Rewriting Someone Else’s History: The Japanese Reaction to “Letters from Iwo Jima”


Noriko Manabe is a doctoral student in ethnomusicology at CUNY Graduate Center. Before returning to academics, she was an equity analyst covering media, the internet, and games in Tokyo at JP Morgan Securities. Her grandfather survived the Pacific Theater and her family survived the firebombs in Japan during World War II.

Something about the scene with the dog made me first laugh, then shake my head. It wasn’t the Hollywood hokeyness; it was that the dog looked too well-fed.

I immediately recalled my mother's childhood memory that she tells over and over. During World War II, the American blockade led to food shortages in Japan, causing severe malnutrition for its citizens. By the end of the war, my mother, who was then twelve, weighed little over forty pounds. Her childhood pet was a rabbit; my grandmother had it killed to provide food for her family. My mother refused to touch it at first, but as hunger overcame her, she ate it, crying. Having a dog--let alone a horse--would have been an unimaginable luxury.

I was also taken aback by the pristine postcard images that were presented of the soldiers’ home towns. They were supposedly from cities that had been rendered rubble by American firebombs, which killed millions of civilians; they wiped out over half the civilian population in seventy cities. Certainly, squalor would have been more authentic.

Such seemingly minor inaccuracies add up to the trouble with"Letters from Iwo Jima." I don’t deny its potential importance in the context of current US foreign policy, which is overwhelmingly seen by the rest of the world as not constructive (according to a recent BBC survey), nor do I wish to detract from its cinematographic merits. Nonetheless, as a movie widely touted as showing the"Japanese point of view," the film poses the thorny issue of rewriting someone else’s history.

World War II remains a subject largely avoided by Japanese films. It has simply cut too close; practically all Japanese alive then lost someone in the battles or the firebombs. Most post-war Japanese films deal with the difficulties of life in that chaotic time, alluding to the war only through referring to loved ones who did not return. But today, the bulk of the Japanese movie-going public are in their twenties, with no experience with the war, either directly or through their parents. Such conditions have left the field open to Mr. Eastwood’s film.

As of February 4,"Letters from Iwo Jima" had taken in only $7.5 million at the US box office; it ranked no. 16. In contrast, in Japan—the world’s second-largest film market--the movie ranked no.1 at the box office for five weeks, dropping to no. 3 on its sixth week. The popularity of the film is attributable not only to admiration for Eastwood and lead actor Ken Watanabe, but also for Kazunari Ninomiya, who is a member of the pop group Arashi. The film has sparked discussion in forums such as the Yahoo Japan movie bulletin boards, where it has received nearly 1,700 user reviews. (This contrasts with about 180 reviews on the primarily American Yahoo.com bulletin board.)

Generally speaking, Japanese users have appreciated the film for its anti-war message, its sentimental story, and its"surprisingly sympathetic stance for an American director." Nonetheless, an articulate minority have taken issue with the historical inaccuracies of the film. Several commented that all the scenes looked"too clean—those battles, let alone our cities, were far more wretched." Some reviewers commented that Kuribayashi’s assertion that there was"no support" was not accurate, as kamikazes (suicide pilots) had sunk several American warships, and that these kamikazes should have been shown. Several commented about the unnaturalness of the characters’ behavior and dialogue ("Would a low-ranking soldier like Saigo have used such rough language, in that era?") Another pointed out,"All the mistakes in the customs of the period bothered us. Shoji screens were never used for the front door—how can you knock on paper? And young people had been wearing Western clothing, not kimonos, since the 1930s."

The greatest concern is that the film fails to explain why the Japanese felt the need to defend a seemingly insignificant island so fervently – the fear that the firebombing of Japanese cities, already devastating to civilians, would intensify were the Americans to gain Iwo Jima as a launching pad for air strikes. In not explaining this background, viewers felt that the film catered to the stereotype of the Japanese as lemming-like fanatics. Several viewers objected to the episodes involving conservative military officers—"no Japanese military officer would have cut off the head of an underling like that, nor would one have used a firearm in a residential area." In their minds, the movie was another example of the West’s exoticizing Japan as a land of odd behavior.

Many viewers raised objections that"good" was being equated with being America-friendly. As one user stated,"Only officers who had been to the US are depicted as rational and smart, while all other Japanese officers are evil and barbaric, as per the American stereotype." Another wrote,"Other than the America-enlightened officers, Japanese officers are shown flailing their swords and guns around like fools. . . The impression the film wants to leave at the end is that America is superior." Many dismissed the scene where the American soldier’s letter is read as unrealistic and mawkish ("Why would any officer seek to de-galvanize his troops?"). Others found the segments depicting Kuribayashi’s time in the United States to be long and gratuitous ("How does this advance the plot?"), while his poignant letters to his family from Iwo Jima, which have been published, hardly received a mention.

These viewers expressed concern that young people in Japan may take the film at face value as their primary impression of the Japanese in World War II, which remains an avoided subject in Japanese education. As one viewer commented,"I wish the Japanese would make a film that will tell the real Japanese side of the story in World War II. But the leftists would pelt it as being ‘hawkish’ and ‘neo-nationalistic.’" As far as potential shaping of opinion in the United States is concerned, I believe that the film could have achieved far more by raising awareness of the devastation caused by American firebombing (let alone the atomic bombs)--a subject not generally mentioned in American schools.

