What do modern Japanese think of Kamikaze pilots

Regardless of what you think of the war record of imperial Japan I’m curious how Kamikaze pilots are viewed by modern day Japanese people? Personally I can’t help but have respect for those men who were so willing to defend their homeland that they were literally willing to die for their country.

You understand that the Japanese were the aggressors right? In which case you’re defending because you’re losing.

It depends on how you look at it.

To Americans, the Japanese attacked us out of the blue at Pearl Harbor. It was a completely unprovoked attack.

To the Japanese, the conflict in the Pacific went all the way back to the 1800s. On the one hand, you had numerous conflicts with China (google the 1st and 2nd Sino-Japanese wars). On the other hand, Western powers were stomping all over China, and Japan was pretty sure that they were next. The West was taking over the Pacific, inch by inch. In their view, they didn’t just attack out of the blue. They saw war as inevitable and hoped that their strike at Pearl Harbor would stop the Western powers in the Pacific. If they didn’t strike at Pearl Harbor, they were certain that the U.S. would eventually strike at Japan. Pearl Harbor was the better option, in their view. They also thought, given the American public’s isolationist world view, that the U.S. would just decide that the Pacific wasn’t worth the bother and would stop their expansion and attempted control over that part of the world (Yamamoto disagreed, hence his comment about waking the sleeping giant).

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Japan did not strike out of the blue and unprovoked, but American isolationism and the general population completely ignoring what was going on in the Pacific sure made it seem that way. There are probably some lessons to be learned here about sticking your head in the sand and pretending that all of that stuff going on around the world doesn’t affect you. On the other side, there’s also a valid point that even if Japan thought that conflict was probably inevitable, they did fire the first shots. After that, there was no more “probably”. The war was on. Any chances of a peaceful resolution to tensions in the Pacific disappeared as soon as the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.

As for modern Japanese, this isn’t my area of expertise, but from what I have read there are differing views. Some Japanese think of the Kamikazes as great heroes who were caught up in a conflict that they did not start. Others think of them as irrational and idiotic. I don’t know enough about Japanese culture to say which view is more popular.

I’m nowhere near an expert on these matters, so my thoughts may be laughably wrong.

Weren’t kamikaze pilots typically coerced into it? It is my understanding that the Japanese military had a “no surrender, no retreat” policy, meaning that you were expected to die rather than surrender, retreat or be captured.
It is also my understanding (though I wonder whether this is Western propaganda) that those soldiers who did surrender or retreat had their families threatened, imprisoned or publicly shamed/exiled. This extends, I believe, to kamikaze pilots who didn’t follow through with their attack.
If this is the case, kamikaze pilots were not willing to die for their country, they were willing to die for their families, which makes them honourable, but not in a ‘war hero’ sense.

I don’t believe there’s any way to justify this.

Imperial Japan was engaging in aggression against everyone nearby, or even at a considerable difference, including Russia and Korea. Their “numerous conflicts” with China were entirely unprovoked attacks. The “West” was not expanding in the Pacific; the United States in particular was already planning to leave the Phillipines and wasn’t expanding. Neither were Britain or France - and Japan in any case couldn’t exactly claim the moral high ground, having allied with both as convenient.

The only thing I can even think of which might fit is that the United States ceased oil sales… because the actions of Imperial Japan in China made American politicians exchange worried, sidelong glances. Further, your argument is itself divided - you can’t claim that America was isolationist and then say that Japan had anything remotely like a legitimate fear of attack.

Finally, the idea doesn’t make much sense given that the launch of the Pacific War was caused much more by the politics of internal competition, with very little consideration to grand strategy. The biggest goals can basically be boiled down to resources, prestige, and colonialism. Diplomatic checks or defense had very little to do with it as far as I can tell.

I would hope that it’s viewed as a tragedy; brave men who went to certain death in the defense of their homeland, as part of a war their own country started.

Much like I’d view a lot of the Confederate rank and file casualties; those guys weren’t generally slave owners, most didn’t have any particular skin in that game one way or the other, and nor did they have 150 or more years of perspective on things to decide they were on the wrong side of history. Their state called, and they went, off to get killed in some muddy field by a bunch of their own countrymen who happened to live in different states.

Google “Black Ships” and Commodore Perry. Google Meiji restoration.

They think there’s no future in it.

None of this is relevant, and it was all long before the decisions that led to WW2.

And I have nothing but contempt for the officers who willingly sent their own men to certain death.

As for the pilots themselves… sorry. I can’t respect suicide bombers of any type.

It should be possible to respect sacrifices made by brave people in support of vicious, indefensible ideologies.

Very difficult though.

I wasn’t making an argument. I was trying to present how both sides looked at the same thing through very different eyes. I’m not trying to justify what the Japanese did, I’m trying to explain the Japanese point of view (or at least my limited understanding of it).

