Kamikaze means “Divine Wind” in Japanese. I knew that the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots was a place that I should visit whilst in Kagoshima Prefecture, because I didn’t know much about it.
It was so terrible. Yet really humbling.
Kamikaze was a last-resort option. The Japanese were fighting the Allied ships during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The Allied force was closing in on Japan’s home islands and they had run out of effective weapons, they had nothing left.
This was when they came up with missions called tokkō to strip their planes of all weight to go as fast as possible, load them with explosives, and fly them into the warships. A suicide mission.
The Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots has every goodbye letter from the 1036 individuals that sacrificed their lives. Some were of pride that they were contributing towards saving their country, some were goodbye prayers to keep their family safe. It was overwhelming how brave they were and an true insight into the minds of people who knew that tomorrow would be their last day.
The first part of the museum has no English captions however there was a section of private letters to partners, children, parents and siblings that has English translations. Reading them made me cry! Which was nothing on what they must have been feeling at the time of writing them.
Every plane was used, however one was recovered from the sea after a malfunction before reaching the ships, it has been weathered significantly but still intact and is on display inside the museum amongst other interesting artefacts.
The museum grounds holds two places to pray for the families of the pilots, a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine. The memorial park also holds 1036 stone lanterns, each with a name and a different figure carved onto the front, possibly as a likeness to each brave man fallen.
To cheer up after a serious morning, I headed to the other side of Chiran, to the Samurai District.
The Samurai district has been well preserved and the gardens maintained as a National Cultural asset since 1975. Most of these gardens were built by gardeners from Kyoto in the 17th century, which were designed to be viewed from the houses. One garden has a designated spot to sit and view the garden with the mountains in the backdrop.
Each house has been built like a mini fortress, with castle-like entrances with stone work for defence. There are remains of a small castle at the east of the samurai street, however the majority of it burned down at the end of the 16th century and never replaced. There are houses with the original thatched roof, a rare sight, with only a handful of samurai villages left in Japan.
In comparison to 10% of the population that lived in the rest of Japan, about 40% in Satsuma, Kagoshima Prefecture were samurai. Normally under the Edo government, the rules were that the samurai were to live around the one castle per province, however in Satsuma they decided to do things differently and spread out their samurai all over the kingdom.
This samurai district was for the wealthy, they earned money by growing tea, a sencha that is extremely high quality and famous in Japan for being incomparable in taste and texture.
Many tea rooms are dotted around the village, one of which has an original Routemaster bus outside, complete with the destination names of where I used to live in London.
Free parking available near Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots.
Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots entry: 500¥
Museum hours: 9:00 – 17:00 (last entry 16:30)
Chiran Samurai Village Parking: 400¥
Access to Samurai Street Gardens: 500¥
Tickets have to be purchased from vendors on either end of the street, or tickets are available along the main road in 3 shops nearby the car parking.