Symbols of State Ideology: The Samurai in Modern Japan
University of Sydney
Between the Meiji period (1868-1912) and the end of the Pacific War in 1945, the
Japanese state systematically created and propagated a nationalistic ideology in order
to foster a coherent, unified identity among the newly nationalised population and
mobilise support for its agenda. This ideology was represented by a series of discursive
symbols, of which I examine the particular image of the samurai. Through the deliberate
glorification and imbuement of this image with certain moral and behavioural values
including the ideals of loyalty, obedience and self-sacrifice, the state elite deployed the
samurai symbol to promote its ideology. This symbol was widely disseminated via official
indoctrination efforts, but as I will demonstrate, this did not necessarily translate into a
profound impact on the popular mindset. Drawing on a range of sources, I investigate
the construction, projection and significance of the samurai image in the particular
context of pre-war and wartime Japan, and in so doing shed some light on the function
of symbols as tools of ideology.
Samurai, ideology, nationalism, symbol, state
In 1913, scholar Nukariya Kaiten (忽滑谷快天) published a study on Zen Buddhism,
‘the religion of the samurai’, in which he wrote:
Bushidō, or the code of chivalry, should be observed not only by the soldier in the
battlefield, but by every citizen in the struggle for existence. If a person be a person and
not a beast, then he must be a Samurai – brave, generous, upright, faithful and manly, full
of self-respect and self-confidence, at the same time full of the spirit of self-sacrifice.1
The Religion of the Samurai: A Study of Zen Philosophy and Discipline on China and Japan, p. 50.
New Voices Volume 2
In this telling excerpt, we see the samurai painted as the ideal national subject
and the embodiment of a series of admirable qualities that Nukariya believed all Japanese
should strive to emulate. Nor was he the only one. Between the Meiji period (1868-1912)
and the end of the Pacific War in 1945, the Japanese state elite deliberately constructed
and promoted a nationalistic ideology using a series of symbols including the Emperor
and the cherry blossom. In this article, I will focus on one such image that encapsulated
all the objectives of the Japanese state during this period – the samurai. The image of the
historical warrior was uniquely suited to serve as a symbol due to the particular context
in which state ideology was articulated, and the versatility of the samurai image within
its ideological function.
Emerging as a nation at a time when Western imperialism was at its peak,
Japan’s leaders were faced with many choices on the path to becoming a ‘great nation’.
Searching for inspiration and example across the world and at home, it became clear
that Japan would need to modernise, industrialise, militarise and colonise in order to
survive in the international arena. To further this agenda, the state required a unified
and cooperative population that would support its goals by being loyal, obedient, and
willing to make many sacrifices for the good of the nation. It was to achieve these goals
that the state elite created and propagated a nationalistic ideology and the various
symbols with which to promote and empower it, such as the samurai.
In a variety of media including texts, pictorial sources – both photographs and
illustrations - and film, words, images, ideas and values were both used to describe and
used in connection to the samurai in official ideological rhetoric. A particular samurai
image was constructed, utilised and manipulated in official documents, contemporary
media and independently written nationalistic material, presenting the Japanese
population with ideological discourse on many levels. Comparing the tone of Imperial
Rescripts with state-authored school textbooks; identifying the parallels that can be made
between the modern military and the state-created traditional samurai in photographs
from this period; and demonstrating the degree to which mass media and nationalistic
scholars supported and echoed the official discourse - these methods demonstrate how
society was saturated with layers of nationalistic ideology and imagery. In approaching
such primary sources, the way in which the state elite – namely the government, national
institutions such as the military and education system, public figures, social organisations
and the media - systematically constructed and projected an image of the samurai as a
heroic warrior steeped in the tradition of bushidō, which espoused the values of loyalty,
obedience and self-sacrifice, becomes clear.
In order to demonstrate the significance of the samurai symbol, it is necessary
to place the creation and promotion of the samurai symbol into the wider context of
modern Japan. During this period, nationalism was articulated as a state-led ideology,
requiring the population to conform exclusively to ‘official’ ideas regarding national
identity. Such ideas emphasised national uniqueness and strength, incorporating
notions such as the ‘family nation’ and a mission in Asia into the overall official vision.
