Self-intro: M.G. Sheftall

Filed under: — M.G. Sheftall @ 9:13 am

Mina san, konnichiwa.

My name is M.G. Sheftall. I’m an ex-pat NY’er (attended and Stuyvesant High School and Fordham University there) living in Japan since 1987. I am currently an associate professor at Shizuoka University in Hamamatsu City, Japan and a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University.

First of all, I must say I’m happier than a kaeru during tsuyu to be joining the official posters’ lineup here on Frog in a Well. I’ve been a lurker on this site for quite a while now, and am familiar with many of the bylines around here from various books and articles I’ve read over the years (and coincidentally, I’ve just recently finished Brian McVeigh’s magisterial Nationalisms of Japan, which I cannot recommend highly enough to students of the collective ways and mores of the residents of our favorite archipelago). I’d also like to say that I’m very much looking forward to interacting with you all from hereon out on a regular basis, and I hope I’ll be able to overcome innate cognitive shortcomings and temperamental proclivities to contribute more than politically incorrect irreverence and obtuse, misanthropic observations to these proceedings (although I can’t make any promises, especially once classes start up again next month). Yoroshiku. 

Some personal background info towards the tiresome yet nevertheless de rigeur “How did you end up in Japan?”: 

Japan has been a personal obsession since I was a preschooler — literally. The details of this nascent Orientalism are convoluted and possibly Freudian, involving a Japanese exchange student babysitter, a viewing of You Only Live Twice with my dad in 1967, and finding my grandmother’s awesome National Geographic stash shortly thereafter. Things became progressively monomaniacal after I watched Tora! Tora! Tora! in 1970 and decided that my goal in life was to become a Zero fighter pilot. Needless to say, the Imperial Japanese Navy security clearance background check and citizenship requirements posed ultimately insurmountable obstacles, but I think we can all begin to see the pattern forming here.

In spite of the numerous distractions and temptations that came with the territory of a “dazed and confused” 1970s New York City adolesence, a bud of J-longing remained safely sequestered in my youthful bosom, glowing and intact, merely waiting for the right circumstances under which to reach full blossom. However, fate was to intervene with yet another impressionable cinematic experience that, in this particular case, detoured me quite catastrophically from my destined path in Japan Studies: a viewing of Apocalypse Now at the Ziegfeld Theater — bolstered in effect by consideration of the financial circumstances of a household facing two additional sets of tuition bills just a few more years down the line — somehow convinced my fragile eggshell 17-year-old mind that I should turn down Columbia University in favor of a tuition-free education at West Point via an appointment to the Academy from Congressman Bill Green (R/NY) in January 1980. So-o-o, it was goodbye Donald Keene, hello M-16.

Although there were many aspects of the soldier’s life I enjoyed (e.g., firing automatic weapons; experiencing temporary ego death in the testosterone-fueled, cadence-chanting, buzzcutted anonymity of The Group), and others for which I displayed a natural ability (I shined a mean shoe, for instance), it eventually became clear to all involved that my talents might be better applied in an endeavor other than the profession of arms. After two years at The Point, the Academy and I reached the amicable — if perhaps a tad premature — decision to part ways, leaving me free to meander back home to Manhattan neither with my shield nor on it (sticking to the allegory, the Spartan in a similar situation might have opted to fall on his sword, but I am an innate self-preservationist), and I enrolled at Fordham University in the Bronx a few months later. Alas, there was no Japanese Studies program at this fine Jesuit institution, but I opted for something I thought sounded almost as exotically intriguing and considerably more timely — a concentration in Islamic/Middle East Studies as a Poli Sci/International Relations major.

One thing led to another at Fordham, some roads led nowhere, and none (thank God) led to Baghdad, but a fortuitous phone call from an ex-roomie landed me in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan in February ’87, a few months shy of my twenty-fifth birthday, and I’ve been a Nihongo and kanji freak pretty much since stepping off the 747. My on-topic professional research activity from about the mid-90s on was decidedly job-oriented, concentrating on culture-specific (or at least culture-salient) affective variables in the context of the Sisyphean realities of Japanese EFL. Anyone who has 1) “done the Eigo/Eikaiwa thing” for any length of time and 2) has a working knowledge of Japanese cultural studies should readily understand how this particular research interest – nudged in my case by concurrent initial encounters with Karel van Wolferen, Ian Buruma, Bruce Stronach and Harumi Befu — eventually led me to focus on Japanese cultural/national identity issues.

I wound up in the Japanese national university system as a full-timer in Spring 2001 all set to continue in this vein…then 9/11 happened and everything, as the saying goes, changed. Several stunned months of insomniac BBC and CNN viewing and sobering ruminations on the dialectic of national/ethnic/religious identity and ideologies of self-sacrifice eventually led me to Googling “kamikaze” one day in January 2002 and stumbling onto a veterans’ association of kamikaze survivors (yes, as oxymoronic as that may sound, there actually are some) based in Setagaya, Tokyo. I have been studying and observing the history, rituals and pedagogical activities not only of this association but of the entire Japanese subculture of kamikaze collective memory ever since. A book, BLOSSOMS IN THE WIND: HUMAN LEGACIES OF THE KAMIKAZE, resulted from the first three years of this research. This was published in English by NAL Caliber in 2005 (paperback in 2006), and a J-translation will come out from Bungei Shunju some time next year.

