WHO BECAME KAMIKAZE PILOTS,
AND HOW DID THEY FEEL TOWARDS THEIR
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
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
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although it was only from 1944 that the General Staff had considered mounting
organized suicide attacks, "suicide attacks" had been made since the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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."
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."
The first organized suicide