Through promoting such ideas as part of its ideology, the Japanese state aimed to unify,
indoctrinate and to mobilise the national population.
Within official ideological discourse of this period, the figure of the emperor was
widely promoted as an image through which the state could command loyalty, obedience
and self-sacrifice from the imperial subjects. The populace was expected to love and serve
the emperor and sacrifice their lives for him willingly. In effect, they were required to act
like samurai, in many ways the ideal servile counterpart to the authority figure of the
deified emperor.2 The image of the samurai as it was constructed in modern Japan, was
depicted to exemplify all the idealised qualities the state wanted to promote – absolute
loyalty, obedience to authority and self-sacrifice for honour.
As part of the systematic promotion of these qualities, certain words and
particular imagery were used in influential texts during this period to create an idealised
image of the samurai that consisted of several key elements - that of the warrior, the
hero, and the bushidō tradition. Among the most widely disseminated and influential
texts from the period were Kokutai no hongi (國體の本義), a nationalistic text produced
by the Department of Education in 1937 and made compulsory reading for all school
students and teachers, and the early 18th century work Hagakure (葉隠れ), by samurai-
turned-monk Yamamoto Tsunetomo (山本常朝), which became a favourite among
ultra-nationalists in the 1930s for its ‘testament to samurai spirit’ and something of a
disciplinary manual for members of the military. Texts such as these abounded with
descriptions and imagery that constructed the samurai as military heroes, glorifying
martial skill and war and attributing the alleged samurai prowess and virtue to the bushidō
concept. Kokutai no hongi described bushidō as an ancient, unique spirit, ‘peculiar’ to
Japan, and ‘an outstanding characteristic of national morality’.3 Eminent scholars such
as Suzuki Daisetz expressed the idea that the samurai tradition had permeated the
masses, stating that ‘even when they are not particularly trained in the way of the warrior
[they] have imbibed his spirit and are ready to sacrifice their lives for any cause they
think worthy’, while in The Ideals of the East, published in 1903, prominent art scholar
Okakura Kakuzō (岡倉珏造) wrote of the ‘spirit’ of invincibility and freedom that had
made Japan a nation of martial prowess and preserved it from invasion throughout
The word ‘samurai’ (侍) derives from ‘saburau’, meaning ‘to serve’ for the nobility. Thus, a samurai was, essentially, a servant to his lord. Ikegami, The
Taming of the Samurai, p. 47.
「我が国民道徳の上に顕著なる特色を示すもの」Japanese Department of Education, trans. John Owen Gauntlett, Kokutai no hongi: Cardinal
Principles of the National Entity of Japan, pp. 144-145.
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history, arguing that ‘this same heroic spirit’ remained in the modern era.4 This very
concept led the state to promote the martial art of jūjutsu (柔術) as a national sport
in the 1930s in an effort to emphasise Japan’s uniqueness and the idea of an existing
martial tradition; a tradition that was deliberately incorporated into state ideology and
linked to the samurai and the bushidō concept 5. In this way, the range of ideological
texts, both contemporary and historical, formed a multi-layered ideological discourse,
which emanated both from the state elite and from separate influential sources.
Thus, through diverse methods and media, the state imbued the samurai with
the aforementioned qualities of loyalty, obedience and self-sacrifice, linking them to
the concept of bushidō in ideological discourse. By projecting such an idealised image
as a model for emulation, the state elite aimed to encourage nationwide observance of
these values, essentially transposing the particular behavioural ideals it ascribed to the
samurai class into ‘national’ values relevant to the entire population.
