video. “They were all gen­tle. I wanted to make them all my chil­dren.”

The pilots con­fided their deep­est fears to Tori­hama and some Nadeshiko. Tori­hama died in 1992, at 89.

Ac­cord­ing to the mu­seum, when the girls went to pick up the pilots’ pil­low cases to wash, they found they were drenched in tears.

But when they took off, to their cer­tain death, they put on brave fronts. Kuwashiro thought they re­sem­bled liv­ing an­gels.

“They looked brave,” she “They didn’t have sad faces.”



1. In this July 17 photo, a visi­tor looks at photos of de­ceased pilots of the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Army in World War II at Chi­ran Peace Mu­seum in Chi­ran in Kagoshima Pre­fec­ture, south­west of Ja­pan. 2. In this July 17 photo, a moun­tain in Chi­ran looms in the dis­tance, one of the last things the sui­cide-mis­sion pilots saw as they flew to­ward the Ok­i­nawan seas. Green-tea groves and pump­kin patches are where the run­way once stood, 70 years ago. 3. In this July 16 photo, Chino Kuwashiro speaks dur­ing an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with the As­so­ci­ated Press at a site where 70 years ago she and other school­girls were or­dered to bid farewell to young Ja­panese army pilots tak­ing off on sui­cide-at­tack mis­sions in the clos­ing days of World War II in Chi­ran.

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