When I lived in Japan, I was friends with a World War 2 kamikaze pilot.
Really. I'm not making this up.
I didn't encounter him in a scary "Ghost Whisperer" kind of way. I met him in a "standing in front of me breathing" kind of way. Hand on heart, he had been a WW2 Kamikaze pilot.
He was very self-contained. Formal. Very dapper. Very charming. And not at all forthcoming about his own life.
In 1994 I was working at an English language school on the Tokyo/Yokohama border. I taught college students who were going to travel to America, housewives who wanted to fill their spare time, and business men who needed English for their work.
(As an aside, do you know that in Japan women over the age of 25 who are not married are known as Christmas Cake? No, good after the 25th. I know. I was 25 at the time. Each lesson it would go something like this, "How old are you?" "25." "Are you married?" "No". "Ooh, like Christmas cake." "What's that now?")
The gentleman in question was in his mid seventies when I met him in 1994. He was very slim, carried a sleek briefcase, was wearing a suit and tie, and had a hearing aid that received feedback.
"This is a pen."
"That is a book."
He spent a considerable amount of time trying to dial it down. Sadly for him when the whistling disappeared, so did his ability to hear anything. So he would turn it up again. PAAAAAAAAAARP. It was hard to maintain a sense of decorum.
Every week for the next year we worked together on improving his English.
He was polite in the extreme. He had a commanding sense of who he was. He was very warm behind his formal exterior. And he brought with him to each lesson a sense of fun. He was not in any way cold. I would go so far to say that he was a bit of a flirt. I looked forward to our lessons.
At the beginning of each session it was customary for each teacher to ask the students what they had been up to since their last lesson. It was an opportunity for students to warm up and have time to think in English. Every student without fail would have some piece of information about their work, or family life.
Not so my dapper septegenarian.
"What have you been doing this week?"
"I've had a lovely week thank you."
"And what did you do?"
"This and that."
He liked that phrase and would often use it. Always followed by a naughty smile.
After a year of teaching him I knew absolutely nothing about him other than his formal title. Tsushima San. I didn't even know his first name.
When it came time for me to leave the language school, Tsushima San had a change of heart.
"I want to tell you something about my life. But please don't talk about it to the other teachers."
"OK." (I don't think he fully appreciated the risk he was taking. I can't hold my own water.)
"I was a kamikaze pilot during the second world war."
I have never told this story in it's entirety to anyone as I felt I needed to honour Tsushima San's wishes, even though I'm sure he wouldn't have minded. Sadly, as far as I know he's dead now. So it feels ok to share it. This is what he told me in the summer of 1995, as I remember it...
Tsushima San was the second son of two sons. He and his older brother were both called to duty during the war. According to Tsushima San, and contrary to my understanding based on books I have read, pilots did not volunteer willingly to be kamikaze pilots. According to Tsushima San, they were generally very young men, who wanted to appear to be loyal to their country, who were placed under enormous emotional duress by their superior officers to be seen to be volunteering.