The Only War We've Got

Kamikaze ideograms

'Crashing bodily into a target is not easy'

The following appeared in Britain's Guardian newspaper and was reprinted from Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods by Albert Axell and Hideaki Kase, published August 2002. I have edited it to reflect American usage. -- Daniel Ford

Transcend life and death. When you eliminate all thoughts about life and death, you will be able to totally disregard your earthly life. This will also enable you to concentrate your attention on eradicating the enemy with unwavering determination, meanwhile reinforcing your excellence in flight skills.

Exert the best in yourself. Strike an enemy vessel that is either moored or at sea. Sink the enemy and thus pave the road for our people's victory.

Take a walk around the airfield. When you take this walk, be aware of your surroundings. This airstrip is the key to the success or failure of your mission. Devote all your attention to it. Look at the terrain. What are the characteristics of the ground? What are the length and width of the airstrip? In case you will take off at dusk, or early morning, or after sundown, what are the obstacles to be remembered: an electric pole, a tree, a house, a hill?

How to pilot a fully dressed-up aircraft that you dearly love

Before taking off: You can envision your target firmly in your mind as you bring your plane to a standstill. Breathe deeply three times. Say in your mind: "Yah" [field], "Kyu" [ball], "Joh" [all right] as you breathe deeply. Proceed straight ahead on the airstrip. Otherwise you may damage the landing gears. [Updated: Click here for more about this translation.]

Circle above the airstrip right after take-off. Do so at the minimum height of 200m. Circle at an angle within five degrees and keep your nose pointed downwards.

Principles you should know

Keep your health in the very best condition. If you are not in top physical condition, you will not be able to achieve an ideal hit by tai-atari [body-crashing]. Just as you cannot fight well on an empty stomach, you cannot deftly manipulate the control stick if you are suffering from diarrhea, and cannot exert calm judgment if you are tormented by fever.

Be always pure-hearted and cheerful.

A loyal fighting man is a pure-hearted and filial son.

Attain a high level of spiritual training. In order that you can exert the highest possible capability, you must prepare well your inner self. Some people say that spirit must come first before skill, but they are wrong. Spirit and skill are one. The two elements must be mastered together. Spirit supports skill and skill supports spirit.

Aborting your mission and returning to base

In the event of poor weather conditions when you cannot locate the target, or under other adverse circumstances, you may decide to return to base. Don't be discouraged. Do not waste your life lightly. You should not be possessed by petty emotions. Think how you can best defend the motherland. Remember what the wing commander has told you. You should return to the base jovially and without remorse.

When turning back and landing at the base. Discard the bomb at the area designated by the commanding officer. Fly in circles over the airfield. Observe conditions of the airstrip carefully. If you feel nervous, piss. Next, ascertain the direction of the wind and wind speed. Do you see any holes in the runway? Take three deep breaths.

The attack

Single-plane attack. Upon sighting a target, remove the safety pin. Go full speed ahead towards the target. Dive! Surprise the enemy. Don't let the enemy take time to counter your attack. Charge! Remember: the enemy may change course but be prepared for the enemy's evasive action. Be alert and avoid enemy fighters and flak fire.

Dive attack. This varies depending on the type of the aircraft. If you are approaching the enemy from a height of 6,000m, adjust your speed twice; or from a lower height of 4,000m, adjust speed once.

When you begin your dive, you must harmonise the height at which you commence the final attack with your speed. Beware of over-speeding and a too-steep angle of dive that will make the controls harder to respond to your touch. But an angle of dive that is too small will result in reduced speed and not enough impact on crashing.

Where to crash. Where should you aim? When diving and crashing on to a ship, aim for a point between the bridge tower and the smoke stacks. Entering the stack is also effective.

Avoid hitting the bridge tower or a gun turret. In the case of an aircraft carrier, aim at the elevators. Or if that is difficult, hit the flight deck at the ship's stern.

For a low-altitude horizontal attack, aim at the middle of the vessel, slightly higher than the waterline. If that is difficult, in the case of an aircraft carrier, aim at the entrance to the aircraft hangar, or the bottom of the stack. For other vessels, aim close to the aft engine room.

