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Booklet details history of meth chocolates wrapped by students for Japanese suicide pilots

Kazuko Umeda, right, speaks about her experiences during World War II, while Fumiyo Ooka sits next to her as the event coordinator in the Osaka Prefecture city of Takatsuki on Nov. 23, 2021. (Mainichi/Sanae Kameda)

IBARAKI, Osaka -- In 1945, the final year of the Pacific War, Kazuko Umeda, 91, then a student at a girls' high school, was tasked as a student laborer to wrap chocolates that were to be shipped out to suicide attack pilots. She had heard from older students that the chocolates were the last things the pilots ate before their suicide missions, and that "something" was inside them.

    This is where Fumiyo Ooka, 71, comes in. The former teacher traced Umeda's memory of the chocolates and compiled a booklet about them.

    During the war, Umeda evacuated from the city of Osaka in western Japan to Takatsuki, another city in Osaka Prefecture, and transferred to Osaka Prefectural Ibaraki Girls' High School, now Kasugaoka High School. There were no classes at all; students were required to provide labor. An Imperial Japanese Army Osaka logistics center branch had been set up inside the schoolhouse.

    The day Umeda transferred to the school, she was informed by a teacher that she would be wrapping chocolates that would be sent out to soldiers. The students wrapped chocolates that had the chrysanthemum emblem -- a symbol of the Emperor of Japan -- on them and were in the shape of sticks some 15 centimeters long in thin paper, and packed them into boxes. She was also ordered to monitor the other students because some of them stole the chocolates, and to report them to the teacher. At a time of scarcity, chocolates were a valuable commodity.

    That day, she was called up onto the roof of the school by some older students, and pressured to eat a piece of chocolate that they had snuck out of the packaging room. "They told me that if I ate some, then I was as guilty as they were, and ordered me not to tell the teacher." As soon as she put the chocolate in her mouth, Umeda said she felt a strange sensation, "as if there were a strong drug in it." When she went home and told her father about it, he said, "Maybe they're putting hiropon in it or something."

    Hiropon was a methamphetamine that then Dainippon Pharmaceuticals put on the market in 1941 to assist in recovery from physical exhaustion. Ooka, who heard about Umeda's experience, was shocked that a nearby high school had been used as a munitions factory, and that high school girls may have played a part in the production of methamphetamine-laced chocolate. When she began to look into it, she found record after record of methamphetamines being put in chocolate.

    Fumiyo Ooka is seen here with a booklet she compiled about female high school students wrapping chocolates with methamphetamine in them for Japanese soldiers during World War II, in the Osaka Prefecture city of Higashiosaka, on June 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Sanae Kameda)

    Ooka compiled the information she unearthed into a booklet titled "'Hiropon' and 'tokko': methamphetamine-laced chocolates wrapped by schoolgirls" ("'Hiropon' to 'tokko' jogakusei ga tsutsunda 'kakuseizai iri chokoreto'"). The booklet portrays the use of hiropon cited from a variety of sources. For example, in the book "'Meisho' 'gusho' daigyakuten no Taiheiyosensoshi" ('Good generals,' 'foolish generals,' the history of a major reversal in the Pacific War), author Kimio Arai says he was told by a confectionery company executive, "We were supplied with large amounts of hiropon, which were then covered with chocolate, embossed with the chrysanthemum emblem, and periodically given over to the military." This sounds very much like the chocolates handled by Umeda.

    In a booklet that a civic group based in the Osaka Prefecture city of Suita created in 2020 about tracing war relics in the city, it was written that "chocolate with hiropon that suicide pilots ate before they went on their missions" was stored in an underground warehouse of the Imperial Navy located in the Ai district of Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, based on testimony from someone who had been involved in their storage.

    Additionally, there are books that discuss the experiences of suicide pilots in the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy who were given hiropon through "genki-shu" (energy alcohol), which referred to alcohol with hiropon in it; "totsugeki-jo" (assault tablets), which were hiropon tablets; and hiropon injections. Ooka inferred, "It probably was meant to keep the pilots awake on their long flights, but the military probably also counted on the drug's ability to cause an abnormally excited state so the pilots would not feel fear."

    Following the end of World War II, hiropon spread from the military to the streets, and hiropon dependency became a society-wide issue. In June 1951, the Stimulants Control Act was enacted. A Dainippon Pharmaceuticals executive who was summoned to the Diet as an unsworn witness in February of that year told the Diet, "During the war, most (of the hiropon) was taken by the military and used by putting it in candy and through other means." For those who experienced the war firsthand, the link between the military and hiropon was widely known, and the drug was given not only to suicide attack units, but also to other soldiers on the front lines.

    "And yet, there are very few testimonies from people who used hiropon (in the military)," Ooka pointed out. She also fears the current climate, in which suicide pilots are romanticized. When she went to Chiran in Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan, where there was a tokko base of the Imperial Japanese Army, she felt that "the sentiments of the young soldiers who loved their country and their families and accepted death were pure." At the same time, however, she felt that "the sentiments of the bereaved families and the guilt felt by those who survived the war give birth to the glorification (of suicide mission pilots)." This led Ooka to think that "we must confront why Japan turned to a reckless war and a foolish strategy such as suicide missions."

    Ooka, who has been enthusiastic about peace education since her years as a teacher, said that in her booklet, she did her best to take a close look at the ties between the military and methamphetamines. She feels a sense of danger, saying, "We cannot prevent wars unless we understand the realities of war, and cultivate the ability to think about the causal relationship leading up to the events, as well as critical skills."

    The booklet is self-published and is available for 500 yen (about $4.30) each. To obtain a copy, contact Ooka directly at (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Sanae Kameda, Hanshin Bureau)

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