Hashimura’s father was a kite maker, and his father had become a kite maker because his father’s father had been born into a kite making family that had a kite shop near Ueno Park in Tokyo long before the Pacific War. He was a lucky man to have been born into such an artistic family.
Should they sell their twenty tsubo straw-thatched shop not far from Ueno Park and move to Kyoto to make kites in a city that was home to a thousand temples, or should they stay near Ueno and reap the rewards from a thousand tourists who were in Tokyo on traditional holidays? Hashimura grew up listening to his grandparents discuss how their great-grandparents had talked about it: “Basho, basho, basho,” — Place, place, place.
Even though the conversation had taken place in his family over generations, the family hadn’t actually sold and left the Tokyo area for Kyoto until the end of the Meiji. By that time Tokyo had become too Western, too full of mechanical things, and the family finally made their choice.
Hashimura’s family had moved to Kyoto in 1929, three years after the age of Taisho, the Time of Enlightenment. ‘29 was the year that he was born, which by 1945, made him sixteen, and sixteen made him old enough to serve in the corps of the Kamikaze.
When he went before his selective service board they asked him about his father’s occupation. He explained that his father was the son of a Tokyo kite maker, and his father had learnt his craft from his father not far from the walls of the Imperial Castle. They asked him to offer the old, classical names of the eight winds, and when he answered, the officer on duty drafted him to the corps with a stroke of the brush. Hashimura knew wind, and they forced him into service on the stop. To this day, many people believe that Kamikaze were volunteers. Kore wa, chi’gaimasu — That isn’t so. Many of them were drafted, and Hashimura was one of those airmen. He didn’t ask for this duty.
His training was to be completed in about a month, but conditions prevented that. Although the Kamikaze had priority over fuel, it was often difficult to obtain all they needed to maintain their training schedule. There were air raids, shortages of fuel, and even bad weather that would postpone the training. Imagine inclement weather being responsible for preventing a person from training that would lead to flying a plane into an enemy warship and blowing himself into oblivion.
Some people perhaps believe that Kamikaze training was simple. You take off, find a ship, fly into it, and blow yourself up. That wasn’t the case. There was a low attack, an attack where the pilot would skim over the surface of the ocean. They had to learn how to manage their aircraft as sprays of water literally splashed up from the ocean and into their wings and into the propeller. Then there was the high attack, an attack where the pilot had to target an enemy ship and dive. It was like using the plane as a bullet. Imagine firing a rifle from 20, 000 feet in high winds to strike a target the size of a trampoline that was rocking side to side on the ocean. They were not trained just to strike anywhere. They had to hit very specific places on the ships — “One Life, One Ship.”
To achieve that, the Japanese officers in charge of training always stressed one key point, “You must keep your eyes open to the very end.” It was also paramount in the manual, the Tokkotai, “You MUST not waste your life. You must trade, your life for an American ship! Your eyes must stay open!” Every day, this was hammered into them by their officers, “Eyes open to the last!” It was the key to an effective strike.
There were many different feelings among the cadets who were training to do this, and there were different types of officers, too. Yet late at night after training, privately, friend to friend, the one thing that would come up in quiet whispers was this: “Can you do it? Can you fly your bomb into the heart of the American ship with your eyes wide open, not closing for a single second?”
Hashimura had trained in the Ki-43 II, the Hayabusa, the Peregrine Falcon. His wing was called to report to the briefing hanger at 8 AM on the morning of August 15, 1945. The officers had diagrammed an attack on a group of American ships. The ships were heading west, and thus to conserve fuel, the command ordered the assault to be launched the next morning. The pilots readied themselves. Most wrote home to their mothers. It was the last night of their lives.
The officers called their pilots back into the briefing room for a very special announcement. Would the flight be called earlier? Had the American group changed course? Yet, at 12 noon, on that same day, the Emperor of Japan announced that the nation would adhere to the Potsdam Agreement — Japan would surrender.
Hashimura lived to the age of 81, and one of his pleasures was to have his two grandchildren help him down to the beach at Kujukuri where he would close his eyes, stand, and listen to the sounds of the sea. Yet most days, he would rest quietly on his cot at home. He had stopped sleeping on the floor years before. Not in good enough health to fish, he would often just lie on his bed, and there, he would close his eyes, and in his own imagination watch his father’s and his grandfather’s kites dancing in the wind over Kyoto. He lived to old age, and one of his greatest pleasures was to be able to close his eyes whenever he wanted to and dream of kites.
With 4 years as a chaplain’s assistant in the 82nd Airborne, a BA in English and a BA in Arts & Letters, TFAhan has studied Photography, History, English, Linguistics, German, Russian, Classical Greek, Swahili, Chinese, and Japanese. With an MA in Applied Linguistics, Tim holds Japanese certifications in classical Okinawan karate, Japanese traditional fencing, and traditional Japanese archery. Tim lived in Japan for 15 years and Kenya for 3 where he worked for the UN. Tim currently lives in a nice shack in Alaska; as long as the snow doesn’t melt too much, the walls stand reasonably perpendicular.