State ideology equated the willingness of a samurai to sacrifice his life for his
lord with the willingness of an imperial subject to sacrifice his life for his emperor and
nation. Prominent Confucian scholar Inoue Tetsujirō (井上哲次郎), when writing the
first official commentary on the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education (kyōiku chokugo
教育勅語), exhorted the people to ‘have a sense of public duty by which he values his
life lightly as dust, advances spiritedly, and is ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of
the nation.’6 Similarly, bushidō is described in Kokutai no hongi as ‘the way of loyalty,
counting life and death as one’, with this same loyalty instructed to the population to
mean ‘offering [their] lives for the sake of the Emperor’.7 Such illustrations of the bushidō
ideal of honourable self-sacrifice being linked with imperial duty demonstrate the way
in which the samurai image served to idealise and promote certain state-serving values.
An analysis of a range of key ideological texts such as these demonstrates how the state
deliberately constructed an image of the samurai as a heroic warrior who was absolutely
loyal to his nation, obeyed authority without question, and perceived self-sacrifice to be
the epitome of honour.
In order to promote its ideology effectively, the state relied on multiple channels
of influence and methods of indoctrination. The state ideology and its symbols attained
dominance in public discourse to a significant extent through censorship and the
cooperation of national organisations, the media and public intellectuals. Access to
public discourse is crucial to the success of an ideology, and in this respect the state is in
Ideals of the East, in Collected English Writings 1, edited by Sunao Nakamura, p. 22; Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 85.
Inoue, ‘The Invention of the Martial Arts’, p. 172.
Inoue Tetsujirō, Chokugo engi (勅語演技), cited in De Bary, W. T., et al. (eds.), Sources of Japanese Tradition Vol. 2: 1600-2000, pp. 780-782.
よく忠の道を全うするのが我が武士道である…（忠は） 天皇の御ために身命を捧げること…」 Japanese Dept. Ed. trans.
Gauntlett, J. O., Kokutai no hongi, p. 80, 145.
a uniquely advantageous position, being able to exercise control over mass media and
national institutions and organisations – direct channels of communication between
the government and the people. It is through such channels that an ideology is repeated
and reproduced to influence popular attitudes and beliefs.
Nationalistic social organisations, formed during this period in Japan to mobilise
different sectors of the population, ensured that the entire population was speaking the
same ‘ideological language’ and inferring similar meanings from the state’s rhetoric.
In order to be effective, ideological symbols such as the samurai needed to be ‘seen’
and their nationalistic message understood across society. This message was further
reinforced by the state imposing strict censorship over the mass media. In addition to
censoring material at odds with its ideology, the government also made conscious efforts
to increase nationalistic and patriotic content in the media – newspapers, magazines and
radio programs. Particularly following Japan’s entry into the Pacific War, reportage on
military conflict was heavily scripted to reflect the state’s nationalistic ideology and to
make war ‘accessible and palatable to a general audience’ by turning the experience into
a bidan (美談), ‘beautiful stories’ of historical heroism and adventure.8 Such a depiction
of war and sacrifice was a vital part of ideological indoctrination and in this way media
cooperation and censorship assisted the glorification of state militaristic policies in
By examining the writings of many prominent individuals in the intellectual
and political fields during this period, we see the samurai image glorified and an
abundance of views in support of state ideology, beyond the necessities of conformity.
The use of nationalistic discourse by public intellectuals and their engagement with
official ideology gave the state additional credibility, thereby assisting it to gain a further
foothold in popular mentality. In terms of attaining dominance in public discourse then,
these writings demonstrate that state ideology was successful. The ‘public language of
ideology’, in Carol Gluck’s words, ‘while in unevenly active use among different members
of the population, in the passive sense at least was widely and mutually understood.’9
The samurai symbol was also deployed in different ways to target various
sectors of the population, namely children, soldiers and women, through the formal
institutions of the school and military systems. The state’s indoctrination efforts and
influence – evident in textbooks and training manuals, curriculum content, teaching
methods, training and regulations - allowed its nationalistic discourse to permeate
the daily lives of the Japanese people, turning them into imperial subjects, each with
Moore, ‘The Peril of Self-Discipline’, p. 161.
Japan’s Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, p. 247.
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a national duty to fulfil. The samurai symbol was used to transform men into modern
samurai, exhort children to aspire to become samurai, and encourage women to follow
samurai virtues and fulfil their roles as wives and mothers of the nation’s samurai.