Of course,"Letters" is not the only Oscar-nominated film fictionalizing someone else’s history. What victims of Idi Amin make of the British film"The Last King of Scotland" or Africans think of"Blood Diamonds" is something on which I have no personal experience to comment. Nonetheless, whatever the artistic merits of the film, creators and marketers of popular culture should be more wary of extending Western imperialism, as perceived by the world’s citizens, into the cultural sphere.

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Martin Dean Sloan - 11/21/2009

Thanks for informing me that the article was written by an ignorant Japanese Woman... If the name jibe was about the reference to the person who wrote the article as a HE. I haven't studied the Japanese language. I have in fact studied history. If your teachers didn't teach(Spoon feed you) the history of WWII or others then if you were curious you(OR UPSET)should have gone to the library...

David Cooperman - 9/19/2007

I'm late for the party here, as I'm just finally now watching "Letters". I thought the article made an excellent point. I should mention I'm not an historian, so I'd like to keep my comment to the actual text of the movie.

I thought the point about the "good" Japanese being Americanized was an interesting point to explore. I didn't take the "good" Japanese to be selling out. They certainly didn't hesitate to continue the fight the Americans. There is no discussion of the Americans being a force of righteousness in the battle. Also, there is no indication that the characters having been in America - in and of itself - made them better people. Rather, the sense is that they are noble people because they are simply noble people, and they have more insight into their enemy, who remains their enemy.

Finally, I thought it was interesting to note that the one soldier who's thinking is "converted" (initially believing Americans to be cowards and savages) - ends up ironically being slaughtered by a savage American after his surrender.

Paul Y Song - 3/8/2007

We have now learned that the Swiss were anything but neutral as much of the Nazi riches have surfaced there.

I do not doubt that there were atrocites committed on all sides all of which should be accurately acknowledged, but the US would never had firebombed Japan had they not been attacked and dragged into this war. Yet, this unprovoked aggression is something that Japan still refuses to admit to.

Paul Y Song - 3/8/2007

The failure of Japan to honestly acknowledge and teach its students about the forced comfort woman is aptly reflected by Prime Minister Abe's recent comments.

Germany never denied its involvement in the Holocaust, so why must Japan continue to claim it never did anything wrong?!

Paul Y Song - 3/8/2007

Unlike the Japanese government and ministry of education, I have no problems with all facts being accurately acknowledged and taught to our kids. Any wrong committed by the United States should never be supressed.

P D Hatto - 3/8/2007

Mr Song your closing line supports the idea that people need to know about the mass fire bombings of Japan. Otherwise that particular prior wrong could be repeated by the United States in a more modern way. Honest acknowledgement must be practiced by all parties in all situations.

Ry Zamora - 3/5/2007

Well at least the movie with all your little nitpicks, tried to show the west a different point of view then what they normally see. Yes it may be tainted with some western steroetypes, but i think you forget that it was first and foremost meant be shown to western people.

I think that more than you can say that about the Japanese governments blatant attempt at historical revisionism. I mean come on with Abe now saying that 200,000 comfort women were basically willing prostitutes, and some japanese's people unwillingness to admit the horrors they did during the war.

I'm sorry if i don't percieve the japanese as victims in that war. I'm from the philippines and my grandfather became a guerilla when my uncle was executed by the japanese for running a paper. I know there were atrocities on both sides, but what a lot of the japanese soldiers did here in the philippines and othere asian countries was beyond any mere war atrocity.

My biggest problem with japan now not what they did 60 years ago but that their lack of remorse for what they did. Will facing it straight admitting the mistakes of the past, then apologizing for it, really harm their national pride. Look at germany at least they more or less have tackled their issues head on.

Noriko Manabe - 3/4/2007

First of all, let me say that I am not a historian, and I'm not claiming to be one. Most of my adult life has been spent in the financial markets. I became a doctoral student three years ago, but in music. I research historical background for the academic articles I write (which are more contemporary).

This particular article was intended to be about cultural imperialism, and I am disappointed to see that no one has really commented on it. In the undergraduate world music class I teach, I invariably come across a few students who have seen "Memoirs of a Geisha" or "The Last Samurai" and feel they know something about Japan. While many people will immediately recognize the Orientalism in these films, I think the foreign gaze is more difficult to detect in "Letters" because it operates on a different level of artistry, it takes an empathetic view, and the people are speaking Japanese. Hence, the article was intended to be an opinion piece about the difficulty this position poses, not a thoroughly researched view of the war itself. I'm just recounting my mothers' wartimes anecdotes and the opinions of Japanese viewers who wrote into websites.

While as you have pointed out, the really atrocious firebombing may have started in March 1945, but there were other bombing campaigns in 1942 and 1944, as your citation also shows. But when I see people dismissing these campaigns as "minor," I am skeptical, as those on the receiving end of the bombs probably didn't perceive it as such, as the amount of weaponry mentioned (18000 tons) seemed quite high. I do not have the time to go through academic sources in Japanese at this point to research the issue, but several Japanese-language websites allude to damage caused in mid-sized cities during this period. Even American sources talk about Iwo Jima being a site from which the Japanese sent warnings of B29s heading toward the mainland.

Here's someone quoting a survivor regarding bombing campaigns on cities in 1944, as well as what the author terms as "indiscriminate bombing" in China and the Philippines and "indiscriminate killing" in Okinawa:

Other web sites talk of Kyushu being bombed (June 16, 1944), Tokyo (Nov 24, 1944), etc. The websites below mention that Saipan was captured in June 1944 and was used as a base for launching attacks on Japanese residential areas starting that year. I think the Japanese people were certainly aware of the threat, if not having actually experienced it themselves.

