Kamikaze Diaries

Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers

by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney

“We tried to live with 120 percent intensity, rather than waiting for death. We read and read, trying to understand why we had to die in our early twenties. We felt the clock ticking away towards our death, every sound of the clock shortening our lives.” So wrote Irokawa Daikichi, one of the many kamikaze pilots, or tokkotai, who faced almost certain death in the futile military operations conducted by Japan at the end of World War II. 

This moving history presents diaries and correspondence left by members of the tokkotai and other Japanese student soldiers who perished during the war. Outside of Japan, these kamikaze pilots were considered unbridled fanatics and chauvinists who willingly sacrificed their lives for the emperor. But the writings explored here by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney clearly and eloquently speak otherwise. A significant number of the kamikaze were university students who were drafted and forced to volunteer for this desperate military operation. Such young men were the intellectual elite of modern Japan: steeped in the classics and major works of philosophy, they took Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” as their motto. And in their diaries and correspondence, as Ohnuki-Tierney shows, these student soldiers wrote long and often heartbreaking soliloquies in which they poured out their anguish and fear, expressed profound ambivalence toward the war, and articulated thoughtful opposition to their nation’s imperialism. 

A salutary correction to the many caricatures of the kamikaze, this poignant work will be essential to anyone interested in the history of Japan and World War II.

  • University of Chicago Press; March 2007
  • ISBN: 9780226620923
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: Kamikaze Diaries
  • Author: Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney
  • Imprint: University of Chicago Press

In The Press

"The poems, letters and diaries featured in this book give the lie to the notion that Japan was unified behind the war. The voices of the student soldiers speak thoughtfully and eloquently about their dilemma between duty to the nation and wanting to stay alive. . . . A timely and necessary correction of a popular myth, and an important contribution to an understanding of Japan at war."
— Economist

"Ohnuki-Tierney provides a valuable service in delving beyond the stereotype into the minds of these frightened, thoughtful students."
— David Pilling, Financial Times

"With the June publication of [Kamikaze Diaries] . . . and the premiere of  Clint Eastwood's film "Letters from Iwo Jima," the image of Japanese soldiers created in the milieu of World War II propaganda will receive a long overdue makeover."
— Alison Brady, Japan Times

"The diaries . . . are gripping in their emotional impact and provide us with extensive insights into the lives of these tragic young men."
— F.G. Notehelfer, International History Review

"Ohnuki-Tierney's work presents a deeper exposition than hitherto available in English of tokkotai pilots' personal backgrounds and humanizes their struggles. The Anglophone reading audience is richer for her contribution. . . . Read in tandem, the first book offers historical analysis, while the second provides a thorough . . . annotated and translateed insight into what the student pilots read."
— Barak Kushner, Monumenta Nipponica

"[The book] is a tremendous contribution to gaining a deeper understanding of the human legacy imbued with the kamikazes. Well-written, the narrative is difficult, for the reader understands that these student soldiers' lives of great promise all ended prematurely."
— Peter Clemens, Journal of Military History

"The diaries are fascinating as the scant, sometimes eloquent, painfully inadequate trail left behind by self-aware young men in the pressurized months before their certain doom. . . . The study has useful things to tell us about our recent history. It brings into tantalizing view some unexdpected questions about the uses and limitations of humane education, and turns a raw light on the sinister powers of militarism that continue to threaten all of us."
— Kirby Farrell, Kritikon Litterarum

"By giving us gimpses of [the pilot's] inner world, Ohnuki-Tierney reminds us of the humanity of all combatants."
— Genzo Yamamoto, Books and Culture


About The Author

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney is the William F. Vilas Research Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is the author of numerous books, including Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History, also published by the University of Chicago Press.