Chiran is a small town in Kagoshima Prefecture known for its well preserved samurai houses and gardens, which date back to more than 250 years ago. During World War II, there was an airfield located on the outskirts where the kamikaze pilots were stationed. The site, which once housed the air base and flying school is now home to the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, which documents the history of the these pilots.
The kamikaze (divine wind) was the name given to the suicide attacks on allied naval vessels during the closing stages of World War II. It was determined that this method of attack would destroy warships more effectively than utilizing conventional methods. During the campaign, approximately 3,860 kamikaze pilots were killed and only about 19% of kamikaze attacks actually managed to hit a vessel.
The aircraft used for these attacks were basically pilot-guided missiles laden with explosives, bombs, torpedoes and full fuel tanks. The pilots would attempt to crash their aircraft into enemy ships in what was called taiatari (body attack). The goal of crippling or destroying large numbers of allied ships was considered to be a just reason for sacrificing pilots and aircraft. The tradition of death instead of defeat, capture and perceived shame has long been deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture. It was one of the primary traditions in samurai life and the Bushido code, loyalty and honor until death.
The airbase at Chiran had two runways and served as the departure point for hundreds of attacks during the Battle of Okinawa. During this battle 1,036 kamikaze pilots died, of which 439 of them were from the town of Chiran, many of them just young boys.
The museum was originally constructed in 1975 and expanded in 1986. It has four planes on display: a Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa, a 1943 Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien, a 1944 Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate and a Mitsubishi Zero, which was recovered from beneath the sea in 1980. The museum also exhibits the photographs of the 1,036 pilots who were killed in the order in which they died. There are also countless letters, poems, essays, testaments and other artifacts associated with these pilots and a piano on which it is said that two of the pilots played Moonlight Sonata the night before their final mission. The exhibits here are the most extensive of any museum in Japan. In addition to the main exhibition hall, there are three other exhibition rooms, which contain miscellaneous items and uniforms from the war, which are not directly connected to the pilots.
There are touch panel displays where visitors can access a large selection of the pilots’ writings in both Japanese and English. The English translations attempt to convey the meaning of the original letters but since they were translated by someone whose first language was not English, they have some obvious errors and a few sections that are difficult to understand.
On the average, the museum receives over 2,000 visitors per day. Busloads of visitors, mostly school children, come to view the museum’s photos, exhibits and films in an effort to learn more about these brave young men who willingly gave their lives in order to establish peace and prosperity for Japan.
After you are done touring the museum, take a walk around this historic town if you have time. Stone lanterns dedicated to the fallen pilots line the town’s main street and the road leading up to the museum. There are several statues and memorials throughout the town as well.
Address: 17881 Chiranchokori, Minamikyushu 897-0302, Kagoshima Prefecture