Furthermore, my point in bringing up the pristine conditions of the flashbacks is that it was an idealized/exoticized vision of Japan, with people wearing kimonos etc, that didn't really exist at that time. Bombed or not, the wartime situation for most city residents was pretty desperate, and my relatives as well as web posters will say that they were living in wretched conditions. I mentioned the severe malnutrition in the article already, but there were also severe materials shortages; for example, no one in my mother's neighborhood had shoes during the war, and it wasn't due to poverty; this was a middle-class neighborhood of professionals. I found this personal blog of a woman who was a schoolchild during the war; she seems to have lived in a village and was therefore better off than city dwellers, but she mentions many of the same problems that my mother does.

Finally, I think it's pretty well established that the military on both sides thought Iwo Jima was strategically important at the time of the battle- which would make sense, given its geographic position. Whether or not it ended up being used later by the US military, in hindsight, is another issue.

art eckstein - 3/3/2007

Another sad story, DMG.


Art Eckstein

D. M. Giangreco - 3/3/2007

Mr. Eckstein: Understood. And, sadly, because the number of Marine casualties were far higher than expected on Iwo Jima, there was a even a very considerable delay in the awarding of Purple Hearts. See item #6 at http://www.waszak.com/giangreco_bibliography.htm : "Half a million Purple Hearts" in the Dec-Jan, 2000-2001 American Heritage.

art eckstein - 3/3/2007

Dear DMG,

My father was in the 26th Regiment of the Fifth Marine Division, at Motoyama no. 2 on Iwo. So it pains me to have written what I have written.

The point I was making is that it is unlikely that any Japanese soldier on Iwo in Feb. 1945 thought Iwo was essential to the American air war against Japan because (a) it hadn't happened yet, and (b) even after the air bombardment rally began in March, Iwo Jima was not ESSENTIAL to the air war against Japan in March-August 1945. Iwo Jima was useful to be sure, to be sure, and I am happy that numbers of American crew were saved, but it not essential to the effort, and I think it would be a stretch to say that more aircrew were saved by being able to land on Iwo than Marines died in taking the island.

In any case, we can disagree on this issue. What is not in dispute is that in Feb. 1945 the cities of Japan were intact, as Eastwood's movie correctly depicts the situation--and despite Noriko's misguided criticism of Eastwood's movie on this point, where she thought that the 70 cities had already been destroyed.

D. M. Giangreco - 3/3/2007

Mr. Eckstein: Although you have likely already seen it, two years ago HNN posted Max Boot’s LA Times column on Captain Burrell’s article (it is the lead item that comes up on an HNN internal search for “Iwo Jima”). If you are interested, I have an HNN comment string titled “Hindsight” which also prompted a letter to me by B-29 pilot Ben Nicks (below):


Our crew, First Bomb Squadron, 9th Bomb Group, 313th Bomb Wing, landed seven times at Iwo. Admittedly two times operational to refuel on a mission to Korea. But:

Once with wounded on board and immediate medical attention sought.

Once for necessary refueling after spending several hours circling a B-29 crew bailed out 300 miles off the coast of Japan until a sub could pick them up. This saved 10 out of 11 lives. Otherwise they would have been left to their fate.

Three times for fuel, twice precautionary. But on one of those occasions it was Iwo or swim 700 miles to Tinian!

"Oh that's all right," says The L.A. Times World's Greatest Living Authority Max Boot, "they might have made it OK anyway. If not, all they would have had to do was make a dubious ditching or bail out and a boat might have picked them up. Nothing to it." . . .

Just how many American crewmen lives would have to be saved to justify Iwo?

One -- ten -- ten thousand?

Was it worth the First Squadron's Ray Malo and crew of 11 who were on the first B-29 to land at Iwo account fuel problems which probably would have cost them their lives? But I have to retract this statement. The omniscient Boot has a good point. Malo and crew were all lost over Kawasaki anyway within the month -- so it wasn't worth fooling around with those losers.

On behalf of the Twentieth Air Force --THANK GOD FOR THE U S MARINES AT IWO!


art eckstein - 3/3/2007

Noriko, your point in the article, and reiterated in your first reply above to me, was that the Japanese defenders of Iwo Jima came from cities in rubble, and you criticized the film for NOT portraying this. You reiterated in your post to me above that the defenders came from 70 cities reduced to rubble. That may be emotionally true to you, but it is simply historical untrue--the chronology is wrong. It is simply wrong.

As for the B-29s raids from from China, we are talking about a grand total of six raids in nine months, and the only city that was at all seriously hit was Kobe. This is NOTHING like your claim in the article, reiterated in your first reply to me, that 70 cities were destroyed. That was a horrible thing but it happened in the six months AFTER Iwo Jima was captured. The defenders of Iwo Jima came from intact cities--as the film CORRECTLY portrayed.

I would also be very suprised if you can find manyJapanese soldiers on Iwo Jima being concerned about the island's contribution to ab air war that had not happened yet and whose destructiveness was at that point beyond anyone's prediction even in Washington (where so far the B-29s were viewed as a failure). And the FACT is that Iwo Jima did NOT contribute much to the air war eveb after it was conquered--that is American, and specifically Marine Corps propaganda, to justify the terrible losses. See conveniently Robert S. Burrell, "Breaking the Cyle of Iwo Jima Mythology," Journal of Military History 2006.

