Bansei Tokko Peace Museum
Bansei Air Base in Kagoshima Prefecture has been called the
"phantom special attack air base" because very few people knew about
it during the war. The Imperial Japanese Army tried to keep its existence a
strict military secret from when construction began in July 1943 at Fukiage
Dunes, one of the three great sand dunes in Japan (Naemura 1993, 3, 23, 24).
The air base was nearly completed by the end of 1944, and the Army decided to
use it for kamikaze attacks on American ships near Okinawa since planes could
take off from the unpaved, bumpy runway (Naemura 1993, 23).
The Bansei Tokko Peace
Museum opened in 1993 to preserve the photos, letters, and mementos of the 201
soldiers (including 121 kamikaze pilots) at Bansei Air Base who died during the
base's operations between March and July 1945. The small village of Bansei
merged with Kaseda City in 1954, so the museum had the name of Kaseda Peace
Museum from its opening in 1993 even
though it covered the history of the former Bansei Air Base. However, Kaseda
City merged with four surrounding towns in 2005, and the new
city is now named Minamisatsuma City. In October 2005, the museum was renamed Bansei Tokko Peace
Museum since Kaseda no longer exists as a separate city.
The second floor displays photos of the 201 Bansei Air Base
soldiers who died in the war, starting with the soldier who died in the first
American bombing of the base on March 15, 1945. Each photo gives the soldier's
name, unit, date of death, age, home prefecture, and training class. Many Japanese
museums just focus on the men who died in suicide special attack operations,
but this museum gives just as much attention to those who died in regular
combat missions or during American bombings.
The soldier's letters and miscellaneous mementos are displayed
around the second-floor room, with the enclosed area in the center of the floor
displaying five letters written in blood to show the sincerity of the writers.
Although many Japanese museums display last letters of kamikaze pilots, the Bansei Tokko Peace
Museum has a feature that makes it easy for visitors to read them.
The second floor has plastic folders around the room with typed copies of the
letters on display, including phonetic readings of older or less common kanji
(Chinese characters) that may not be known by some visitors. Since some actual
letters written by the soldiers are faded, far from the display glass, or
written in calligraphy difficult to read, this feature makes it easier for
visitors to appreciate them.
Second-Floor Exhibition Room
The first floor has a 10-minute film about Bansei Air Base
and shows many clips from the war. The film has interviews with people in
Bansei in 1945, including a woman who gave lodging to pilots at an inn before
they departed on their flights. The center of the first floor has the remains of
a crash-landed Zero reconnaissance seaplane, and one side of the room has
several newspaper articles related to the museum and reflections by students
who visited the museum. This is also a model of a Type 99 assault plane, which
was used for three quarters of the kamikaze missions that departed from the
Bansei Air Base.
Hichiro Naemura, who served as an Army flight instructor in
1945 and spent much time at Bansei Air Base, led efforts to open the museum in
1993. During the war he volunteered twice to became a member of the special
attack operations, but his superiors rejected his requests to participate in
the suicide attacks because of his value as a flight instructor (Naemura 2004,
5). For many years after the end of the war people thought kamikaze pilots had
departed from Chiran Air Base, about 12 miles to the southeast of Bansei Air
Base, but actually some of them sortied from Bansei (Naemura 1993, 3). Since
the end of the war, Naemura has tried to make the public aware of the men from
Bansei who died in the war. He has written four books on the subject, and he
directed efforts to erect in 1972 the
Bansei Special Attack Monument
located in front of museum. Naemura contributed several of the
photos and other items displayed at the museum, and he also assisted in writing
Bansei Air Base was the site of one of the most famous
photos of kamikaze pilots before departure. Five young men are smiling as the
17-year-old pilot in the middle of the photo cuddles a puppy. An Asahi
Shimbun cameraman took this photo on May
26, 1945, the day before the five pilots' sorties, in front of the command headquarters at Bansei Air Base. The second
floor of the museum displays an enlarged copy of this photo. Three other
museums about the Army's kamikaze operations (Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze
Pilots, Hotaru Museum, and Tachiarai Peace Museum) also prominently display an
enlarged copy of this photo.
The Kaseda area of Minamisatsuma City can be reached by bus in 70 minutes from Kagoshima
City, but few tour buses visit this remote city. Admission costs 300 yen (about $2.70). The museum has about five
books and five videos for sale, including a large book by Hichiro Naemura on
the Bansei Air Base and two videos that cover the museum's exhibits. The museum
does not have any of the displays translated into English, and it does not
maintain any information on the Internet.
Date of Visit: June 20, 2004
Naemura, Hichiro. 1993. Rikugun saigo no tokkou kichi:
Bansei tokkoutaiin no isho to isatsu (Army's last special attack base: Last
letters and photographs of Bansei special attack corps members). Osaka: Toho
________. 2004. Sekai no gokai o toita shijun no kororo
(Pure hearts that corrected the world's misunderstandings). Hirakata City,
Osaka Prefecture: Mingeikaku.