Kamikaze

JAPAN: Japanese Sub-Cultures (Yankii)

Every country has a population of disgruntled youth who rebel against society and Japan is no exception.  But from a country who brought you such colorful trends as Dekotora, Gyaru, Lolita and Visual Kei, it only makes sense that their sub-culture of rebellious youth are just as colorful and trendy.

Japan’s largest and most well-known sub-culture consisting primarily of working class kids is called Yankii (ヤンキー).  Yankii also represents a whole genre of comics, movies and music in Japan. The word Yankii, came into existence in the 1950s and is said to have originated from the term “Yankee,” which refers to people from the United States. Perhaps influenced by the early post-war motorcycle gangs formed by former Kamikaze pilots known as Kaminari zoku (雷族), the Yankii lifestyle revolves around motorcycles and cars and is perhaps one of the most tradition-bound segments of the Japanese populace today.

Most kids begin their life-style as a Yankii around age 14 and are known for their pranks, bullying and petty crimes. They try to maintain a yakuza-like image but they are not as dangerous as their highly organized, older icons. They highlight their working class roots by wearing clothing associated with Japanese construction workers, such as oversized baggy pants known as Tobi trousers. Yankii boys and girls also tend to have shaved off eyebrows, permed hair (punch perm/ パンチパーマ/  panchi pamaa), dyed hair, pompadours, flamboyant, oversized clothes and customized school uniforms. Younger Yankii are expected to speak to the older members of their clan (senpai) in Keigo (reverent speech) at all times and run their errands. Members also observe a code of honor specific to their particular clan. The three pillars of Yankii behavior are said to be guts (konjyo), sincerity (seii) and dedication of the soul (nyukon).  Most Yankii tend to drop out of school by age 17 and get married. This early marriage is referred to as sokon.

Some Yankii eventually do get recruited by the Yakuza (Japanese organized crime) but many simply blend into Japanese society, join the workforce and live regular, productive lives after lashing out at society and enjoying their youth.

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Japan: Kagoshima (Chiran / Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots)

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.

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Recreated barracks

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Map

Address: 17881 Chiranchokori, Minamikyushu 897-0302, Kagoshima Prefecture

Web page: http://www.chiran-tokkou.jp/english/index.html