The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project
"Sakurajima" by Haruo Umezaki is a very interesting short story set on a Japanese Naval Base that was the launching base for naval suicide attacks by boat, mini -submarine and even human torpedoes. The story begins around June 1945 and ends shortly after Japan surrenders.
Umezaiki (1915 to 1965-Fukuoka,Japan) served in the Japanese Navy during WWII as a signal man and as a code breaker. He was drafted into the Navy. After the war his life was entirely devoted to his writing. As far as I can tell, this story is the only one of his works currently available in translation.
"Sakurajima" is a very interesting look into the mind set of a Japanese Navy man, drafted into a war he did not want and does not quite understand the point off assigned to a suicide base. The base was a launching place for attacks on US Navy vessels by suicide attacks. It was very interesting to see the tension between the men who were being trained for naval kamikaze attacks and the men on the base whose goal was to survive to the end of the war not to die in the service of their Emperor. The central character in the story and others on the base see that the kamikaze trainees as basically very young fools, in many cases they are very "country". When ever a "normal" navy man walks past the kamikaze sailors they are given a hateful look.
We can see the growing doubts in the mind of the lead character. The petty officers who directly control the men do the best they can to enforce the ideals of the war. When the lead character asks what they will do when the Americans invade, he is told they will all launch suicide attacks on them. He is no longer able to see the point of this in a war in which it looks like they will lose. I felt his shock when for the first time he hears an officer say not "when we win this war" but "if we win". Umezaki does a great job of showing us the extreme state of bewilderment on the base when they get word of the Atom bombs and the surrender of the Japanese.
"Sakurajima" is included in an anthology of Japanese war stories, The Catch and Other War Stories edited and introduced by Shoichi Sacki. It is out of print but can be bought on Amazon. I previously posted on a story from the collection, "Bones" by Fumiko Hayashi.
I enjoyed this story and I think anyone with a special interest in Japanese literature about WWII in the Pacific would appreciate it.