The traces of a kamikaze pilot photojournalist found by his son 77 years later

MINAMIKYUSHU, Kagoshima — The son of a former Mainichi Shimbun photographer who captured young Japanese kamikaze pilots before their suicide attack missions in the final stages of World War II followed in his father’s footsteps this summer, visiting this town in southwestern Japan where a base for one-way flights was located during the war.

Kamikaze pilots toast with the maintenance crew for the last time before their suicide attack missions. (Mainichi/Hiromu Hayakawa)

The photographer, Hiromu Hayakawa, joined The Mainichi Newspapers Co. in 1937 and apparently visited the Chiran base around April 1945, after returning from Japanese-occupied Manchuria in present-day northeast China. Photos he is said to have taken in Chiran include those capturing the maintenance crew checking planes through the night, pilots visiting injured comrades, and pilots giving a final toast before departing on suicide bombing missions.

“I’m seeing these photos for the first time,” said Iwao Hayakawa, 81, the late photographer’s eldest son and a resident of Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, as he looked at the old black-and-white photos kept at Headquarters. from Mainichi Shimbun to Osaka in Osaka city.

Iwao made his long-awaited trip to Chiran in July this year. “I wanted to visit Chiran at least once,” he said.

Chiran is known as the starting point for 439 of the 1,036 pilots killed in kamikaze operations targeting US military vessels in Okinawa. The area where the military base was located is now surrounded by residential neighborhoods and sweet potato fields, leaving only a water tower, an ammunition depot and a few other facilities as remnants of the war.

Kamikaze pilots visit a wounded comrade. (Mainichi/Hiromu Hayakawa)

Iwao walked around the remains of a bunker where kamikaze planes were stored, runways and “triangular barracks” where the pilots were housed. There used to be a barracks for journalists nearby, but a cedar forest now grows there.

“My dad was probably there,” Iwao said, seemingly overwhelmed with emotion.

He pulled out a Nikon single-lens reflex camera and clicked on it. Iwao himself worked primarily as a photographer for Sports Nippon Newspapers for 40 years until his retirement in 2000.

Suicide bomber pilots are seen asleep in their barracks the night before their suicide bombing missions. Cotton futons would have been provided by local residents. (Mainichi/Hiromu Hayakawa)

“He was a strict father,” Iwao recalls, while admiring his father as a photographer. “He studied his subjects thoroughly before taking pictures of them. The composition of his photos was also well thought out,” he said.

It was after he turned 40 that Iwao learned that his father had photographed kamikaze pilots in Chiran, when he saw a magazine containing photos of suicide attack units taken by his father.

By then, her father had already passed away. Besides his assignment in Chiran, his father was also an embedded journalist in Manchuria and covered Nagasaki following the August 9, 1945 American atomic bombing of the city in southwestern Japan. He didn’t talk about the war or share his thoughts on peace with his son, and Iwao never had the opportunity to sit down and talk about photography with him until his death in 1981 at the age of 64 years old. should have asked him more (about the war),” Iwao said ruefully.

Mainichi Shimbun photographer Hiromu Hayakawa is seen, apparently when he was an embedded reporter, in this photo provided by his son Iwao Hayakawa.

Iwao also visited the Chiran Peace Museum, which displays personal effects left behind by suicide bomber pilots and other relevant documents, including four photographs taken by his father.

One of the photos captured pilots as they slept soundly in barracks the night before their kamikaze attacks. Satoshi Yamaki, 46, a curator at the museum, explained: “They would normally use military blankets, but there are reports that local residents provided their futons to the barracks in the hope that the pilots could sleep on cotton futons at least their last night alive. .”

Iwao Hayakawa is seen visiting the remains of a bunker for storing kamikaze attack planes, in Minamikyushu city, Kagoshima prefecture, on July 15, 2022. (Mainichi/Saori Moriguchi)

Most of the pilots had to leave on a suicide mission in a few days, but they were also allowed to go out into town in Chiran and interact with the locals. One of the photos shows pilots helping with farming while waiting for orders for their missions.

“It must have been difficult to continue photographing the suicide units, unless my father had become an iron heart. I guess he also spent sleepless nights in the barracks,” Iwao surmised. “I guess he thought that as long as he was assigned to a job, he had to capture the pilots and talk about it in the papers as a professional.”

(Japanese original by Saori Moriguchi, Osaka City News Department)

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