‘Kamikaze’ in the Japanese language literally means ‘divine wind.’ The word was applied to the Japanese pilots who volunteered for suicide missions in the Second World War. Suicide is considered a criminal act in most societies, but suicide for honor has been traditional in the Japanese culture. The Kamikazes were the suicide attacks conducted by the Empire of Japan against the Allied Forces during World War II. The Kamikaze aircraft were purposely made as pilot-guided missiles loaded with large quantities of explosives, bombs, and torpedoes to cause the maximum amount of destruction when deliberately crashed into the targeted ships. The Kamikaze attackers sank 34 naval ships of the Allied forces, damaged 368 other ships, and killed 4,900 sailors and leaving 4,800 wounded. Most of the Kamikaze pilots were young, and 90 percent of the naval Kamikazes who died were between 18 and 24 years of age. Kamikazes belonging to the Army were even younger, and those who participated in the Okinawan Campaign were between 17 and 22 years old. The Chiran Peace Museum records show that the youngest Kamikaze was 17 years old.
1. Kiyoshi Ogawa
Kiyoshi Ogawa was born in the Gunma Prefecture, Kanto on the Honshu Island of Japan. He was educated at Waseda University, one of the most prestigious, private universities in Japan. He was a Kamikaze pilot of the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Second World War. At the age of 22, he launched the Kamikaze attack during the battle of Okinawa. On May 11, 1945, piloting a Zero fighter loaded with bombs during Operation Kikusui No. 6, going through the anti-aircraft fire he crashed his plane near the control tower of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill-CV-17. After dropping a 550-pound bomb, he never tried to return and crashed his plane right into the target. The fuel-laden aircraft on the carrier caught fire immediately, and the explosives present on the ship added to the devastation. More than 400 crewmen on the ship were killed along with Ogawa. The ship was a total loss and could never participate in the war again.
2. Masafumi Arima
Masafumi Arima was born at Hioki, Kagoshima, Japan on September 25, 1895 and died on October 15, 1944 at the age of 49. He graduated from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1915. He was assigned to the cruiser Iwate. After various trainings, he was given the command of the converted seaplane Kamikawa Maruon December 1, 1937 and was promoted to captain. On September 13, 1944, he personally led the air attack against the Essex Class aircraft carrier USS Franklin and never returned alive.
3. Yukio Seki
Yukio Seki was born in a small village, Iyo Saijo, in Shikoku. His parents owned an antique shop dealing in ceremonial tea utensils. He was the only son and had an aptitude for naval training since his early childhood. He became a naval aviator in the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Second World War. Lieutenant Seki led the second Kamikaze attack in World War II. He led five, bomb-equipped Mitsubishi Zero fighters and crashed into the Allied forces ship St. Lo and sank it. It was the first ship sank by the Kamikaze attack.
4. Saburou Hotaru
Saburou Hotaru was raised in a small village, Shirokawa, in a snowy mountainous region. He was educated at Nagaoka Technical School and, after graduation, started working at the Tachikawa Aircraft Factory. He qualified in entry tests for admission to Waseda University, but he preferred to be a pilot and entered a pilot training school in October, 1943. He flew a Type 99 Assault plane in Korea and Manchuria. He was then assigned to the 104th Shinbu Special Attack Squadron for a Kamikaze mission. He received orders to fly from Chiran Airbase on June 5, 1945 a day before his 20th birthday. The day before flying, he visited Tome Torihama and her two daughters at the Tomiya Resturant. He told them that he would return as a firefly. After completing his visit, the next day people saw a single firefly enter the restaurant. Torihama’s daughter wrote a book Hotaru Kaeru meaning ‘the firefly returns.’
5. Yukio Araki
Yukio Araki was raised in the small city of Kiryu. At the age of 15, he volunteered in the Army’s youth pilot training program and went to Tachiarai for six months’ training. In February, 1945, he volunteered for a suicidal attack. On May 27, 1945, he flew for his last mission along with many other pilots on similar missions. That day, 175 Kamikaze attackers were sent to attack Allied ships in Okinawa. Two Type 99 Assault planes of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron, to which Araki belonged, destroyed the Allied ship Braine, killing 66 men and leaving 78 of the ship’s crew wounded.
6. Norio Okamoto
Norio Okamoto was a 23-year-old Kamikaze pilot. He lived with his parents in Fujisawa, in the suburbs of Tokyo. He received orders that an American convoy had been seen moving near Rvukyus, and he had to crash dive to destroy it. He was given an old seaplane and was strapped in with a 250-kilo bomb. He was given fuel for one way only. At a midway point in the mission, the propellers of his plane stopped, and he was constrained to crash land into the sea. His navigator was washed away while he, after 17 hours in the ocean, landed on a small island called Suwa Se. The island was too small to appear on any map, and it was inhabited by only 60 people.
7. Takijiro Onishi
Takijiro Onishi was born on June 2, 1891 and died on August 16, 1945. He was raised at the Ashida Village of the Hyogo Prefecture. He served on the battle cruiser Tsukuba after being commissioned and was sent to England and France to get training about developing combat aircraft. He was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He was known as the father of the Kamikaze. Addressing officers at Mabalacat Airfield, he said, ‘In my opinion, there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of A6M Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy carrier. . .’
8. Hiroyoshi Nishizawa
Hiroyoshi Nishizawa was born at Mindoro, Philippines on January 27, 1920 and died there on October 26, 1944. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 64 kgs. He was a judo expert, and his squadron fellows called him ‘the devil.’ His colleague Sakai, the famous Kamikaze, said about him, ‘Never have I seen a man with a fighter plane do what Nishizawa would do with his Zero. His aerobatics were all at once breathtaking, brilliant, totally unpredictable, impossible, and heart-stirring to witness.’ He was the most successful Japanese fighter. Nishizawa was one of the famous Clean-up Trio along with Saburo Saki and Toshio Ohta.
9. Matome Ugaki
Matome Ugaki was born in the Akaiwa District of Okayama, Japan on February 15, 1890 and died on August 15, 1945. He was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He graduated from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1912 and was commissioned on December 1, 1913. His plane crashed in the sea on April 18, 1943 over Bougainville but he survived. After his recovery, he launched the first wave of suicide bomber attacks against the U.S. fleet at Ulithi. He was involved in hundreds of Kamikaze attacks on U.S. Navy ships in Okinawa.
10. Saburo Sakai
Saburo Sakai was born in Saga, Japan on August 25, 1916 and died September 22, 2000. He was descended from Samurai ancestry, but his family earned its living by farming. He graduated from Tsuchiurian Naval Academy with honors and was awarded a silver watch presented to him by Emperor Hirohito in person. He graduated as a carrier pilot but was never assigned to aircraft carrier duty. He was Japan’s fourth-ranking fighter pilot and the second to survive the war. Sakai received orders to lead a Kamikaze mission on July 5, 1944, but not finding the target he led the team back to safety. During the war he destroyed or damaged over 60 Allied airplanes.
Those who sacrifice their lives for the sake of their religion, beliefs, cause, or country are considered martyrs by their countrymen while they are deemed as terrorists and suicide bombers by their opponents. Life is the most valuable thing, and when one decides to offer it in the line of duty, there is hardly anything that can prevent the offensive. In a way, everyone who participates in a war goes on an undeclared suicide mission. Sometimes it is only named differently, though, like military strategy, blitz, air raid, and by other similar terms.