TAGAWA, Fukuoka -- Having spent half a century covering topics such as pollution, coal mines and colonial rule, 83-year-old journalist Eidai Hayashi has come full circle to writing about tokkotai, otherwise known as "kamikaze" pilots. Undergoing treatment for cancer, with which he was diagnosed shortly before he turned 80, Hayashi's drive to write come from his sense that he does not have much time left.
"Unless we re-examine the past, we are bound to repeat our mistakes," he says.
Hayashi attributes his reading of the book, "Yanakamura metsuboshi" (The extermination of Yanaka) by writer, labor activist and politician Kanson Arahata (1887-1981), when he was a college student for starting it all. The book was reportage of the Ashio Copper Mine pollution case in Tochigi Prefecture. The book prompted Hayashi to drop out of Waseda University in Tokyo and return to his hometown, the Fukuoka Prefecture town of Kawara, determined to unearth the history of the prefecture's Chikuho region. After working for the Kitakyushu City Board of Education, Hayashi became a freelance journalist.
Hayashi focused his attention on Shinbu-ryo (Shinbu dormitory), where soldiers from the Imperial Japanese Army who returned from the front were sent to stay, and where Hayashi obtained testimony from the then Army Chief of Staff. "Shinbu-ryo represented the true essence of the army," Hayashi wrote. "It was where the suicide mission mentality was drilled again into the minds of soldiers who returned alive due to reasons such as malfunctioning aircraft."
Now, Hayashi is writing another book on tokkotai, this time about a former tokkotai flier who was put to hard labor in Siberia as a Soviet prisoner of war. "This particular soldier was sent back from Shinbu-ryo to what was then Manchuria (present-day northeastern China), and was waiting to go on his suicide mission when the war ended in Japan's defeat," Hayashi says. But the hardships did not end there. "He was then taken to Siberia."
During World War II, Hayashi's father, who had been a Shinto priest, provided shelter to Korean laborers who had escaped the coal mines. He was taken into custody by the Special Higher Police, and died after being tortured. "It all comes down to that, when I think about what motivates me to keep writing." Hayashi says that as long as he lives he will continue to write that "war will deplete people of their humanity."
"Aragai," a film about Hayashi's life, directed by Shinji Nishijima, is playing in theaters in Tokyo and Nagoya.