You'd be better arguing that the Japanese defenders fought fiercely because they believed they were defending Japanese home soil. But in the end, you criticized the film on the issue of "destroyed cities", and criticized it quite bitterly, when it was being accurate and you, by contrast, were not. You have misunderstood the historical situation.

Noriko Manabe - 3/2/2007

First of all, I'm an American woman, and I had all my education in the US, with all my pre-college education in US public schools.

Second, the point of the article is NOT to say any party was "right" or "wrong" in a war. I can't think of a war where both parties did not commit some atrocity.

The point of the article is to say that this Hollywood movie is not necessarily showing the Japanese point of view, but an American-filtered view, and should thus not be marketed as a film showing the Japanese point of view. I've just noticed that the editor misprinted the title: it should read, the "Japanese reaction to 'Letters,'" not the "Japanese response"--particularly as I am not a Japanese citizen, but of Japanese descent.

James Albert Smyth - 3/2/2007

You know what's ironic? That's exactly what the writer of the article is saying. Most Americans don't know about American war atrocities, just as most Japanese don't know about Japanese war atrocities. I wonder what Swiss students are taught.

Paul Y Song - 3/2/2007

The author cites one Japanese viewer as saying "I wish the Japanese would make a film that will tell the real Japanese side of the story in World War II. But the leftists would pelt it as being 'hawkish and 'neo-nationalistic.' " He goes on to say that the movie "could have achieved far more by raising awareness of the devastation caused by American firebombing - a subject not generally mentioned in American schools."

The author's overall ignorance unfortunately personifies a country which has deliberately failed to honestly acknowledge its aggression and instigator role in World War II. Only in the 1990s, and after the death of Hirohito, did Japan's Ministry of Education even introduce tepid water-downed accounts of Japanese atrocities perpetrated against its neighbors. Just yesterday, Japan's Prime Minister denied Japan's well-documented role in forced military brothels. Instead of educating its own children about what Japan did wrong to other countries and how they attacked and provoked the United States, students like the author are raised to view themselves as victims.

The danger in failing to honestly acknowledge and take full responsibility for prior wrongs is to continually perpetuate values that lead to such actions.

D. M. Giangreco - 3/2/2007

Actually, Yoko Ono’s evacuation after the Tokyo bombing in March 1945 would place her in the April 1945 surge that I discussed in the third paragraph.

The article and subsequent comments prompted an interesting e-mail from Sadao Asada who was also one of the April evacuees (although in his case it was from Kyoto). Ironically, his class was sent to a village near the Maizuru Naval District which turned out to be a far more dangerous location than where he had left. But, of course, how was anyone to know at the time that Secretary of War Stimson had banned any bombing of Kyoto because of its cultural significance?

Sadao also notes that “It is important to distinguish between the voluntary and mandatory evacuations,” and remarked, “The former was for ‘the privileged’ who had relatives in the rural areas; these evacuees did not suffer from hunger. In contrast, we who had no relatives in the country were crammed in inadequate living quarters.” And for nine-year-old Sadao and his classmates, the sudden cut-back in diet did indeed make them feel like they were “almost starving to death.”

Sadao Asada’s “Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States” was published last year by the Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md. His “Culture Shock and Japanese-American Relations: Historical Essays” will be released this spring by the University of Missouri Press.

Paul Y Song - 3/2/2007

The author cites one Japanese viewer as saying "I wish the Japanese would make a film that will tell the real Japanese side of the story in World War II. But the leftists would pelt it as being 'hawkish and 'neo-nationalistic.' " He goes on to say that the movie "could have achieved far more by raising awareness of the devastation caused by American firebombing - a subject not generally mentioned in American schools."

The author's overall ignorance unfortunately personifies a country which has deliberately failed to honestly acknowledge its aggression and instigator role in World War II. Only in the 1990s, and after the death of Hirohito, did Japan's Ministry of Education even introduce tepid water-downed accounts of Japanese atrocities perpetrated against its neighbors. Just yesterday, Japan's Prime Minister denied Japan's well-documented role in forced military brothels. Instead of educating its own children about what Japan did wrong to other countries and how they attacked and provoked the United States, students like the author are raised to view themselves as victims.

The danger in failing to honestly acknowledge and take full responsibility for prior wrongs is to continually perpetuate values that lead to such actions.

Nick Chow - 3/1/2007

In general, it is a bad place to learn history. For example, Star War. Great script, wonderful music/special effect/acting, etc, etc. But none of that is real, pure fiction, it did not happen, it will not happen. In the end, great movie!

Does anyone remember The Sand Pebbles by Steve McQueen? Pretty good movie shot in Taiwan. Again, pure fiction.

Noriko Manabe - 3/1/2007

That's very interesting, but I highly doubt 90% of Japanese children between grades 1 and 6 were evacuated. None of my relatives were. Not even Yoko Ono left Tokyo until after the great firebombing there.

Noriko Manabe - 3/1/2007

Many of the posters here are missing the point of my article. My point is that the film is written and filtered through American eyes and the American film industry (presumably with marketing to the American public in mind). It is hence expressing a view of what Americans think what the Japanese must have been like; it's an exoticization of Japan, particularly in those flashbacks. To then market it, not just in the US but internationally, as presenting "the Japanese point of view" is highly problematic, particularly as many people will form their views from these films, as another poster has echoed. That's what I mean by cultural imperialism.

