Home > Education, Focus on Japan 2008 > Lakeland Lectures: Tokkou

Lakeland Lectures: Tokkou

June 21st, 2008

If you live in the Tokyo area or will be around next month–specifically July 23rd–then drop by my school, Lakeland College Japan, for a special event. We’ve started a lecture series at the college, and after two successes, we’re gearing up for a third which should be special. Mr. Tadamasa Iwai, 88, a former Tokkou-tai officer, will be speaking. The Tokkou were Japan’s suicide bombers during World War II.

Most Americans–and Japanese, for that matter–only know about kamikaze pilots, but there were more than just that kind of suicide soldier. The Japanese navy used suicide bombers in various ways. One was to use a mini-submersible, packed with high explosives, with a human being acting like a living guidance system in what was essentially a large, manned torpedo. Another was to outfit a diver with a pack full of explosives, place him underwater for hours on end, and when an enemy ship sailed past, have him explode himself against the ship’s hull. Illustrations of each:



Mr. Iwai and his younger brother were both swept up in the wartime fervor of the time, and in that fervor compromised their personal principles and ideals, and became officers in the Tokkou-tai. There, they help persuade other young men to join, compromising their own principles, and leading many to their deaths. After the war, both came to seriously regret their actions.

But what affected them more than one might have superficially thought was 9/11, watching those planes fly into the Twin Towers. One can only imagine how the Iwai brothers felt to see not only the action taken by those pilots, so dramatically public, so similar to those they themselves advocated more than half a century earlier–but just as destructive, the public reaction after the attacks, leading to a fearful and patriotic fervor so much like the one they were drawn into so many years before.

Additionally, the two were angered by the efforts of many Japanese right-wingers who romanticized the roles of Tokkou soldiers, using them as icons to encourage new generations of young Japanese to surrender their own personal principles and become weapons for the state. One manga artist named Yoshinori Kobayashi, for example, has created comics using images of the kamikaze as a way of today promoting “an altruistic spirit of selflessness” among Japanese youth, the kind that led to so much tragedy in wartime Japan.

In 2002, they published a book called “Tokkou,” subtitled (my rough translation) “The Story of Brothers Who Went from Students to Suicide Weapons.” Their primary mission is to speak to as many young people as will listen, and tell them the truth about what things were like, about what was done, and what it meant on a human level. To warn them not to allow themselves to be drawn into the same mistakes.

Frankly, this is a message that all too many Americans should hear. Not that we’re training suicide bombers–but that we are, instead, training our young men to become things just as bad, or worse, for the same reasons. One thought of what has happened at Guantanamo or at Abu Ghraib should be enough to drive that point home. Americans so driven by fear, so intimidated by the national fervor in a time of war, that we believe that almost anything is acceptable–from disassembling our Constitutional rights, to renouncing the Geneva Conventions, repealing Habeas Corpus, starting wars based on thin tissues of lies, and even torturing and killing people under the official banner of national security. Making the same mistakes all over again, allowing our own ideals, principles, and good judgment be compromised in the name of patriotism, security, and war.

So, if you’re in central Tokyo–that’s 7:00 pm, Wednesday, July 23, in the Shinjuku area–mark it down on your calendar. Here’s a link to the PDF file we have for the event, which includes a map to the lecture’s venue. The same information will be available on the lecture series’ web site as well (it hasn’t been updated yet). You should plan on coming 15 to 20 minutes early–I expect it’ll be SRO, so you’ll want to get there in time to grab a seat.

This is an event you won’t want to miss.

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  1. ykw
    June 22nd, 2008 at 03:16 | #1

    I will be interesting to see how many people visit due to your blog advertisement.

    In high school we were taught that the suicide fighters were crazy, yet I think it is easy to critize them when sitting in a non-violent setting. If millions or ten’s of millions of one’s countrymen are dying, then one thinks very differently. And one can easily justify loosing several to save more than several. Especially when those several believe they will die anyway.

  2. June 22nd, 2008 at 06:35 | #2

    Thanks, Luis. I once saw a TV program (I think on the History Channel) about those suicide mini-subs. You’ve provided substantially more info.

  3. June 23rd, 2008 at 01:56 | #3

    Wow, that sounds interesting… I will be there if I have time… it sounds like its going to be a good lecture, and totally for free :)

  4. Hachi Gatsu
    July 21st, 2008 at 07:36 | #4

    I think Dr. Loaders class really helped me understand the “other side” of the war. As much as I’d like to think the American public education system is on the ball with unbiased information, it’s really not and seems to depend more on what schools have contracts with what book companies. Even at the “Homebase” I found a very lacking amount of books on the Japanese side of World War Two in the library. Most places I go it’s seems as if it doesn’t exist, or if it does, in such a small amount like, as in the History channel, you know who did it, but you don’t know why.

    This concept of seeing the other side of things has me writing three different movie scripts at once, all based on WWII. And one of the characters will be a young Japanese student who is pulled from his freshman year in college at a prominent Tokyo college to become a Kamikaze pilot. The movie is more about the change he goes through rather than what he is going to do, from a civilian who questions the current ruling power to a loyal follower.

    It was a concept I started to roll around after a few weeks in Loader’s class.

    But I do have to admit, I love these lectures on such heavy topics because, I find, it’s much better than reading a book.

    For instance, the last lecture I went to was at Lakeland, and it featured the girl (now grown up) from the famous Vietnam War photo. The one where there are children running in fear down the road from the flaming village behind them, and there is one girl who’s cloths (and part of her skin) have been burnt off as she flees along side her brother, and her aunt (who is holding her, dead, baby brother).

    I think the other moving part of it was when she showed the video of when she met the American pilot who flew the plain that dropped the napalm. Before flying out, he was told the village had been evacuated, when he returned, he saw the picture on the front of the on-base newspaper, breaking down, thinking he had slaughtered a village of children, including the girl. Carrying that with him almost his whole life, until he met Kim, the girl in the picture. The pilots last words before the movie ended was “I can now die with no regrets.”

    Personally, I’m not sure where I would be classified when it comes to war. I condone the actions of Warmongers, but I support the soldiers. I now have friends who can walk into the local VFW and can compare battle scars with the old veterans of wars passed…and as I sit there watching that, I remember not to many years ago I was through my cap in the air with them as we graduate high school.

    I remember drinking at a friends “going off to war” party two days before he was shipped out. It was a joyus occation, but I drank as if it was his funeral…because at that moment, I had no idea if he would ever come back alive.

    Two years later, and still no word if he’s back.

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