Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum
Learn about the tragic history of Japan's WWII kamikaze pilots at these two museums in Fukuoka.
Tachiarai City in eastern Fukuoka Prefecture offers two very different museums focusing on the history of kamikaze pilots towards the end of World War II. One of them is the Chikuzen Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum, the other one the privately run Tachiarai Retro Station Museum. Both are absolutely worth a visit for history buffs.
Both museums are situated on the grounds of the former Tachiarai Airfield, opened in 1919. The airfield quickly grew into the largest military airfield of East Asia. Things turned dark, though, when Japan entered World War II. Tachiarai Air Base became a central transfer point for deadly kamikaze attacks.
Who were the kamikaze pilots?
The Tokubetsu kogeki tai (Special Attack Units), known in Japanese shorthand as tokkotai or more commonly kamikaze, were special forces deployed for suicide missions towards the end of World War II whose goal was to sink American battleships.
Although often described as volunteers, it’s a questionable description considering the substantial pressure the Japanese military put on their personnel and the traditional glorification of self-sacrifice rooted in samurai culture. Today, the kamikaze pilots are viewed as tragic figures in Japan, their sacrifices serving no other purpose than prolonging the war.
Kamikaze pilots were chiefly deployed from airbases in the far south of Kyushu, such as Chiran, Kanoya, and Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture. However, Tachiarai Airfield played a central role in their deployment. American bombing raids destroyed the Tachiarai airbase in March 1945.
Inside the Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum
The Chikuzenmachi Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum is a large modern structure housing two original kamikaze airplanes, one of which is the only surviving Nakajima 97 fighter plane in the world. There is also a United States Boeing B-29 Superfortress, shot down in the vicinity sometime during the war, now hanging from the museum’s ceiling.
A message from the museum reminds visitors to “consider the importance of peace by reflecting on the tragedy of war, which should never be forgotten.”
Audiovisual materials detail the horrors of both kamikaze attacks and American bombings.
The museum strives to promote world peace and understanding while documenting the events that took place at Tachiarai Airfield before and during the kamikaze missions. Audiovisual materials detail the horrors of both kamikaze attacks and American bombings. There are lots of artifacts and testimonials on display, including portraits of American airmen who died in the attacks on Tachiarai, donated by the airmen’s families.
Keep in mind photography is mostly prohibited.
Tachiarai Retro Station
Located within the still operational Tachiarai Station is a privately-run precursor to the Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum. When the peace museum opened, many of the exhibits on display at Tachiarai Station transferred there, including the rare Nakajima 97 fighter plane.
Today, the Retro Station feels like an antique shop. It’s full of obscure cultural artifacts from the late Showa era, such as film projectors, radios, cigarette packages, and more. However, the modest train station is hard to miss thanks to the postwar Lockheed T-33 impressively mounted to its roof.
If you express a sincere interest to the elderly couple running the museum, you might be allowed to see some rare artifacts up close and learn more intimate stories about the kamikaze pilots.
One such story involves the Nakajima 97 displayed at the Peace Museum. In early 1945, a young pilot, Toshihiro Watanabe, was ordered to go to Chiran to join the kamikaze squad. His Nakajima 97 had engine failure and crashed into Hakata Bay. Watanabe was rescued, brought to Tachiarai, equipped with another plane, and sent on his way. Days later, he died in the Battle of Okinawa.
In 1996, his Nakajima 97 was salvaged from Hakata Bay and brought to Tachiarai. It’s thought to be the only surviving fighter plane of its type. You can read Watanabe’s diary and watch videos of the aircraft raised from the sea and restored at the Retro Station.
The elderly couple running Tachiarai Retro Station doesn’t speak any English. If you feel that your Japanese is not up to the task, you may want to go with someone who speaks Japanese to make the most of your visit.