To make my case, I have reiterated views of Japanese found on Japanese movie discussion boards, such as yahoo.co.jp. Please check them out for yourself.

Noriko Manabe - 3/1/2007

Thanks for that. But I must say,
"By 29 March 1945, when the last raid was flown from the China-India theater, they had undertaken 3,058 individual sorties and dropped 11,691 tons of bombs on military and industrial targets."

12,000 tons is a lot of bombing. The people on the other end of that didn't think it was as minor as US websites might have thought it was.

And the various attacks, such as the one for Kobe, would have been known by the Japanese troops and would certainly have been a key factor in launching a staunch defense of an island that could have easily become the launching pad for more airstrikes. That's not at all explained in the movie, which I think is unfortunate, as I wrote in the article.

Noriko Manabe - 3/1/2007

I'm an American woman who had all her education in the US. All my pre-college education was in US public schools in the South and the Northeast. I was not taught about the firebombing, and I was shown films of Hiroshima that showed the giant mushroom cloud but failed to show the damage beneath it - people vaporized in their tracks, etc., as well as the aftereffects (high incidence of leukemia, etc.) I had some good teachers, but I had trouble convincing one teacher that the Japanese did not ride around in rickshaws.

FYI, names ending in "ko" in Japanese are usually for women.

Noriko Manabe - 3/1/2007

That's very interesting, but I highly doubt 90% of Japanese children between grades 1 and 6 were evacuated. None of my relatives were. Not even Yoko Ono left Tokyo until after the great firebombing there.

Richard August Pusateri - 3/1/2007

There are two Japanese movies about the hardships endured by Imperial Army soldiers that basically portray them as victims. THE HARP OF BURMA and the other title I cannot recall (something like FIELDS OF FIRE). While the films focus on suffering of Japanese soldiers, I couln't help but notice there was no depiction of the inconvenience their invasions caused the civilian populations of Burma or The Philippines.
The Japanese civilian population was deceived by their military and government during the invasions of Manchuria, China and the events beginning in 1941. The Japanese people suffered greatly during and after the Pacific War. This is no secret in the United States and, at the same time, Japanese movies have not focused on the civilian suffering in the countries the Empire invaded in the '30s and '40s.

Martin Dean Sloan - 2/28/2007

Who wrote this article? Has he spent more than a day in America or in a hotel not watching Porn? The history channel has maybe 30 hrs a week on the fire bombings of Japan. We can't even take out our garbage with out seeing the name LeMay!! This article doesn't in anyway reflect my education. I think I got a pretty well rounded education on why what and how the war was prosecuted. We were informed that:

#1 The US wasn't specifically innocent in the instigation of the war. There were several reasons for this.

#2 What part of tossing SE Asian babies in the air and cutting them in two is not an atrocity? This among many others...

#3 Manchuria

#4 What part of fanatic isn't clear to you?

If the author would like to discuss the american reasons for fire bombing's and the Nuclear attack please refer to the American plans for the invasion of the main Islands and the esitmated losses for Americans. Then ask whether he would have been stupid enough to not take the easy way out.

D. M. Giangreco - 2/27/2007

Re the comment "If you have seen the movie, one of the letters from Kuribayashi's wife talks about a daughter who's been sent away to the countryside. That was a common tactic among the privileged to save their children from the firebombs, which were already attacking many cities."

Leaving the cities may have been "a common tactic among the privileged," but it was also government policy. In fact, of the four evacuation categories established by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the one covering children in the first through sixth grades was the only category declared mandatory. A prefect's Department of Education was responsible for the relocation by class including teachers and additional domestic help. And unlike the other categories, the government paid the overwhelming bulk of the costs. Parents were charged a fixed fee of 10 yen a month per child (in case you are wondering, that was a very small sum even for poor Japanese), with whatever the remaining balance amounted to then divided at 85 percent paid by the national government, and 15 percent by the prefectural administrations and municipalities.

The compulsory evacuations did not occur all at once, and came principally in two big surges. The first in August 1944 after the fall of the Mariana Islands, and the second in April 1945 after the US turned from precision bombing to area bombing. Some 90 percent of the school children in these grade levels were ultimately evacuated. Ominously, however, the Japanese cabinet also adopted the March 18, 1945, Decisive Battle Educational Measures Guidelines, suspending all school classes above grade six from April 1 of that year through March 31, 1946, in anticipation of the planned US invasion of Japan in the fall of 1945. The cabinet then ordered the formation of a Patriotic Citizen's Fighting Corps on March 23 which emerged in mid April as the National Volunteer Corps. Although this organization was originally aimed at strengthening internal defense and increasing production, many of these older children began to receive simple military training, principally as suicide bombers targeting American tanks, starting in June and July 1945.


Hattori Takushiro, The Complete History of the Greater East Asia War, (Tokyo: Headquarters, 500th Military Intelligence Group, 1954), vol. 4, 282-85, 486-94, translated from Hattori’s Daitoa Senso zenshi (Tokyo: Masu Shobo, 1953).

The United States Strategic Bombing Survey [No. 11]: Final Report Covering Air-Raid Protection and Allied Subjects in Japan, (Tokyo: Civilian Defense Division, USSBS, February 1947), 4-5. See also 20-25.

