Learn about the tragic history of WWII kamikaze pilots at two museums in Fukuoka


Tachiarai City in eastern Fukuoka Prefecture offers two very different museums focusing on the history of kamikaze pilots towards the end of World War II. One of them is the Chikuzen Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum, the other one the privately run Tachiarai Retro Station Museum. Both are absolutely worth a visit for history buffs.

Both museums are situated on the grounds of the former Tachiarai Airfield, opened in 1919. The airfield quickly grew into the largest military airfield of East Asia. Things turned dark, though, when Japan entered World War II. Tachiarai Air Base became a central transfer point for deadly kamikaze attacks.

Who were the kamikaze pilots?

Mitsubishi Zero at the Chikuzenmachi Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum Photo: Johannes Schonherr

The Tokubetsu kogeki tai (Special Attack Units), known in Japanese shorthand as tokkotai or more commonly kamikaze, were special forces deployed for suicide missions towards the end of World War II whose goal was to sink American battleships.

Although often described as volunteers, it’s a questionable description considering the substantial pressure the Japanese military put on their personnel and the traditional glorification of self-sacrifice rooted in samurai culture. Today, the kamikaze pilots are viewed as tragic figures in Japan, their sacrifices serving no other purpose than prolonging the war.

Kamikaze pilots were chiefly deployed from airbases in the far south of Kyushu, such as Chiran, Kanoya, and Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture. However, Tachiarai Airfield played a central role in their deployment. American bombing raids destroyed the Tachiarai airbase in March 1945.

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"their sacrifices serving no other purpose than prolonging the war."

––Even the exhibit in Chiran expresses this sentiment, but this just might not be the case. Why?

1) The Japanese main islands were NOT invaded.

2) After the surrender Japan was NOT divided between the victorious powers unlike Germany.

Scholars have debated reasons for the above for decades and will probably never be resolved.

Certainly no one can deny strictly the poor military gains of Tokko forces deployment. (just think the insanity of sending a 1937 fixed gear Nakajima 97 against massive warships protected by Hellcats)

Yet no one can DISPROVE the enormous psychological impact upon those under attack by forces who do not care about their own lives as long as they can inflict damage to their end.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Them and Okinawan civilians driven to suicide by their own government.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Most Japanese air crews did not make it back alive from regular missions. That's the context for the suicide attacks.

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This is from The Nobility of Failure by Ivan Morris

"Far from accomplishing its objective, the Special Attack strategy may well have contributed to one of the greatest catastrophes that ever befell the disaster-prone Japanese people, namely, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the first (and only) nuclear bombs ever used in warfare. ... Suicide tactics, instead of overawing the Americans as had been confidently expected, produced indignation and rage out of all proportion to their practical importance ...This probably helped remove such qualms as President Harry Truman and his close associates may have felt about dropping atomic bombs on huge population centers at a time when Japan was already on the verge of surrender and busy with peace feelers. Furthermore the ferocity of kamikaze tactics seemed a logical culmination of Japan's wartime 'fanaticism' and no doubt served to warn the Americans of the immense casualties they could expect if they proceeded with their plans to invade the home islands in the autumn of 1945."

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Tragic history. Yeah sure. They were forced to take meth to give them the courage to do what they did. The real tragedy is that japan never acknowledges that.

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@Vince Black

Absolutely true. The drugs were often given to them in the form of candy. Next time you eat anything from the Glico factory you should know that they were the official manufacturers.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The use of methamphetamine by soldiers in WW II is not talked about enough. The German soldiers took it when they invaded France in 1940, and it served as a force multiplier. Most of the invading tank corp did not sleep for the first three days, thus helping to lend a mystique to their actions at the time. Submarine crews, and even factory workers in Nazi Germany were given as much meth as they wanted.

On the subject of the Kamikaze pilots, I would like to mention something that is almost never talked about, those pilots who chose not to sacrifice themselves. From what I have read, about 10% of the pilots decided to surrender rather than die. In the allied fleet at Okinawa there were sailors whose sole duty during attacks was to rescue Japanese pilots who landed their planes and sought rescue. That is why in films from that era, one can see kamikaze planes having their canopies welded shut - so that the pilots could not surrender.

