Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Original Kamikaze

Pretty much everyone has heard of the name Kamikaze and of the suicide pilots of World War II that went by that name. Many people also know that the name Kamikaze, which means divine wind, comes from the typhoon that destroyed the Mongol fleet in 1274 and 1281. The Mongols were attempting to invade Japan but their massive fleets carrying tens of thousands of warriors were destroyed by typhoons. The Japanese came to call these miracle winds the "Divine Wind".

However, the suicide pilots of WWII were not the first suicide attackers to use that name. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, many samurai were angry with how the new Meiji government was acting. The government had abolished their privileged status under the old feudal order, eliminated their financial stipend, and created a conscript army of commoners.

The final and ultimate insult for most samurai came when the government outlawed the wearing of swords. The wearing of swords was probably the most sacred symbol of the samurai. These acts lead to several minor and major rebellions against the new imperial Meiji government. One of the most famous and bizarre was that of the Shimpuren Rebellion.

The Shimpuren was an extremist and xenophobic political society of ex-samurai led by Otaguro Tomoo. The group also was called "The League of the Divine Wind". They wanted to not only halt the changes in the country, they wanted to turn back the clock and eradicate everything western such as western clothes, the western calendar, and even the use of western weapons.

The group believed that they were givin divine authorization to lead an uprising. On October 24, 1876, Otaguro led 200 men in revolt. They attacked the government garrison at the Kumamoto castle and showing no mercy to the new conscript government soldiers, the Kamikaze slaughtered some 300 men of the garrison using only their samurai swords. Another group attacked and killed the governor of the prefecture.

However, after the remaining garrison soldiers overcame their surprise at the attack, superior numbers and the superior firepower of the defenders modern weapons turned the tide. The rebels were decimated and Otaguro was badly wounded. He asked one of his followers to cut off his head. Many of Otaguro's followers followed by committing seppuku.

Many of the rebels that died were in their teens or early twenties, indicating that their devotion to samurai traditions was based more on a romanticism of an imaginary past rather then on actual experience. The same could also be said of the last Kamikaze in 1945 who also based their ideals on the romantic images of bushido and the samurai from centuries before.


  1. "Kamikaze" is a very sad story of Japanese history. It has been 63years since the WW2 ended, and fewer people know now what the real war was like. People tend to see the past with a kind of nostalgie. Sometimes people go too far, too extreme. We do hope that the politicians have cool heads.

  2. Thanks for the interesting post! I hadn't realized the origins of 'kamikaze' were rooted so early in Japanese history.

  3. I think I read about these guys in the Last Shogun book. Is this referenced in there?

  4. Yeah, I recall a brief reference. Pretty weird story from I understand. Should be more books about it.

  5. Anonymous12:00 PM

    There is very moving film I can recommend that was made three years ago from Japan called Ore-Kimi. It sheds light on the scope of the tragic lives of the young "Hotaru" who gave their lives for those they loved. I highly recommend this film.


  6. Thanks for the recommendation.