Not only was it a powerful image, the samurai also possessed a remarkable degree of
functional flexibility. This versatility suggests the particular suitability of the samurai as
a tool of nationalist ideology.
If we are to believe the nationalistic ideal then, the Japanese population was
transformed into a nation of samurai – absolutely loyal and unquestioningly obedient to
the state and emperor, and willing to sacrifice their lives for honour. But how close to the
reality was the image of the nationalistic subject that the state promoted? To what degree
were official efforts to inculcate the population with ‘the samurai spirit’ successful, if at
all? The rest of this article addresses this question. Through an examination of personal
diaries and oral histories of Japanese people who lived during the pre-war and Pacific
War years, I compare what the population was meant to think and believe according
to official ideology, with what these individuals actually thought. Was the samurai
symbol effective? My findings suggest that we should not overestimate the impact of
state ideology, for despite the pervasiveness of ideological discourse, in many cases the
samurai symbol failed to impact significantly on the hearts and minds of the people.
First-Person Accounts – Were All Men Samurai?
Legislative pressures to conform, combined with institutional indoctrination and state
influence over the media, meant that individuals almost inevitably came in contact with
state ideology, even if they did not agree with its content. Barak Kushner claims that
official ideology and indoctrination efforts were effective, turning the Japanese people
into ‘active participants and not mere followers’ of the state cause.10 However, Emiko
Ohnuki-Tierney, in her study of the wartime diaries of Japanese university students who
were conscripted as tokkōtai (特攻隊) pilots, conveys a different view. She sympathises
with these youthful members of the intellectual elite, stating that they had ‘no choice’ but
to participate in the war effort and therefore ‘reproduced the imperial ideology in action
while refusing or failing to embrace it in thought.’11 I have used first-person accounts to
find examples or lack thereof, of individuals using ideological rhetoric and believing in
the state-created samurai image.
In approaching such sources, we need to be aware of their limitations and
The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda, p. 3.
Tokkōtai means ‘special attack force’ and refers to the soldiers who engaged in suicide attacks later in the Pacific War. They are often called kamikaze
(‘divine wind’) pilots, a term that gained popularity in wartime Japan, linking them with the apparently god-sent winds that forced the Mongol invaders to turn
back from Japan’s shores in the 13th century. Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers, p. 11.
shortcomings in terms of reliability and usefulness. Edited compilations of post-war
recollections, such as the oral histories collected by Haruko and Theodore Cook, must
be treated with a degree of scepticism simply due to the nature of the work.12 The
testimonies all come from individuals who survived the war and had ample time to
reflect on their experiences in the post-war context. Inevitably, their memories have
been influenced by the dominant narrative that absolved the general population of
responsibility by laying the blame largely on selected members of the wartime elite.13
In this respect, diaries are perhaps more reliable, since they are contemporaneous
accounts of the experiences and opinions of individuals.14 However, those that have been
published have also been intentionally selected to convey a certain image of Japanese
civilians or soldiers in the post-war context. These include the intellectual martyrs, as
soldiers are depicted in such volumes as Kike wadatsumi no koe (きけわだつみのこ
え), published by the Japanese Memorial Society for Students Killed in War as early as
1949, as well as Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney’s more recent study, or the ‘ordinary’ (and thus
innocent) individuals in Samuel Hideo Yamashita’s edited volume. Such publications
are not necessarily entirely accurate representations of the majority. While we must keep
these issues in mind when utilising such material, these sources are useful indications
of the extent to which certain members of the population absorbed and reproduced the
nationalistic ideology and the messages that were conveyed through various symbols.
I have attempted to form a balanced picture by drawing on a variety of accounts from
soldiers, children and women, which facilitates a comparison between the samurai
image in ideology and in practice.
Diaries and accounts of wartime experiences show that many people did
actively engage with state ideology and the glorified image of the samurai it promoted.