Gabriel David Munoz - 2/27/2007

I have worked in the Japanese educational system as believe me the students are not taught too much about World War 2. If at all they are given the impression that Japan was led into the War. The rape of Nanking is not mentioned at all, and no mentions of any invasions from Japan, or of the forcing of women to be "comfort women". Visit Hiroshima and a person is made to feel guity for the atomic bombing on the poor Japanese. World War 2 is a big joke. Ask Japanese University students about it and quite alot of them will say that Japan and the USA were allies.

art eckstein - 2/26/2007

Noriko, you are simply wrong. There was no sustained air campaign against Japanese cities between 1942 and late 1944, hardly any bombing at all. Japan was simply too far away for the Americans to strike. There was the isolated Doolittle Raid of April 1942, which was launched from aircraft carriers and did little damage. There were a grand total of six (SIX) raids on Japanese by B-29s from bases in China between June 1944 and March 1945. And American bombers could only begin to strike hard at Japan when Saipan was conquered in June-July 1944, because only THEN was Japan brought within bombing RANGE. But even then, the first B-29 raids from Saipan didn't occur until LATE NOVEMBER 1944. The defenders of Iwo Jima were long in place by that time.

Just quickly, from a standard website;

Air War Against Japan World War II

The first attack on Japan by American airmen in World War II was on 18 April 1942. In an extraordinary feat, they flew sixteen twin-engine B-25s off the carrier Hornet about 688 miles west of Japan and hit Tokyo and other nearby targets before heading for landing in China. This isolated raid, led by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, came less than five months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. By late 1943, anxious to begin a sustained air campaign against Japan, [NOTE, NORIKO, THAT MEANS LITTLE OR NO ATTACKS AT ALL IN 1943 ON JAPANESE CITIES] President Franklin D. Roosevelt arranged with British and Chinese authorities to build bases in India and western China for the B-29, a four-engine strategic bomber the prototype of which had gone into development in 1939. By the spring of 1944, 130 were available for deployment to India and China.

On 14 June 1944, B-29 crews struck Japan from China for the first time. Sixty-three planes bombed a steel plant on Kyushu but caused only minor damage. Seven planes and fifty-five crewmen were lost on the raid. As mainland Japan lay beyond the B-29's 1,500-mile maximum combat radius, the U.S. airmen flew only five other missions against Japan from China. [NOTE, NORIKO, ONLY FIVE OTHER MISSIONS WERE FLOWN BY B-29S FROM CHINA FROM JUNE 1944 UNTIL MARCH 1945]. Mostly, they bombed closer enemy targets in Manchuria, China, Formosa, and Southeast Asia. By 29 March 1945, when the last raid was flown from the China-India theater, they had undertaken 3,058 individual sorties and dropped 11,691 tons of bombs on military and industrial targets.

The long-awaited sustained air war against Japan did not begin until U.S. forces had seized the Mariana Islands, beginning their assault on 15 June 1944. From Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, the B-29s could reach Japan's major industrial cities. Construction of runways on Saipan began even before the fighting there ended on 9 July 1944. The first bomber reached Saipan on 12 October.

On 24 November, [NOTE, NORIKO: 24 NOVEMBER, 1944] Major General Haywood S. Hansell launched the first air raid against Tokyo since Doolittle's raid. Nearly 90 B-29s struck at the enemy capital from an altitude of more than 25,000 feet, beyond the effective range of most Japanese aircraft and antiaircraft artillery. Their target—an aircraft plant—was almost completely obscured by clouds and was hit by only 24 planes. Sixty-four others bombed the general urban area. Although bomb damage was minimal, the Japanese soon began dispersing their industries, causing more disruption to their war production than did the initial B-29 attacks. Hansell staged six more raids in 1944. These high-altitude bombing raids proved ineffective.

In January 1945 Roosevelt's top airman, General Henry H. Arnold, replaced Hansell with Major General Curtis E. LeMay, who had commanded B-17s over Europe and the B-29s in the China-India theater. Other important changes followed. Washington directed that the B-29s carry more incendiaries on future raids, to take advantage of the known flammability of Japanese buildings. On 4 February a heavy incendiary strike against Kobe destroyed 2.5 million square feet of the city's urban area. It was a precursor of the great fire raids. [KOBE WAS THE FIRST REAL TERRIBLE URBAN STRIKE AND THAT'S ONLY 17 DAYS BEFORE THE IWO JIMA INVASION]

The Japanese, meanwhile, had launched preemptive air strikes against the Saipan bases from Iwo Jima, a fortress island some 725 miles north of the Marianas. Between 26 November and 31 December 1944, some 80 Japanese planes had attacked and destroyed 11 B-29s on Saipan and damaged 43.

The B-29s, however, wreaked the greatest damage on Japan, LeMay having ordered his airmen to attack with incendiaries at altitudes of less than 8,000 feet, and individually rather than in formation. These new tactics were employed for the first time on the night of 9–10 March, when 285 bombers dropped two thousand tons of incendiaries on Tokyo. High winds fanned the flames into a huge firestorm that gutted 16 square miles in the city's center, killing 83,783, injuring 40,918, and leaving 1 million homeless. Similar fire raids were subsequently flown against Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, and fifty smaller Japanese cities. [NORIKO, THESE ARE THE 70 CITIES YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT, BUT ALL THIS HORRIBLE THINGS HAPPENED AFTER--AFTER-- IWO JIMA WAS ACTUALLY CONQUERED BY THE AMERICANS. THUS NO JAPANESE SOLDIER ON IWO JIMA CAME FROM A CITY THAT HAD BEEN REDUCED TO RUBBLE.] By midsummer 1945, 180 square miles of Japan's urban area had been destroyed.

