A Few Answers To Questions You Always Wondered About

July 24, 2019 | No Comments » | Topics: Answers

Why were so many Japanese pilots willing to conduct kamikaze missions?

The Japanese people were very, very patriotic. In addition, they firmly believed that the emperor was god on earth. He was a living god and whatever his decisions, they were from god himself. Between those beliefs and feelings, the opportunity to die for the preservation of the country was not even a question. They all knew that their country was in dire straits with a terrible enemy approaching their shores. As soldiers in the service of their living god, they were much more than willing to sacrifice their lives to save their country.

There were several aspects to this belief. A deeply ingrained concept of Yamato-damashii (大和魂, “Japanese spirit”) or Yamato-gokoro (大和心, “Japanese heart/mind”) was implanted in every Japanese clear back to the Heian_period (794-1185 AD). Ironically, it might be noted that “Heian” means “peace” in Japanese. This concept was that Japanese spirit and values were far superior to the spirit and values of any other culture. Yamato-damashii embodied the concepts of the Japanese being brave, daring, and having an indomitable spirit. So, each and every Japanese was imbued with the basic concepts necessary for them to know that they were better and superior to all other peoples.

Another principle of Japanese doctrine was Hakkō_ichiu(八紘一宇) which was that the Japanese people, being superior to all others, were destined to rule. Hakkō ichiu, literally “eight crown cords, one roof” (i.e. “all the world under one roof”) meant that the Emperor of Japan was to rule an empire, not of just the islands, but also many conquered lands. Consequently, not just the people, but the military had the concept that whomever they conquered deserved it. They should be happy to have become a part of the enlightened ones even though the Japanese felt that all other peoples were lower than dogs.

Gyokusai was a Japanese philosophy has been expressed as, “Better to be a shattered jewel than a roofing tile.” The Gyokusai ideology reached its peak during WWII and was expressed in action, as honorable death (ichioku gyokusai, ie, shattering jewels into a million pieces) in combat was far preferable to living as a prisoner. This philosophy is outside Bushido or any religion and was part of the Japanese psyche applying to soldiers and civilians alike. What is Gyokusai? 玉砕とは何でしょう? The Japanese Army regularly chanted the mantra, “Whether I float as a corpse in the waters or sink beneath the grasses of the mountainside I willingly die for the emperor,” and concluded “The life of a warrior is like a cherry blossom which lasts but three days.” There were many slogans but towards the end of the war one of them was, “One plane for one battleship. One boat for one ship. One man for one tank or ten men.” Another slogan to indoctrinate the warrior spirit was, “Duty is weightier than a mountain, but death is lighter than a feather.”

An example of the Japanese military mind was evident as early as the morning of December 7, 1941! Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, who was captured unconscious when his submarine ran aground after the attack on Pearl Harbor requested to be shot or allowed to commit suicide. He became Prisoner of War #1. On the other side of Oahu, A Japanese D3A1 Carrier Bomber was shot down by a P-40 and the two members of the crew bailed out off shore. One died, but Petty Officer Goto made it to shore and was scene. A team from the 55thCoast Artillery approached him and demanded his surrender to which he replied with his pistols. Goto had recovered a pistol from the body of his other crew member and now, 4000 miles from Japan, all alone, with no food, water, or possible reinforcement, he fought to the death rather than surrender. Over Honolulu, as the attack of the second wave ended, 28-year-old Lieutenant Fusata Iida, commander of the Japanese 1st Shotai from the Soryu, found that his Zero was too badly damaged to make it back to the carrier, so he dove to his death in a Kamikaze dive crashing between the hangers at Kaneohe airfield.

So the reason was that they felt that they were sacrificing their lives in order to save their country.

Frank Duncan



How Did The Japanese Perceive Surrendering In WW2?

Surrendering was thought to be immoral, but it was also semi-illegal.

To understand Japanese Imperial Army and it’s policy on surrender, you have to have an understanding of the series of guidelines called the “Senjinkun (戦陣訓)” issued in 1941.

Senjinkun was based on another set of guidelines issued by the Emperor to reject the fate of being a prisoner due to the cruel fate often suffered by them. This was written in 1894, prior to Geneva Convention. Senjinkun looked more like a code of behavior and was not meant to be a legally binding document. But in Imperial Japan where the military sat largely outside of civilian law, this set of guidelines based on the words of the ultimate Commander and Chief came to be treated as supreme military law. Senjinkun laid out in specific words, “do not suffer the indignation of becoming a prisoner.” Thus, being captured became synonymous with desertion.

While this document was Army issued, naval officers in a midget submarine captured in Pearl Harbor became widely known as cowards and stain on the imperial honor, and this kicked off the social rule that families of war prisoners were to be treated as family of criminals. Many prisoners of war were given rights to write back to their family in Japan by the captors but often declined, to save their family from persecution.

Side note: Japan signed but not ratified the Geneva Convention on the grounds that “since Japanese troops becoming prisoners of war was largely inconceivable, this treaty is an unfair treaty that only burdens Japan with legal obligation that does not mutually exist.”



How were captured Japanese soldiers treated back home in Japan for the first few years after the war?

