cover image Blossoms in the Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

Blossoms in the Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

M. G. Sheftall, . . Penguin/NAL, $24.95 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-451-21487-4

An independent scholar, long a resident of Japan, has produced a superior addition to the literature on Japan's tokko , or suicide, warriors. Suicidal missions—in the air (both conventional aircraft and the ineffective Ohka guided bomb) and at sea (the even less effective Kaiten manned torpedo)—had been under development during much of WWII, but the large-scale operations were launched in defense of the Philippines in October 1944. Thanks to unparalleled access to the surviving tokko personnel and a gift for characterization worthy of a first-rank novelist, the author gives us an extraordinary range of humanity, including Toshio Yoshitake, who flew obsolete attack planes all over the Philippines; Tokuro Takei, who became a suicide pilot while a teenager; and Iwao Fukagawa, holding his father's hand in farewell—as well as tokko founding father Adm. Onishi Takijirou. The author's description of the right-wing Japanese politics surrounding this part of WWII history and the resentment of many Japanese at comparisons of 9/11 to the tokko missions may raise eyebrows, but the book is remarkably evenhanded as to the vexed question of war guilt, and enormously rewarding if read carefully. (July)