Noriko, I'm willing to be proven wrong if you have different information. But I believe I am correct here.

Nancy REYES - 2/26/2007

I was wondering how long it would take for someone to notice the cultural distortions.
Like most B directors, Eastwood just places upper class American customs and thought patterns in a different culture, and critics in the US don't even notice it is wrong.

Noriko Manabe - 2/26/2007

Actually, many Japanese cities were bombed from between 1942 to 1945. There was a concerted campaign on about 70 cities.

If you have seen the movie, one of the letters from Kuribayashi's wife talks about a daughter who's been sent away to the countryside. That was a common tactic among the privileged to save their children from the firebombs, which were already attacking many cities.

Noriko Manabe - 2/26/2007

As I stated in my article, WWII has been too painful of a subject for most Japanese who remember the war, or whose parents remember the war, to make into a commercial movie. Most Japanese movies from 1946-1960 are about the pain of loss and readjustment. As I also allude to in the article, there are geopolitical issues with making a film that may be perceived as too "nationalistic."

But Japan has also collaborated with many Chinese filmmakers on projects that do show Japanese soldiers committing atrocities in China in WWII, and I have seen them in Japan; I can't remember the titles offhand.

joe belkin - 2/26/2007

Is movie storytelling 100% accurate or complete ALWAYS - NEVER. Doesn't matter if it's a romantic comedy or a war movie. Just as a dumb example, in most movies, finding parking in a big America city just requires pulling up to an nearly empty street. In real life, that's laughable but does it materially affect the story? Sure, there are going to be some inaccuracies just like even in the most American movies about some America small town, there might be a mailbox style that's not from 1940 or something a girl might say but does it materially change the story or are you just nitpicking?

But the bigger point is that America is one of the few places that is willing to tell all sides of the story - from every point of view AND more importantly, if you think it's inaccurate, MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIE and show it in America so we can see! America is also one of the few places where ANYONE can distribute a movie and/or press your own DVD's to sell even if a major studio is not interested. AND also as important, Hollywood is seen as some insiduous culture spreading machine when the reality is that it absorbs anyone and I mean, ANYONE interested! You would be hard to pressed to find another country where "foreigners" come in and start directing and producing movies without anyone really caring about their nationality - from John Woo to Ang Lee to Wolfgang Peterson (from Germany) to the seemingly hundreds of British directors and now Mexican directors - only in America will be watch obscure international movies subtitled and not dubbed and/of remake them such as DEPARTED was based on a HK film ... only in America do have films critical of the government and its policies WHILE the conflict is going on - sure, we have jingoistic films but one of the most jingoistic films was directed by a German (AIR FORCE ONE) so how do you account for that? Where are the critical Japanese films of WWII? Where are the Japanese films of the controversial aspects and deeds of japanese solidiers in WWII? From the Vietnam conflict, we have a couple dozen outstanding examinations of all that Americans did wrong - are there a couple dozen major Japanese films examing the seem underside of Japanese WWII deeds?

So, until Japan is willing to step up and unbare and examine the past like America and other countries have, it doesn't really have a right to criticize others for telling its stories.

hazard black - 2/26/2007

I think it is important to remember that a film is an artistic depiction of a time or event. The writer expresses concern that "young people in Japan may take the film at face value as their primary impression of the Japanese in World War II."
I think the writer is underestimating the Japanese public. No one should take a Clint Eastwood movie, or any Hollywood film, as historical gospel. Buy a history book for that.

art eckstein - 2/26/2007

The author of the article cites this as an "inaccuracy" in the film, but most of the defending units on Iwo Jima arrived in the summer of 1944 and all were there by late autumn 1944; this is well before the terrible American bombing campaign began. They came from cities that were still physically untouched. The movie is thus historically correct.
(That, of course, may be an accident.)

Christopher Coleman - 2/26/2007

I appreciate the authors viewpoint...and many of your responses.

I'll just say that films such as LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (a film a genuniely admire), or FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS or SCHINDLER'S LIST is that they are so evocative within a realistic context, that people will swallow every detail as being fact.

Of course, they are just movies. These are good movies (well Flags was "ok") but when done well, the audience forgets that it is "just a movie" and can leave theatre feeling as though they are newly englightened.

That said, I think it is valid for someone to complain about the details which are inaccurate...especially when it is "their" culture, "their" history. Further, if they are trying to make a case for possible grosser inaccuries, then the smaller ones are very much relevant.


Jim L - 2/26/2007

The irony of the article is so tremendous that it bears repeating that the US only got involved in that war after the Japanese decided to attack us. If you do any historical research about what Japan was doing to China it makes the Nazi's look terribly civilized in their slaughter of the Jewish people.

This man needs to shutup and revisit the non-edited history of why japan wouldnt stop until they were half destroyed. Lookup the Massacre of Nanking

Jim L - 2/26/2007

You're a moron. Read my words again if you have trouble understanding and try not to add meaning and words to mine.

Jason T. - 2/26/2007

Its Hollywood movie for goodness sakes, no one says Letters from Iwo Jima is a historical documentary.

The movie is meant for an entertainment experience, not a lesson in history. The overall message was conveyed successful according to the author.. "Japanese users have appreciated the film for its anti-war message, its sentimental story, and its "surprisingly sympathetic stance for an American director." I feel like its just simple nit-picking when the author mentions the doors having paper windows, or a fat dog :P

lol on a side note...if you tried to starve the dog so it looks more realistic, Clint Eastwood would have PETA on his ass :P

James Albert Smyth - 2/26/2007

I have no problem understanding what you are saying. It is spelled out pretty clearly. The writer of the article thinks people should be made aware of the fire bombings and you tell him to shut up because of what happened in Nanking (which there are several movies about). You are asserting that certain aspects of Japanese history should be swept away as some sort of punishment.