It varied greatly depending on the family and the circumstances to which these men returned home. Some men came home to great fanfare, others returned home quietly and resumed with their lives. Some unfortunately though were ostracized by their family and peers. Here’s one good account that describes such a case.

Father Did Not Permit My Return Home

A half a century has passed since I received a red card draft notice and joined the military. To the villagers gathered at the train station at Yukuhashi, Fukuoka Prefecture, I pledged, “ I will die in battle protecting the Emperor by standing in front of his horse.” At the time my mother was bedridden. I left my parents and my job and devoted my entire youth to the defense of the Fatherland.

The fear, starvation and indignities of military life would have been unthinkable in normal situations. We had to endure this because of the supreme command, “Consider your superiors orders to be the direct orders of the Emperor,” which was included in the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers & Sailors. Because of this Emperor’s orders, many thousands of soldiers died at Guadalcanal, Saipan and Iwo Jima. Okinawa was devastated. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were blanketed with deadly ashes.

I was barely able to survive in North China. When I came back to Japan after the surrender, I was unable to go home. My late father was a leader in the village. He did not permit the return of his son who had been defeated in the war. . . .

Furumiya Toshio, 69 years old



What do the Japanese think of Nanking and Unit 731?

My middle school Japanese history teacher was a card-carrying member of the Japanese Communist Party, who insisted on spending an entire trimester (almost four months) doing nothing but discussing the various atrocities that the Imperial Japanese Army committed throughout Asia. So my experience is quite different from the average Japanese person.

Yes, we covered the Nanking massacre, in detail. Although I understand that there are variations on the estimates of the number of people killed, and debate over how many of these can be attributed to the Japanese, I personally think that anyone who tries to deny that Japanese soldiers raped and killed Chinese civilians there on a massive scale (and some in unimaginably horrible ways) has their head in the sand. However, it’s true that most textbooks in Japan will only give it a passing mention, if it is referred to at all. It’s easy to bury, (especially with some of the factual ambiguities) given that the normal school curriculum is meant to cover over 2000 years of history in 2 years at most, and history in Japanese schools ends up being more about memorizing names and dates than anything else.

Unit 731 is even less well-known, if that is even possible (the reason for this is explained below). However, we probably spent more time discussing this, simply because my teacher was eager to enlighten at least the tiny percentage of the population that came under his influence. He showed us gruesome videos of some of the experiments that had been conducted on Chinese civilians and warned us that this was why Article 9 of the Japanese constitution existed. Some images are still seared in my mind. Like the experiment where surgeons slowly removed bits of one lung to see how much a person could survive on. Or where they put a person in a pressure chamber, raised the pressure bit by bit, then turned it back down to normal without decompression protocols.

However, he did try to explain how ordinary civilians-turned-soldiers could have been involved in such atrocities. He gave us background on the dehumanizing methods that the Imperial Japanese Army used to train new recruits, which included ritual hazing and extreme forms of peer pressure. He said that most people found it extremely difficult to kill another human being, and that training designed to overcome that instinct would invariably bring out the worst in anyone’s nature and smother the best.

Around that time, I had the opportunity to watch Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (I think it was on TV), and seeing Vincent D’Onofrio’s character transform from a gentle soul into a psychotic killing machine helped me to understand that process. I remember thinking that, given the atrocities that the Americans committed in Vietnam, it was quite possible that they had taken a page out of the Imperial Japanese Army’s training playbook by that time.

This was probably compounded by the fact that the majority of the Japanese population had been effectively brainwashed by the start of WWII. By then, free speech had become practically nonexistent. Anyone who dared to voice a dissenting opinion was dragged off by the Tokko police, and tortured. Neighbors were encouraged to inform on each other.

Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu – Wikipedia

One only has to look at IS soldiers today to see what the combination of brainwashing and military training will lead to.

Unit 731 was a bit more complex. For anyone interested in why doctors who had taken the Hippocratic Oath might have ended up being involved in such atrocities, I would recommend Shusaku Endo’s The Sea and Poison – Wikipedia. I think the original novel was required reading for us at that time, but the movie version is also quite brilliant, and captures the spirit of the original faithfully.

And on a final note, we were told that it was the Americans who had been eager to keep Unit 731 under wraps, as they found the results of their “research” to be quite useful and wanted it for themselves. The researchers were given immunity from war crimes for handing over the results of their research to the US, and in fact, many of the subsequent advances in American medicine in areas such as open-heart surgery and the treatment of hypothermia (as well as germ warfare) were based on the horrific experiments conducted by Unit 731. This, we found to be quite believable, and it is quite possibly one of the reasons that Japan has failed to “own up” to it, so to speak.

In the end, my teacher’s message was that war by its very nature meant atrocities in one form or another, and that if we didn’t ever want to be involved in such horrific acts ourselves, we needed to ensure that we upheld Article 9. (He did keep on harping on the fact that the Japanese Communist Party was the only political party that had opposed the war before it started, and consistently supported Article 9 afterwards.) Unfortunately, the current administration seems to be eager to flush this down the toilet…

To be honest, I’m not sure if there is any adequate recompense at this stage, after decades of denial. However, the least we can do is make sure that the younger generation learn enough about what happened in the past to want to never be the aggressors again, and to value the checks and balances that ensure this.

Mayumi Suzuki

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