Aaron Moore has argued that diaries can be tools for ‘self-mobilisation’ in wartime, as
individuals reproduce the ideological discourse already pervasive in society to describe
their personal experiences, thus subconsciously engaging with state ideology.15 For
example, Kōzu Naoji, a manned-torpedo (kaiten 回天) pilot, described the send-off
ceremony for military as ‘like the departure for battle of a great general and his samurai
warriors’.16 Another pilot described his joy at being able to take part in the ‘heroic battle’
12 Haruko and Theodore Cook published Japan at War: An Oral History in 1992. Their interviews with survivors from the war era did not take place until
the 1980s, four decades after the experiences that were recounted.
13 For example, John Dower sums up the memory of war constructed in Japan from the Occupation era as being that of the nation being ‘led into
“aggressive militarism” by a small cabal of irresponsible militaristic leaders’. He notes that ‘the most ubiquitous passive verb after the surrender was surely
damasareta, “to have been deceived”’, which fed the idea that the population itself was a victim of the war and its perpetrators. Dower, Embracing Defeat, p.
14 Samuel Hynes argues that diaries have an immediacy and particularity that war memoirs lack due to the lapse in time before the latter are published and
the reflection period this provides. Content in personal diaries is not (usually) ‘filtered and mediated’ by time or by concerns of audience. Hynes, ‘Personal
Narratives and Commemoration’, in Winter, J. and Sivan, E. (eds.), War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century, pp. 208-209. However, as stated previously,
children and soldiers in wartime Japan were subject to diary checks by the relevant authorities and letters from soldiers to the home front also passed through
official censors. We therefore need to be aware of potential self-censorship when utilising such sources.
op. cit., p. 15.
16 Kaiten (回天), which literally means ‘turning the heavens’, was the name given to glorify the manned torpedoes used in the Pacific War to attack enemy
vessels underwater. Cook (eds.), Japan at War: An Oral History, pp. 318-319.
New Voices Volume 2
of Pearl Harbour as a ‘warrior’ (bujin 武人).17 Some individuals evidently did absorb the
message of state ideology, identifying soldier with samurai and glorifying the nation’s
military. In the wartime diary of Lieutenant Sugihara Kinryū, detailed observations of
the weather, air raid frequency, casualty rates and the like, are interspersed with bursts
of patriotic expression. For example, he wrote a poem describing the army as ‘warriors’
who defend the island of Iwo Jima ‘upon [their] honour’ as ‘the shield of our Emperor’s
domain’.18 The emphasis on responsibility to the emperor and personal honour is a
reflection of the idealised samurai image functioning in state ideology. Another diary
entry reads ‘What is death! We will fight bravely in the face of certain death’.19 Such
words, which would not be out of place in Hagakure, indicate Sughihara’s belief in the
idea of glorious self-sacrifice for the nation, which the state elite promoted as a key value
of the idealised samurai.
Official ideology established a link between the image of a samurai dying
honourably on the battlefield and masculine identity. Turning to first-person accounts,
this same idea is implied in the words of one student soldier, who, mourning his
comrades’ deaths, nevertheless described them as ‘proper’ and ‘quite satisfactory for
them as males’.20 Similarly, another tokkōtai pilot wrote ‘I am a man…destined to die
fighting for the country’ and described his fellow pilots as looking like ‘the forty-seven
loyal retainers’ (義士の討入), a reference to the famous tale of samurai loyalty and
honourable self-sacrifice that was so popular during this period.21 Such examples
indicate some soldiers believed that falling in battle like heroic samurai was a noble
death that men should aspire to and feel proud of.
Despite such examples of individuals using and seemingly believing in state
ideology, the official ideal that ‘all men are samurai’ did not translate very effectively
into reality. In a study of soldiers’ diaries written during the first Sino-Japanese War in
1894-5, Stewart Lone argues that the average soldier was more concerned with food
than patriotism, filling their diaries with ‘mundane complaints’.22 Accounts such as
that of the poetic patriot Sugihara, were by far rare exceptions rather than the general
rule. In his study, Lone attributes this to the fact that the nationalist ideology was not
yet fully developed, implying that in later years the idea of reverence for the nation
and the emperor would hold more sway over the minds of the soldiers.23 However,
17 Arai Yasujirō, cited in Moore, op. cit., p.204.
18 Sugihara, trans. Lofgren, S. J., ‘Diary of First Lieutenant Sugihara Kinryū’, p.130.
op. cit., p. 131.