James Albert Smyth - 2/26/2007

Sorry, that's 'should not be selective'

James Albert Smyth - 2/26/2007

Thank you Jason. Exactly my point. History is important for understanding human nature, and if we choose to leave out the embarrassing parts we are doomed to repeat them. Japanese citizens should be taught about Nanking just as they should about the fire bombings. History should be selective or taught with a bias, but it always will be.

James Albert Smyth - 2/26/2007

What the hell are you talking about? "This person needs to shut up because Japan did bad things too." What is that?

History is history and some nations take the part of the whipping boy. All sides committed terrible acts, yet in the end the looser is the one all the weight is left on. Sure, Japan suffered like everyone else. But they lost the war, and somehow that means they have no right to have a history.

James Albert Smyth - 2/26/2007

It is true that the Japanese army committed many atrocities, but "One man's cruel act is no excuse for your own." The fire bombings are important because they were a drastic example of a psychological strategy. The fire bombings were meant to merely wear down the army's will to fight. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, were slaughtered for the purpose of making the soldiers feel bad.

This writer has every right to complain about the fire bombings being left out. There are many films about Japanese atrocities during WWII. Yet the atrocities of the US are rarely mentioned. I think it's important for national moral to know that EVERY nation commits horrible acts. I have friends from Germany who cringe at the mention of WWII feeling the shame of what their nation did. I should ask them if German schools ever mention Dresden.

Jason T. - 2/26/2007

If you want American schools to learn about the firebombings, then it should only be fair that Japanese schools teach about Unit 731, Nanking Massacre, and comfort women.

James Albert Smyth - 2/26/2007

I am curious as to what exactly is taught about WWII in Japanese schools. Chinese schools make damn sure their kids know what happened in Nanking, but do Japanese students know? I imagine many Japanese citizens knowing the Chinese don't like them but without knowing why.

Pretty much the only thing really taught about WWII in American schools is "We kicked everyone else's butts." and it's left at that.

I suppose it works as history always works with the victor writing history behind themselves.

James Albert Smyth - 2/26/2007

It is true that American Schools don't mention the fire bombings. What we are taught is that America made the atom bomb and that scared the Japanese into surrendering. The truth of the matter is that Japan was already on the brink from the far more devastating fire bombing attacks. I didn't know what fire bombing was till I saw Grave of the Fireflies. The more I learned, but more horrified I was to learn that such terrible methods were used by American forces on civilians.

Though it is easy to understand why an American director would leave out such a shameful act.

Lee Rodgers - 2/26/2007

All history is written by people who want to shape how people think about the subjects. WWII and Japan is no different. The author of this article takes some very big leaps concerning the "truth" about Japan and WWII. Americans are beat up again and again for the firebombings and the Hiroshima. But those are never put into the context of the war itself or the Japanese regime that we were fighting.

I have lived twice in Japan and have come to know much of the culture, history and many people. While Hiroshima is considered an important part of their history, Nanking and the other bestial activities of the Japanese Imperial Army are never taught. There is a complete whitewash of the Japanese atrocities.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the firebombing of Tokyo were horrific. We can not imagine them in the context of our world today. But, the decision to bomb the homeland was very much affected by the fanatic defense of places like Iwo Jima. I would hope the writer would learn a little more about his history before he complains that others are loose with theirs.

Zack Frazee - 2/26/2007

I went to school in Enid, Oklahoma. This small town is probably as educationally isolated as any in the mid-west, yet I learned all about our involvement in the fire-bombing of Tokyo and dropping the big ones. Heck, I even did a little presentation on the Doolittle raid in the 8th grade.

The information is available in textbooks, but it's a matter of students giving a damn about the reading.

Tasos N Riz - 2/26/2007

I am Greek, and we get our history retold as the "300"... Need I say more?

mike moran - 2/26/2007

hotaru no haka is a pretty real depiction of japan during WW2.

chris l pettit - 2/26/2007

Dr. FUrnish is not known for reading carefully, thinking critically, or being able to step outside his narrow prejudiced ideological viewpoints.

You'd have better luck trying to ask a camel to walk through the eye of a needle.


David Lindsay Roberts - 2/26/2007

I think if you read the article more carefully you will find the writer is trying to say (evidently not quite clearly) that it is only the firebombing of Tokyo that is not much mentioned in American schools, a fact supported by your own post.

Stanley Lawrence Falk - 2/26/2007

The "Japanese response" reference to the destruction of Japanese cities overlooks the fact that the firebombing and destruction did not begin until mid-March 1945, after the conclusion of the Iwo Jima campaign.

Tim R. Furnish - 2/26/2007

I find ludicrous this writer's assertion that the firebombing of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are "not mentioned in American schools." As a college professor of history, when discussign WWII in the Pacific I find that public school products in Georiga generally know nothing about the topic EXCEPT 1) Pearl Harbor and 2) the atomic bombings. This writer needs to check his facts before making such sweeping assertions.

derek massarella - 2/26/2007

the writer would have made a more interesting case had he compared 'Letters' with 'Otoko-tachi no Yamato', a Japanese World War II film from 2005.