At one company where I worked we had a Japanese pilot who had landed his plane and surrendered. He was given asylum in the States after the war, since to return to Japan would have meant certain death, even in peacetime. He claimed that he actually landed his plane on an American aircraft carrier, but I find that hard to believe.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If an invasion of Japan had been necessary, the USA would have accepted Soviet troops in order to save American lives, and Japan would have ended up divided like Korea. At the end of the war Stalin asked for half of Japan for himself, but American President Truman said no. Since the USSR did not have the bomb at that time, they were forced to accept Truman's decision. Even if they had had the bomb, they likely would have been denied possession of half of Japan. Of course, that was with Truman, not Trump.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

their sacrifices serving no other purpose than prolonging the war.

––Even the exhibit in Chiran expresses this sentiment, but this just might not be the case. Why?

1) The Japanese main islands were NOT invaded.

2) After the surrender Japan was NOT divided between the victorious powers unlike Germany.

Yes, excellent points. Japan succeeded in winning the peace after losing the war. Many people in Korea today, quite understandably, believe that Japan's leaders in 1945 made a decision to intentionally deflect the growing the US-USSR power struggle from Japan to Korea. Inflicting maximum bloodshed on the Allied powers outside of the Japanese mainland became the objective, rather than victory, in order to prevent a Germany-like division of the 4 main islands. Kamikaze attacks were a part of this strategy. Below is a link to an article published last month on this Korean perspective. The map of the planned multilateral occupation of Japan is extraordinary. Shikoku would have been under Chinese occupation! Tokyo would have been a divided city like Berlin.

The anger that Koreans feel about this is understandable. On the other hand, the Japanese reacted in a logical sort of way given what they surely knew about the depredations that were committed by Red Army soldiers in eastern Germany beginning in the spring of 1945. Avoiding at all cost a similar outcome in eastern Japan became priority number one.

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 I would like to mention something that is almost never talked about, those pilots who chose not to sacrifice themselves

I once met a former kamikaze pilot in Kyushu in the early 1980s (he was an English student of a friend of mine). We met in a bar so conversation flowed. The first question - why are you still alive? He explained that he was never sent on a mission. He was 19 at the time, and he said the preference was to send the younger ones (aged about 16 or 17) as the older ones had a habit of ditching into the sea and getting rescued. He also strongly suggested we visit a museum near Ibusiki in Kagoshima. We did. It was strange. Many older women paying respects to lost brothers or lovers or whomever.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There is also a memorial to these sadly dedicated young men at the Naval Training Center at Etajima but did not seem to make propaganda points with their display. I last visited in 1992 and the emotional effects are just as fresh now, in memory. It is simply what seems an endless walk of glass cases in which the last photos and letters of these sacrificed children are displayed. It will make one sad to see these young faces, and some of them, with the life and energy radiating from them will make you sob (as I am doing now recalling them). We see no photos of the fat, corrupt generals who sent them off, whose incompetence and corruption and psychopathy (Samurai Spirit!) sent off these most valuable young people to their deaths instead of manning the planes themselves in worthy Seppuku for their failures beginning in 1910. Some of those faces haunt me as I see what the WORLD lost in allowing old, fat, corrupt psychopaths to throw these precious young into the garbage to try to salvage themselves from their own shame. Do not go there if you do not want a another lifetime painful memory of how shameful as Humans we can be...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@NCIS Reruns

Thank you for providing this quote. It is an interesting perspective. But Truman was a tool and Teller and the other pure psychopaths who persuaded him, even Oppenheimer however much he decried and denied it afterwards. They convinced him they had to test it and that is what the original U.S. documents posted in Heiwa Koen Museum in Hiroshima-shi will tell you in plain English if you read them carefully. It was our new "Big Stick" and we needed to advertise who held it and our absolute lack of morality in choosing to deploy it. Truman had no idea what it could do. I like to think that if he had understood the weapon, he would have not approved its use as it was used. But 'testing' meant 'Human trials' and the women and children of an 'inferior race' were just the subjects required... And we can assuage our own consciences by fooling ourselves that it was THEM, but we tolerate the same monsters today so, really, it is US, ALL of US, even now... there simply is NO EXCUSE for any of us in any of this...

0 ( +0 / -0 )


I wonder if we will ever see an article in JT about the Kamikaze pilots who decided to live instead of dying. They were the minority, but still their story is worth telling.

As for nuclear weapons, I think I speak for almost all humans when I say that I hope they are never used again.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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