by Yasuho Izawa
To be understood on this subject by foreigners, especially Christians, is almost impossible. Even we young Japanese think that it is absurd, but at least we can understand its background.
We Japanese are essential an agricultural people, and perhaps for that reason we tend to think as members of a group rather than as individuals, and to obey superiors unconditionally. These tendencies still exist in ordinary Japanese society.
Isolated from other countries by the ocean, though we had some communcation with the Asian continent, we were never invaded seriously in history until the end of WWII. The only real threat to this country was by the Mongols in the 12th century, but the invasion force was destroyed by a typhoon that the Japanese called kamikaze or Divine Wind.
After the Meijei Restoration, Japan tried to join the major industrial nations, winning wars against China and Russia [1895- 1905] thanks to the backup of Briain and the U.S. From then on, Japan began to walk the way of imperialism, expanding its armed forces. [Meiji was the grandfather of Hirohito and great-grandfather of the present emperor.]
Soldiers were taught not to become prisoners of war, and soldiers and even officers weren't told anything about international agreements on PWs, so if Japanese lost the battle one must either kill himself or be killed by the enemy. I was told by many former fighter pilots that when they flew over enemy territory they unstrapped their parachute harness so not to become a PW if they were shot down.
Buddhism is essentially not different from Christianity, but we have no belief that suicide is a cardinal sin. In the past, many samurai committed suicide after losing a battle, and the Japanese Imperial forces tended to use manpower to compensate for the lack of machinery. For example, in the Russo-Japanese war, kirikomi-tai or sword charges were used repeatly used against machine-gun positions despite heavy casualties. In the Pacific War, Japanese pilots on many occasion flew into enemy bombers, and pilots whose planes were badly damaged often dove into the ground.
As the Pacific War progressed, it became evident that Japanese industrial potential was far inferior to that of the U.S. The army began to think seriously of adopting the ram tactic. In October 1944 modified Ki-48s and Ki-67s with impact fuses reached the flying schools, and the headmasters asked pilots to volunteer for tokkotai or Special Attack, meeting no refusals. [Crewmen were sometimes ordered to join.] Their first combat sortie was at Leyte in the Philippines on 5 Nov 1944, making three strikes. Altogether, 210 army planes were used as tokkotai in the Philippines campaign. [The navy soon followed.] In the Okinawa campaign, 954 army planes and 1,440 navy planes were lost in tokkotai sorties.