If you want to understand history, you need to understand what each side was thinking at the time. If you only take the American point of view, you’ll never understand why the Japanese did what they did.

There also wasn’t one man named America and one man named Japan. There were different people who were thinking and doing different things. The American public was mostly isolationist and had no idea what was going on in the Pacific, so to them, Pearl Harbor was a completely unprovoked and unjustifiable act. But the American military wasn’t so isolationist, and we were getting involved in things all around the Pacific. It was our involvement in China (and the involvement of other Western powers in China) that particularly spooked the Japanese leadership.

The world isn’t black and white. Hitler wasn’t a super-villain, and the Japanese weren’t evil. If you treat history like everyone was comic book characters who are either good guys or bad guys, you’ll never understand history. It’s all shades of gray, and people, for the most part, are just people. If you understand their thoughts and emotions, you can often understand why they thought that their actions were the correct thing to do at the time.

Think of it this way. If the Japanese viewpoint wasn’t justifiable, then how did the Japanese justify it?

You don’t have to agree with the viewpoint to understand it.

It is hard not to use the word “evil” to describe the death cult that permeated Japan during WWII - not just its manifestation in kamikaze air attacks, but demonstrated in the exhortations of its leaders, press and many willing civilians to “die gloriously” for the nation and emperor.

“The Japanese…even before they had begun to lose the War in a big way, glorified the fact that they were never going to meet again, anywhere. They were going to go out in a blaze of glory. They were the “hundred million hearts beating as one,” the “hundred million advancing like a ball of flame”, the “hundred million kamikaze”; finally, as city after city, in the spring of 1945, became engulfed in flames from American incendiary bombs, they were ichioku gyokusai, “the shattering of one hundred million like a beautiful jewel”.”

Obviously not all Japanese were eager to die resisting the Allies, but there were plenty who were happy to push the entire population toward that goal, which I find pretty damn evil.

Why? “Death before dishonor” might be an alien cultural norm to you, but evil?

No, you were not. You are inventing a sympathetic viewpoint that Japan’s leaders and people did not share, and then attributing it to them. But the viewpoint you created was historically dead wrong, and emphatically nothing at all like what they believed according to their own voices. Japan learned the lessons it was already primed to learn - and resisted changing when militarism receded after WW1, instead becoming even more aggressive every year.

THis is one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve seen in a good long while. I have gone to considerable lengths on this very board to make an honest argument in favor of many regimes I don’t agree with. To give one example, I have argued that Imperial Germany was not really responsible for W1 as most histories in the West demonstrate, based on specific evidence to show that.

No, that’s incredibly wrong. Japan spent a decade attacking China in a brutal campaign of conquest solely for power and glory, during a time when Western powers were ending colonialism toward China at least, and treating Japan as a Great Power in her own right. The American military wasn’t doing anything to either Japan or China in this period. Our political leadership was indeed friendly towards China - and reacted to the Japanese attacks with horror, sympathy, and humanitarian aid.

Unlike some people, I can both understand a viewpoint and indeed say that it is, without a doubt, evil to core. And the leadership of Japan was simultaneously chaotic and utterly corrupt, to the point where it eventually self-destructed. Further, I can actually explain this viewpoint if I cared to do so, because I’ve actually studied the aspects of Japan which gave rise to this.

Japan wasn not some group of poor beleagured innocents who were merely protecting themselves, but developed a vicious ideology of racial superiority to support a couple military machines run for the private ambitions of its officers. Strangely enough, I don’t generally let people off the hook for attacking their neighbors because they point to some wrong supposedly suffered a century ago, which was actually to their incredible advantage.

It’s not “death before dishonor”, it’s just “death”. Death as the first, last and only option.

Not propaganda necessarily but a simply wrong idea which helped some Westerners explain to themselves the otherwise hard to fathom fact that Japanese ‘special attack’ airmen were strictly volunteers. More exaggerated forms of that rationalizing included stories they were chained into the their cockpits, etc. Completely false.

The Japanese military ethic which prevailed or evolved until (at least) the end of WWII was set out during the Meiji period (where as other posts mentioned roots of the Pacific War can also be found). It was consistent with earlier noble warrior codes of conduct but that period is where those things were popularized and became part of the national ideology for the new Japan which applied to common people. The Imperial Rescript for Soldiers and Sailors of 1882 was often still referred to in the militarist/WWII era. The famous line ‘bear in mind that duty is weightier than a mountain, while death is lighter than a feather’ was identified with the fight to the death mentality, though the document doesn’t anywhere require that in so many words. Moreover themes like ‘neither be led astray by current opinions nor meddle in politics’ the requirement to show consideration to lower ranking soldiers, or ‘never despise an inferior enemy’ had obviously been heavily de-emphasized as a practical matter by the time of the 1937 and 1941 wars. But volunteering for suicide missions was nothing new or strange, only more extensive. Social pressure perhaps to volunteer, but not coercion from higher ranks

The OP question asks what modern Japanese think of the kamikaze. Obviously any answer will be a generalization that doesn’t apply to everyone in Japan. But IME the line from OP post ‘respect for those men who were so willing to defend their homeland that they were literally willing to die for their country’ describes the predominant view among those with any knowledge or concern about history (which isn’t everyone either of course, in any country). The view of ordinary WWII military men tends to be separated from that of the govt at the time.

