Okinawan boys of the Tekketsu Kinnotai, Japan’s last ditch weapon

In the waning days of the WWII, as Japan found itself losing its conquered empire, a group of school boys reported for duty on Okinawa. The boys spoke their own dialect and had their own culture. They were Ryukuan, natives of Okinawa and not from mainland Japan. The Japanese Army didn’t trust them, but it needed them to defend Okinawa against the coming American invasion.

okinawan boys

Middle School children of the Tekketsu Kinnotai

Between 1,400-1,800 Okinawan boys aged fourteen to seventeen were given the “honor” of fighting for the Emperor. They were formed into a group called the Tekketsu Kinnotai the “Iron and Blood Imperial Corps”. The Japanese military knew that weapons were in short supply, and so was the time it needed to adequately train them, but that didn’t matte, the boys were not expected to live very long. They were expected to die and hopefully take a few Americans with them. They were Okinawan and expendable. The boys were to be used as guerrilla fighters or would be given bombs to strap to themselves and ordered to run and blow themselves up under American tanks.

Okinawan boysThe boys had little food and no extra clothing. One member, Eiki Ishikawa, remembered that they had no clean water and subsisted only on salted cabbage and sugar cane. At the time, Ishikawa only wished for the three things from the upcoming battle: to be able to sleep on a tatami mat, to have a glass of clean water and for his death to be painless. Like many boys, the only weapons Ishikawa carried were two grenades, one to hurl at the enemy and the other to be used to kill himself. When the American invasion came, the boys of the Tekketsu Kinnotai went into battle, being killed or killing themselves against an overwhelming enemy force. Ishikawa decided to hide, a fourteen year old afraid to find himself in a world at war. When he saw American soldiers taking Okinawa civilians and Japanese soldier’s prisoner, he decided to act. He threw away his grenades and surrendered.

okinawan boys

Okinawan child soldiers of the Tekketsu Kinnotai

Ishikawa survived the war, but an estimated half of his underage unit did not. Their number joined more than 70,000 Japanese soldiers who died in the defense of Okinawa, innocents, expended in a war they could not win.








For More Reading About Okinawa Check Out:

The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945–The Last Epic Struggle of World War II

The Battle For Okinawa

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

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