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I’m still having trouble comprehending that I’m attending my own funeral. I look around at the guests clad in black kimonos, suits, and dresses and shake my head in disbelief. I’m not dead yet. Or am I? Tomorrow I’m going to ride with the holy wind, Kamikaze. I know the exact date of my death. Does that mean I’m already dead? Somebody calls for the room’s attention and I look towards the front. My mother stands on a raised platform in her black kimono and obis.
“Hello everyone and thank you for coming to my son, Setsuo’s, funeral. As you all know, tomorrow he will be riding with the holy wind as a Kamikaze pilot. The entire family is so proud of him for sacrificing his life for our country and Emperor, Hirohito,” my mother speaks. The crowd claps and I receive a few bows from people nearby me. I smile politely in return and wave, but I do nothing else. “The ancient samurai warriors would carry out this tradition before committing seppuku,” my mother continues. I shudder at the mention of seppuku, when the samurai would commit suicide by plunging a knife into their stomachs. Somehow they got it into their heads that suicide is an honorable way to die.
“It’s not,” I whisper to myself. I know what you’re thinking. Why am I talking? I’m committing suicide myself. The truth is, I don’t want to do this. I was forced to by the Thought Police. They said they would kill my mother if I didn’t sign up so here I am attending my own funeral. I’m a dead man.
“Setsuo?” my mother calls to me. I guess I zoned out and missed what she said. “Are you going to recite your death poem?”
“Yes, mother,” I tell her, my cheeks turning red. I draw out a paper from my uniform pocket and scramble up to where my mother stands on the platform. She steps down and I take her place, looking down at the haiku poem I wrote.
Cherry blossoms bloom,
The sun rises, the moon shines,
After I am gone.
I recite it quickly and step down, letting my mother take her place on the platform. The poem is true, is it not? Even after I have died, life will go on and someone will fill the empty space I have left behind. My thoughts are interrupted by shouting and gasps. I look towards the front of the room, where my father is standing on the platform with a knife.
“I do not think my son taking his life for this godforsaken country is a great honor! I think it is a disgrace and a waste of a good life!” my father rants. I run up to him and I am soon by his side along with my mother. We are both tugging on his arms, trying to get him off the platform. I can see my strained face in the silver knife, reflecting the sadness in my eyes.
“Father, discuss your concerns with me after the funeral,” I tell him.
“No, son,” he objects. “Everyone needs to see this.” Mother and I give up on him, knowing that we won’t be able to do anything. My father holds out his index finger and raises the knife to it. “I do this to say you, Emperor Hirohito, are responsible for the death of my son and many other Japanese lives.” I watch the blade slice through flesh and bone easily, my father’s finger dropping to the ground. Bile rises in my throat, but I force it back down.
“Father,” I choke. “You need help. Let me get a bandage for you.” I start to head for the medicines, but he stops me, blood smearing on my uniform.
“No son, enjoy the rest of your life. I will get the bandages,” he says. I swallow and go back to the party. I never told him that the Thought Police threatened to kill my mother. I didn’t want her to blame herself for my death, and my father would have told her. The consequence of doing that is that my father has disowned me. As you can see, he’s very against the emperor. I’m not too fond of the emperor either, but I’m his slave now.
“This is a very great thing you are doing for our country, Setsuo,” my uncle tells me.
“Thank you, Uncle,” I reply. Others come up to me and I can no longer stand it so I sneak outside into the garden with some Sake in a porcelain cup. Kamikazes always drink Sake, a drink made from fermented rice, before the day they die. Technically, I can drink all I want and nobody would care since it’s my last drink, but I want a clear head tomorrow. The moon is shining bright tonight, illuminating the garden’s flowers and the scars I received from tokkotai pilot training.
I still have nightmares from training. The corporals would beat me until I felt numb on the outside and on the inside. My skin had bruises, but so did my soul. They say they beat us to instill a fighting spirit inside of all the pilots, but I don’t think it worked. Whatever fighting spirit I had is now gone. I used to want to fight my superiors for beating me time and time again, but eventually I grew so weary that any anger or feeling at all was quickly drained.
“Setsuo?” a woman’s voice calls to me. I look up and see my older sister coming towards me in her black kimono. I am sixteen and she is eighteen.
“Hello, Sun,” I greet her. She glides over gracefully, like a swan in still water and sits down on the bench with me.
“How are you dealing with all of this?” she asks me. I chuckle.
“Not very well,” I admit. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to kill people. I don’t want this honor.”