」Diary entry dated October 15, 1944. Takushima (宅島徳光), edited by Takushima, Ikō Kuchinashi no Hana:
Kaigun hikō yobi chūi (遺稿くちなしの花：海軍飛行予備中尉).
「私は…国を負うて信でゆく男です。」Letters to mother, 1945. Hayashi (林市造) edited by Kaga, Hi nari Tate nari: Nikki, Haha eno tegami, Hayashi Ichizō
Ikōshū (日なり楯なり：日記、母への手紙、林市造遺稿集), p. 58, 68.
Japan’s First Modern War: Army and Society in the Conflict with China, 1894-95, pp. 70-71.
Ibid., p. 80.
diaries from during the Pacific War, when both the state ideology and its methods of
indoctrination were undeniably institutionalised, offer a similar picture. Many accounts
indicate opposition to the state, and even in cases where individuals did express patriotic
sentiments, some rejected or digressed from official ideology.
It is in connection to the idea of self-sacrifice for the nation that the conflict
between individuals’ notions of patriotism and state ideology often emerges. Despite
official promotion of the glorified image of a samurai willing, above all, to give up his
life for his lord, more often than not, people prioritised their family and friends over
the Emperor. For example, Kōzu Naoji saw himself ‘dying to defend [his] parents, [his]
brothers and sisters’, not the Emperor, the government or the nation.24 Similarly, naval pilot
Sahai Saburō defined ‘the nation’ as ‘the land of my parents, younger brothers, and sister’,
with no mention of the Emperor for whom he was meant to willingly sacrifice his life.25
Student soldier Nagatanigawa Shin wrote in his diary that he accepted the suffering and
imminent deaths of himself and his fellow soldiers, as long as they contributed, ‘however
little’, to ‘the happiness of the people [he] love[s]’, whom he specified were his parents and
siblings.26 As Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney argues, ‘soldiers need to convert an abstract idea…
into something personally meaningful’ in order to engage with an ideology.27 Despite
official efforts to inculcate in the population a ‘personally meaningful’ connection and
sense of responsibility to the Emperor, in the way a loyal samurai might serve his lord,
many did not identify with it.
Diaries tell us that some individuals also saw through the glorified samurai
image they were being taught to believe in, and were opposed to state ideology. Student
soldier Hayashi Tadao wrote in May 1944 that his cooperation with the national war
effort was not due to patriotism but ‘a wish not to make waves’.28 Similarly, 75-year-old
Kyoto resident Tamura Tsunejirō wrote that ‘complaints and unhappiness are forbidden,
so one has to be discreet’.29 Such statements indicate the pressure that existed to conform
to official policy and the inherent risks of expressing opposition, which made many
people, like Hayashi, cooperate without believing the ideology. University student
and tokkōtai pilot Sasaki Hachirō criticised the coverage of war in the media, which
praised mothers for raising their sons as splendid soldiers. Sasaki described the media
glorification of mothers (‘haha no chikara’ 母の力) as a ‘transparent trick’ to encourage
24 Cook (eds.), op. cit., p. 319.
Ibid., p. 142.
たとへ僅かでも役立つものならば…」Diary entry dated
November 29, 1944. Nagatanigawa Shin (長谷川信) in Nihon senbotsu gakusei shuki henshu iinkai, Kike Wadatsumi no Koe: Nihon senbotsu gakusei no shuki (
きけわだつみのこえ：日本戦歿學生の手記), p. 175.
op. cit., p. 131.
28 「おれを支配するものは Patriotismus (祖国愛)…でもなく、無事無難であれ」 Diary entry dated May 1, 1944. Hayashi (林尹夫), edited by Hayashi,
Waga Inochi Getsumei ni Moyu: Ichi Senbotsugakuto no Shuki (わがいのち月明に燃ゆ：一戦没学徒の手記), p. 131.
