Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots

A museum commemorating Japan's suicide pilots

By Mandy Bartok    - 2 min read

As the end of the Pacific War approached in 1945, the Japanese military was in desperate straits. One of their final offensive efforts involved the creation of squadrons of young men - both pilots and the occasional submariner - who were to serve as suicide bombers. Known as kamikaze pilots (the term means "divine wind" in Japanese), an estimated 1036 of them flew out of the Chiran airbase (and a few neighboring airstrips) in southern Kagoshima in 1945 and never returned.

The idea of using kamikaze pilots in a combat situation is a controversial one, as is the museum itself at Chiran.The overall tone of the presentation here takes a somewhat apologist stance, excusing Japan's from some of its actions and responsibilities with regards to World War II, and for many this can be extremely unpalatable. However, unlike the Yushukan military museum attached to Yasukuni Shrine, the focus here is more on the participants in the war rather than the politics behind the war itself.

And that alone is worth a visit here. Nothing changes the fact that 1036 men never returned from their missions (mostly around the islands of Okinawa) and this museum brings them to life, making them more than just a name or a number. As the bulk of the written information here is presented entirely in Japanese, the audio guide is essential. It will take you around 80-90 minutes to cover the exhibits, but you'll get a very incomplete picture without it. The guide will detail the lives of a select number of the pilots, translating their final letters for listeners, recounting their last days before flying and expounding on the effects of their service on their families back home. Each pilot is remembered with a black and white portrait and the portraits ring the entire museum, serving as a reminder of just how large a number 1036 can be.

There are additional exhibit rooms that focus on the actual aircraft themselves (one recovered from the ocean a few decades ago) and an outside section that shows a cutaway of a typical barracks used by the pilots.

While certainly not the easiest place to visit, this museum humanizes an often incomprehensible aspect of war and is worth considering as a daytrip from Kagoshima or Ibusuki.

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Mandy Bartok

Mandy Bartok @mandy.bartok

Japan resident for 10+ years, with time spent in Okinawa, Kumamoto and Tokyo. 

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Elizabeth S a week ago
Many of the Tokkotai were barely men, just out of their teens. It's such a chilling reminder of how war takes its toll on the young.
Justin Velgus 7 years ago
Wow, no idea there was something like this. English speakers should note that "kamikaze" is an English term and Japanese people will often not understand this word. The official word is Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (特別攻撃隊 "Special Attack Squadran"), sometimes abbreviated as Tokkō Tai (特攻隊).
Bonson Lam 2 years ago
Thank you Justin, I didn't know either. It is sad to see the tragedy of death, of an entire generation, scarred by war. While many, if not most of our grandparents' generation have sacrificed in so many ways, it is a sombre reminder and one to remind ourselves, to do everything possible to avoid another war. Mandy, thank you for putting this place on the map and for a heartfelt and sincere article.