Just before the crash

Your speed is at maximum. The plane tends to lift. But you can prevent this by pushing the elevator control forward sufficiently to allow for the increase in speed. Do your best. Push forward with all your might.

You have lived for 20 years or more. You must exert your full might for the last time in your life. Exert supernatural strength.

At the very moment of impact: do your best. Every deity and the spirits of your dead comrades are watching you intently. Just before the collision it is essential that you do not shut your eyes for a moment so as not to miss the target. Many have crashed into the targets with wide-open eyes. They will tell you what fun they had.

You are now 30m from the target. You will sense that your speed has suddenly and abruptly increased. You feel that the speed has increased by a few thousand-fold. It is like a long shot in a movie suddenly turning into a close-up, and the scene expands in your face.

A Vision So Noble

The moment of the crash

You are two or three meters from the target. You can see clearly the muzzles of the enemy's guns. You feel that you are suddenly floating in the air. At that moment, you see your mother's face. She is not smiling or crying. It is her usual face.

All the happy memories. You won't precisely remember them but they are like a dream or a fantasy. You are relaxed and a smile creases your face. The sweet atmosphere of your boyhood days returns.

You view all that you experienced in your 20-odd years of life in rapid succession. But these things are not very clear.

In any event, only delightful memories come back to you. You cannot see your own face at that moment. But because of a succession of pleasant memories flashing through your mind, you feel that you smiled at the last moment. You may nod then, or wonder what happened. You may even hear a final sound like the breaking of crystal. Then you are no more.

Points to remember when making your last dive

Crashing bodily into a target is not easy. It causes the enemy great damage. Therefore the enemy will exert every means to avoid a hit.

Suddenly, you may become confused. You are liable to make an error. But hold on to the unshakeable conviction to the last moment that you will sink the enemy ship.

Remember when diving into the enemy to shout at the top of your lungs: "Hissatsu!" ["Sink without fail!"] At that moment, all the cherry blossoms at Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo will smile brightly at you.

[Copyright 2002 by Albert Axell, the Guardian newspaper, and Daniel Ford]

A word about a word

Hi Dan,

I was looking at your neat website and came across the section "Kamikaze: the owner's manual" wherein the pilot is told to recite to himself "yakyujoh" in preparation for takeoff. I quote: "Say in your mind: "Yah" [field], "Kyu" [ball], "Joh" [all right] as you breathe deeply. "

I have studied Japanese for 8 years and lived in Japan for 2. I have also worked as a translator. I was surprised to see the meaning someone has attached to the word "Joh." This is very obviously an incorrect translation pulled straight from a dictionary.

"Yakyujoh" means "Baseball field." "Yakyuu" (Two u's) is the Japanese word for Baseball ("field ball") and "Joh" (or "Jou" as it is most commonly written) connotes a space or an area set apart for stated use. It is a common suffix used to match English terms like "field" or "green" or "arena," etc.

"Jou" can, indeed, mean "all right," (and there are many homonyms in Japanese) but no Japanese person would ever use this combination of ideograms. This is like someone saying "Base [headquarters] ball [type of dance] field [agricultural area]" :) Here's some information from the Japanese Baseball History website that might explain the question, "why 'Baseball field?'":

"Even before the establishment of their first professional league in 1936, baseball had been played in Japan for over a half-century. Introduced by American teachers and professors in the 1870s, Japanese baseball evolved apart from the game played in the United States. Primarily used as a 'teaching' tool, baseball during those early years was played rigidly, as if it were a martial art through which players strengthened themselves physically and mentally." (Emphasis mine)

My guess is that the use of the term "Baseball field" was meant to bring the pilot's mind into a more focused state. I have met many Japanese Baseball players and they are very intense people, treating the game almost as a religion. Also I was on a Japanese city softball team for a while and wow, did they take it seriously.

Sorry for the long email; I hope this brings more light to the issue. I find it fascinating. And thank you for the effort you put into your website, and your thoughtful comments on

-- Marc Carson

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