And that’s not completely unlike Germany. The supposed difference is that Germans have been consistently and strongly educated that Germany caused the war and that’s fuzzier in Japan. But IME in both countries I’m not sure it’s as different as advertised and it’s partly that older Germans learned to be more politically correct in withholding their opinions on the ‘positive side’ of the National Socialist era as they saw it than older Japanese wrt the militarists. Anyway in both cases now almost the entire population has no direct relation to the events, and in neither country is it common to hold ordinary fighting men of WWII in low esteem.

As always, not the best source for a quote, but from Wikipedia:

“Commander Asaichi Tamai asked a group of 23 talented student pilots, all of whom he had trained, to volunteer for the special attack force. All of the pilots raised both of their hands, volunteering to join the operation. Later, Tamai asked Lieutenant Yukio Seki to command the special attack force. Seki is said to have closed his eyes, lowered his head and thought for 10 seconds, before saying: “Please do appoint me to the post.” Seki became the 24th kamikaze pilot to be chosen. Seki later said: “Japan’s future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots” and “I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire … I am going because I was ordered to.”[21]”

“When the volunteers arrived for duty in the corps, there were twice as many persons as aircraft available. “After the war, some commanders would express regret for allowing superfluous crews to accompany sorties, sometimes squeezing themselves aboard bombers and fighters so as to encourage the suicide pilots and, it seems, join in the exultation of sinking a large enemy vessel.” **Many of the kamikaze pilots believed their death would pay the debt they owed and show the love they had for their families, friends, and emperor. “**So eager were many minimally trained pilots to take part in suicide missions that when their sorties were delayed or aborted, the pilots became deeply despondent. Many of those who were selected for a bodycrashing mission were described as being extraordinarily blissful immediately before their final sortie.”[44]”

Bold=My emphasis

These were typically young men who as rookie pilots would likely have been shot down anyway. IIRC, towards the end of WWII, not all Kamikazes were volunteers.

Towards the end of WWII, Germany also had their how “kamikazes”, the “Sonderkommando Elbe”, which again consisted of rookie pilots. I believe there were also plans for manned V2 rockets ala the Oka, better known as the Baka (Idiot) to the Americans.

On the allied side there are numerous men and women (many unsung) who volunteered for suicide missions. Were their sacrifices any more or less noble that the Kamikazes?

I grew up during the Vietnam War and just missed the draft by a few years. Even in my mid-teens, I debated with myself and my friends whether I’d be willing for fight for my country which wasn’t under direct attack. However, if we were under direct attack and my family directly threatened, I wouldn’t have hesitated a moment.

I wouldn’t judge it more or less noble or judge relative bravery, but as a rule Western ‘suicide missions’ held out some theoretical chance of survival. For example the Soviets as well as the Germans employed ramming tactics by fighters against bombers, which the Japanese did also. But the German/Soviet pilot at least in theory intended to try to bring their a/c down safely or bail out, even in case of the proposed manned Fi 103R (ie the V-1 pulsejet powered airplane-like missile rather than the V-2 ballistic missile) they would theoretically have bailed out though the probability would have been really low. But many German and Soviet fighter pilots survived ramming conventional fighters into bombers, the Japanese fighters ramming B-29’s typically had no such intention, like the anti-ship ‘special attack’ pilots didn’t. Although a handful of Japanese ‘suicide’ attackers did by fluke survive actual attacks, and many more launched on special attacks missions but found no target and returned, which was accepted, then never got another opportunity (as fuel a/c and pilots were mainly conserved for the final defense of Japan after the Okinawa campaign). And many men volunteered for special attack but had no opportunity to fly a mission.

It could get into a trivial debate about overlapping individual cases in West and Japan of military missions very likely to result in death, but in the bigger picture there was a clear cultural difference. And if there were any case of direct orders for special attack which would have resulted in those refusing being treated as mutineers/deserters (rather than just being viewed as lacking honor) they were few The big picture was lots of pilots willing to volunteer, which was hard for Westerners to fathom then and even now.

I cannot speak for all modern Japanese, but I am married to one modern Japanese person who regards special attack pilots as tragic victims of wartime propaganda and brainwashing. To that I would add the very strong sense of duty that was and remains an important part of Japanese culture, which unfortunately means that the words of the pilots themselves at the time are not a reliable guide to what was in their hearts. Those who survived for one reason or another tend to express a strong sense of relief at being spared.