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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Last Tunnel

Last Tunnel by timtak
Last Tunnel, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The pilots of Kaiten or manned torpedoes walked down this tunnel in Ohzushima near Shunan, before setting off on their one way trip to attempt to defend Japan from allied invasion. The pilots were picked up by large U-boat sized submarines that would take them out into the Pacific ocean, when they would transfer to 14m long mini, war-head bearing, "Kaiten" submarines. While there was an escape hatch none of the approximately 100 pilots attempted to use it. They managed to sink two or three US ships at the loss of approximately 200 US lives, so in military economic terms they were not ineffective. They probably helped to discourage an invasion of Japan. They could not have know that the US had another way of ensuring Japanese defeat - the atomic bomb. I come back to that.

The thing that strikes me about Kaiten pilots, and those that piloted so called "Kamikaze" (Tokkoutai 特攻隊) planes is their last letters. The philosophy expressed in these letters is that described by Markus and Kitayama (1991) as "interdependence," or as espoused by African Ubuntu philosophy such as expressed in the Zulu proverb, "Umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu" which means "I am a person through other people".

One such last letter, written by Matsuda Mitsuo, was on display in the Kaiten Museum. It reads




"To all my teachers, seniors, parents, relatives and those in my neighbourhood

Thank you all. (Lit. "Everyone, it is hard to be")

Thinking about it,
I had a fun 20 years of life
So laying to rest all your generosity
I will laugh as I launch in.

The spirit of a soldier
Young Cherry Blossom, Then thousand Cherry Blossom Trees
Matsuda Mitsuo"

This young man is saying in other words that he owes his life to the generosity of those to whom he addresses the letter, a generosity which has enabled to him to be and have fun and which is so great that it will amuse him to return the favour and give that beautiful, terrible, generosity permanent leave. This gives a good example perhaps of the etymological root of the Japanese word for "thank you": "arigatou" or "(your generosity is such that) it is hard to be".

It is difficult to know the circumstances of Petty Officer Mitsuo's death. He may have been crying and scared. However, in those last moments as Matsuda Mitsuo approached an enemy ship, I like to think that he was indeed amused. Mitsuo (lit "man of light") piloted his submarine into the sea near Okinawa on the 25th of April, 1945. He was 21 years old. He was not a man, he was dynamite.

I have read a lot of the last letters of Kaiten and "Kamikaze" pilots, and though they are all very similar they never fail to bring me to tears. I tried to make a video of this one but could not read it to the end. As I become aware of the similarity of the letters and suspect that pilots were schooled in this line of thinking, it does not make it any less moving and even as I grow older, it seems to become if anything even more true. As Madge (Maddona) says, "I am because we are". Realising ones interdependence upon others can facilitate great acts of sacrifice.

There are Christian mystics such as David Harding that say that they see the light, and the interdependence of the self, how it is "open to loving", but somehow they seem to keep their selves at the same time, keep it for God, or coming home to Suffolk. It seems to me that Christian mystics never let go of logos, still see themselves from a linguistic fourth person perspective, but these young men see, in Mitsuo's cherry trees for instance, a far fiercer light, that is all consuming. I am reminded of Robert Oppenheimer words when he witnessed the first atomic bomb, or so he thought...

"I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. I suppose we all thought that in one way or another."

Markus, Hazel R., and Shinobu Kitayama. "Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation." Psychological review 98.2 (1991): 224.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Ecce homo: how to become what you are. OUP Oxford, 2007.

Listening to
Tom Jones. Hit or Miss.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.