29 「愚痴と不満は禁じられているので、慎しまねばならん」Diary entry dated July 19, 1944. Tamura (田村恒次郎), edited by Oka, Shinsan: Senchū sengo,
kyō no ichi shomin no nikki (辛酸：戦中戦後、京の一庶民の日記), p. 7; trans. Yamashita, Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies, p. 85.
New Voices Volume 2
people to support war and force loyalty upon them.30 In seeing through the idealised
portrayal of women as mothers of warriors, he indicated his refusal to identify with
the glorified warrior the state projected to inspire soldiers such as himself. Sasaki was
able to see that the idealised samurai was only an image, not a reality. Another student
soldier, Hayashi Ichizō, wrote that he ‘cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is
genuine’ but rather that ‘it is decided for [him] that [he] die for the emperor’.31 Instead
of welcoming the chance to sacrifice his life for the nation and the emperor, Hayashi
felt ‘despair’ (zetsubō 絶望) and ‘tried [his] best to escape’ from his fate as a tokkōtai
pilot.32 A picture emerges that clearly conflicts with the ideological symbol of the
samurai, who was meant to sacrifice himself willingly for the emperor to whom he was
unconditionally loyal. Particularly during wartime, the carefully constructed idealised
samurai image was clearly not as effective as one might assume based on the state’s
wide-ranging indoctrination efforts and the ubiquity of ideological discourse.
Examining accounts written by women and children, the same varied picture
emerges. There are examples of individuals who proffered the ideological discourse,
such as Araki Shigeko, wife of a tokkōtai pilot, who described herself as ‘the wife of a
samurai’ in reference to her soldier husband.33 One teenage girl proudly declared that
Japanese women, in the event of an enemy invasion, ‘intend to follow valiantly in the
footsteps’ of soldiers and ‘kill at least one person before [they] die’.34 However, it is again
the case that not all women revelled in their roles as wives and mothers of samurai or
were willing to sacrifice themselves for the nation, as was their duty as subjects. One
woman described the procession of conscripts as ‘a funeral of living people…youths
wearing their red sashes are being sent off with a heavy heart’, an image far removed
from the glorious samurai the state portrayed soldiers to be.35 Following Japan’s defeat at
Saipan, she wrote that the news made her ‘angry’ and that the government should have
the ‘courage…to give up the fight’, again expressing the opposite to the official ideal.36
Diary checks and constant moral supervision by teachers meant that
schoolchildren were more likely to be inculcated successfully and prevented from
expressing opposition to the state than any other group in the population. In the diary
「その手口は見えすいている…人を戦に導いて行くんだ。忠 を強いるのだ。」Diary entry dated April 7, 1942. Sasaki (佐々木八郎) edited by
Fujishiro, Seishun no Isho: Seimei ni Kaete, Kono Nikki, Ai (青春の遺書：生命に代えて、
この日記、愛), p. 311.
dated February 23, 1945. Hayashi Ichizō, Hi nari Tate nari, p. 29.
32 「逃げににげた私の生命」Diary entry dated March 21, 1945. Hayashi Ichizō, Hi nari Tate nari, p. 42.
33 Cook (eds.), op. cit., p. 325.
34 Diary entry dated April 2, 1945. Maeda Shōko in Yamashita, op. cit., p. 225.
「生きた人のお葬式…心のいたむ思いで、赤だすきをかけた、わこうどを、見送っています」Diary entry dated June 19, 1943. Takahashi Aiko (高橋愛
子), ‘Kaisen kara no nikki’ (開戦からの日記), in Agawa H. et al. (eds.), ‘Shimin no nikki’ (市民の日記), Shōwa sensō bungaku zenshū (昭和戦争文学全集),
vol. 14, p. 332.
36 「いさぎよく、戦いをあきらむべきだと、奮然とした気持にさえなってしまいました」Diary entry dated July 18, 1944. Takahashi Aiko, ‘Kaisen kara no
nikki’, p. 338.