“I think it is a very brave thing you are doing. Just think of it! You’ll be enshrined at Yasukuni, where the emperor himself visits twice a year. You’ll be an eirei, a guardian spirit of Japan,” she praises me, trying to comfort me. However, the words she says just anger me. That new husband of hers has completely transformed her.
“I don’t think you’ll be so happy when your new husband enlists to be a Kamikaze, will you?” I growl, trying to get her angry.
“Of course, I’ll be sad, but I’ll understand. Sacrificing yourself for your country is the most honorable way to die!” she defends her husband.
“What is so honorable about suicide? Suicide is for cowards and followers. They are either so afraid of what’s going to happen to them next instead of facing it like a man, or, they have no minds of their own so they rely on others to tell them what to do.”
“If you’re so against it, why are you even a Kamikaze?” Sun’s voice cracks and she has to pause before she goes on. “You know what? Let’s not taint our last moments together with anger and fear. I love you, Setsuo, and there’s nothing you can say that will make me change my mind.” Sun walks away, no longer gliding, but flying towards the door.
“Why am I a Kamikaze, Sun? Because I have no choice,” I whisper to no one. I sigh and get up to go to my bedroom. I stare up at my ceiling, sleep just hanging by a thread, but never coming to me.
At dawn, I write a farewell note to my family. I don’t want to deal with goodbyes. I already said goodbye last night and hopefully, that was enough. My stomach is too upset to eat breakfast so I just grab my Kamikaze attire and go outside, pausing before leaving—for good.
“Attention, soldiers!” Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi yells at us. All eyes are directed towards him, we wouldn’t dare disobey him in the slightest way. No one sane would want to feel the slap of bamboo on their backs.
“Sir, yes, sir!” we shout in reply. I’m dressed in my uniform with my hachimaki headband and my senninbari (a belt of a thousand stitches sewn by a thousand women who each did one stitch).
“Today is April 11th, 1945, and you know what is particularly special about this date? It is the day you die. You will be setting out today for your target--the United States battleship called the U.S.S. Missouri, which is off the coast of Okinawa. Before you go though, I will tell you the story of the Kamikaze, or the holy wind,” the Admiral says.
“A story?” one of us asks.
“Yes, a story. The story takes place long ago, when Genghis Khan and his army of Mongolians were conquering every, single country in the continent of Asia. The Mongolians decided it was time to take over Japan so they sailed across the sea until they came across a formidable natural force—the typhoon. The typhoon, or Kamikaze—the holy wind—stopped the Mongolians and made them turn back. However, they did not want to give up so they set sail for Japan once again. Fortune must have been on Japan’s side that day because a second, stronger typhoon made the Mongols retreat. They never tried to invade Japan again because of the Kamikaze,” the Admiral finishes.
The soldiers start to mutter about how they will be just as heroric as the holy wind, but I remain silent.
“Remember, soldiers!” the Admiral calls. The muttering comes to an abrupt stop. “That no life needs to be wasted. If you see no opportunity, you may come back. However, if you come back more than nine times, you will be killed. You have a duty to do for your country! Do it!”
“Sir, yes, sir!” We all reply. The Admiral says nothing more so we head for our planes. A lot of us stumble, still drunk from their funerals last night. Not me, though. I have a clear head because today I die and my death means something to me. I climb into my dilapidated plane. I think “Zero” is an appropriate name for it. It has zero quality, and zero is the number our lives will reach when we finally die in it. I start my engine effortlessly, the process having been beat into me in tokkotai pilot training. The plane lurches forward and soon I am lifting off the runway to Okinawa.
I am flying with the holy wind, but I feel as if I am sinking.
Hours pass and I see Okinawa in the distance. The U.S.S. Missouri is a gray lump on the outside of the island. I panic, not knowing what to do. Should I not fly into the ship? Should I rebel against injust Emperor Hirohito?
How will anyone know that I rebelled? My life would mean nothing.
So I ram right into the ship? Doesn’t that go against everything I believe in?
“What do I believe in?” I ask myself. “I believe in me! I don’t believe in the Emperor, I don’t believe in Japan, I believe in myself!” I cry. “And my life will have meaning! The world will know Setsuo Ishino died on September 11th, 1945!”
The battleship approaches, and I aim the Zero at the side of the battleship. It’s around three in the afternoon so the American soldiers are on the deck aiming their guns at us, frantically fighing for their lives. I dodge their bullets easily, but I see several other planes fall to the sea below.
Their lives have no meaning, but mine will! The side of the U.S.S. Missouri and my death are just feet away.