The Japanese are known for being stoic and dutiful, and their actions during World War II are a perfect example of this. Fighter pilots who were willing to die for their country during this time were known as kamikaze. In today’s article, we’re going to look at what kamikaze are, how they were trained, and why these people were so willing to sacrifice their lives for the war.

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What Does Kamikaze Mean?

Kamikaze, when written in Japanese, looks like this:


The first kanji 神 (shin) means “god; spirit; divinity,” and the second one 風 (fuu) means “wind.” The word kamikaze is usually translated as “divine wind.” 

What Does Kamikaze Mean?
What Does Kamikaze Mean?

Kamikaze was originally used as a name for the two typhoons that saved the Japanese from Mongolian invasion in the late 13th century. Today, kamikaze is better known as the name for the aerial Japanese special attack unit (特別攻撃隊, tokubetsu kōgekitai) during World War II from 1944-1945. 

What Is Kamikaze?

Toward the end of the war, the Japanese found themselves at the end of their rope. They had just endured several military defeats and were lacking in essential resources and industrial capacity. Their air force was outdated, much of their equipment and aircraft obsolete, and they were losing pilots faster than they could replace them. In order to avoid surrender, they had to come up with better military tactics, which led to kamikaze.

Kamikaze were a special attack unit of pilots that would embark on suicide missions. The goal was to destroy as many enemy naval ships and aircraft carriers as possible. The missions involved loading aircraft with explosives such as bombs and torpedoes and directly hitting the target by crash-diving into them. These suicide attacks were said to have a 19% accuracy rate, which was far better than any conventional air attack. The kamikaze tactic was also a way to compensate for their obsolete aircraft. 

About 3,800 kamikaze pilots sacrificed their lives for the war, and over 7,000 naval personnel were killed as a result of the attacks.

How Were Soldiers Trained to Be Kamikaze?

Training involved rigorous discipline and frequent beatings in order to craft a “fighting spirit” (攻撃精神, kōgekiseishin) within the soldier. The military also presented them with a manual that instructed how they must think, prepare, and attack. This high level of spiritual training and the reinforcement that they all must remain in perfect physical condition was the military’s way of preparing soldiers for death. 

The manual also provided instructions on how to crash-dive planes into naval vessels. It stated that if crashing down from above, pilots must aim for a point between the bridge tower and smoke stacks. If it was a horizontal attack, they had to aim for the middle of the vessel in order to cause the most damage. It was forbidden for a pilot to close his eyes before a strike in order to decrease the risk of missing the target. Just before striking, the pilot was to yell, “Hissatsu!” (必殺) at the top of his lungs, which means, “Certain kill.”   

Why Were Kamikaze Pilots Willing to Die?

Japanese military culture is closely related to Japan’s samurai culture. Samurai practiced a code of honor called the Bushido (武士道), which follows a set of 8 virtues. Included in these virtues are honor, duty and loyalty, and heroic courage. If a soldier is captured by enemies, or if an officer commands him to do something and he refuses or backs out at the last minute due to fear, he is breaking the code of honor. If a samurai broke the code of honor in the past it would bring great shame to him, and often times the only solution was to commit harakiri (an act of suicide involving a ritual cutting open of the stomach). Therefore, in order to sustain the code of honor, soldiers in the Japanese military had to obey all commands and execute them to the best of their ability to the point of death.

It is also known that the Japanese believed that emperor Hirohito was a descendant of the gods (現人神, arahitogami), or, in other words, god incarnate. This meant that volunteering for a kamikaze mission was a great honor for some because it was akin to offering their lives to god. Dying in battle also meant that one’s soul would become an eirei (英霊), which is a guardian spirit of Japan. Moreover, it was seen as a great honor for one’s body to be buried in war memorial Yasukuni shrine. The reason for this is that the emperor would visit the shrine twice a year, and it was thought that this was the only way for an ordinary citizen to be deified. 

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In Summary

Kamikaze was the name given to Japanese fighter pilots during World War II whose special duty was to go on suicide missions. Their tactic was to destroy as many enemy sea vessels as possible by crash-diving their planes into them. The training for these missions was rigorous, and involved crafting a fighting spirit within the soldier, which would give him strength in the face of certain death. The pilots carried out these missions in order to bring honor to themselves by obeying the military code, which closely resembled that of the samurai Bushido code of honor. Other volunteer pilots felt that the emperor, whom they believed to be a descendant of god, would deify their souls in exchange for dying for the country.  

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