My dissertation at Waseda is a continuation of work on this theme, after anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace’s classic “Revitalization Movement” concept, aiming to model veteran-centric collective memory formation in traditionally exclusivist sociopolities that have experienced catastrophic military defeat and subsequent foreign occupation. My methodology owes much to the substantial literature in this field dealing with the experience of the post-Civil War American South, especially the work of C. Vann Woodward, Rollin Osterweis, Gaines Foster and Charles Reagan Wilson. Partly in acknowledgment of this methodological debt, but more importantly because I just love the way it reads, the title of the dissertation will be Gone With The Divine Wind: the Kamikaze in Japanese ‘Lost Cause’ Mythology, 1945-Present.

Additional (but very much related) research interests for me are: military influence in the formation of Japanese national identity from Meiji to the present (I’m a big Yoshida Yutaka fan, btw); Yasukuni issues (2006 has been a great year for these!); popular Japanese attitudes towards — and interpretations of — modern history, particularly regarding the Asia-Pacific War; the relationship of culturally-patterned masculinity and formalized violence; depiction of the Asia-Pacific War in popular culture/media; (as per the above paragraph, the numerous and endlessly fascinating) parallels between the cultural, ideological, pedagogical and psychological mechanisms of dealing with the aftermath of defeat in postwar Japan and post-Civil War American South (my ancestors on both sides of the family were Confederates, so there is an element of personal interest on my part in exploring this aspect of the respective collective experiences of both my ancestral and adoptive cultures), et al.  


A quick personal profile:

Family: Married, two sons (eight and three years of age, respectively).

Currently listening to:  Station-to-Station, by David Bowie; The Sand Pebbles soundtrack (Jerry Goldsmith, RIP)

Currently reading: Kudakareta Kami by Watanabe Kiyoshi (a kind of Rosetta Stone of postwar J-veteran trauma; now I can see why Dower thought it was worth devoting six pages of “Embracing Defeat” to…Powerful stuff!)

Favorite Japanese movies: Yojinbo; Kumo no Bohyou yori Sora Yukaba (hands down the best kamikaze movie ever made)

J-turn-ons: Hokusai woodblocks; hanabi; the gracious art of tatemae displayed in consideration of others’ feelings; winsome smiles; the Imperial Palace o-hori walkway near Chidorigafuchi, at night, under cherry blossoms; prewar J-Art Deco (Waseda campus has some nice examples, btw); crisp autumn breezes; Nihonshu and oden on winter nights

J-turn-offs: requests for personal anatomical data, particularly from strangers; any and all comments/lines of questioning about chopstick/Nihongo ability and/or edible/inedible Japanese foods; Nihonjinron genre (comedic value aside); self-serving, obsequious tatemae; just about any building erected in Japan since about 1965 (although I do like the Asahi Beer corporate headquarters); 95% of J-television programming; tsuyu and summer weather in Central Japan

前世 existences: Post-Impressionist painter; Chuushingura co-conspirator; Greek hoplite; Egyptian architect.


Dewa, mina san, yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

28 Responses to “Self-intro: M.G. Sheftall”

  1. Alan Baumler says:

    Welcome to the project. Hope all goes well.

  2. Prinny says:

    Wow! What an intro! :)

  3. M.G. Sheftall says:

    Thanks Alan, Prinny.
    “Prinny”…Is that “prinny” as in the exploding penguins of RPG note?
    (a lot of my students at Shizudai are “ge-mu otaku”, so I’m familiar with some of the lingo!)

  4. Prinny says:

    Haha! No, it’s my nick name, sprung from Princess.

    No. Really.

    Speaking of kamikaze, just visited the Kamikaze Peace Museum in Chiran. ::shudder:: Honestly, that’s all I have to say about that…

  5. Mark Terry says:

    Dear Mr. Sheftall,
    I just finished reading BLOSSOMS IN THE WIND. I found it to be an engrossing and moving book. I have read many books on the Kamikazes, both in the air and otherwise, and yours is simply the best at getting to the heart of what motivated these men to make the decision to deliberately sacrifice themselves for their country. Thank you so much for all the effort and work you put in to publish this book.
    I myself have always had an interest in Japan. I was born in Kyoto of missionary parents and spent my first six years of life in Japan. I went to Yochien and First Grade in the Japanese School System. It was then that my parents had a
    parting of the ways and my mom took my brother and I to America and we lived in Los Angeles. It took me some time to adjust to life in the U.S.A., since I was more Japanese than American.
    My father, John R. Terry, has lived in Japan for the last 49 years, worked as a professor in several Japanese universities
    but now is retired. He married a Japanese woman and raised three kids who are now all married and have kids. He is also an author.
    Well, I’d like to go on, but I need to hit the sack as I get up very early for work.
    Thanks again for your work and I hope we can commiserate soon.
    Mark Terry
    Washington State, USA

  6. M.G. Sheftall says:

    Thanks for your comments, Mr. Terry. I am very pleased that you enjoyed my book.

  7. Mark Terry says:

    I was wondering about something- and this is a question for everyone. Does anyone recall a TV drama on J-TV about a Japanese Fighter Squadron during WWII? I can barely remember it, as I was pretty young. However I do remember the gist of it- the heroic J Fighter Squadron stranded on an island in the pacific who would take flight and fight against a nearby American Fighter Sqaudron on some other island. I don’t recall too many details except for one episode where the Japanese pilots invaded the American base- there was a scene where the arrogant Americans are sitting around playing cards and smoking while they are about to be attacked. Of course the flew the Zero Fighter…

    I have always had a love of history, especially military history. After we moved from Japan to L.A. in 1965 I used to go to the library and try to find information on Japanese Military Aviation during the War. There was so little to be found! I was frustrated that I couldn’t check out the reference copy of “Japanese Army Air Force Camouflage and Markings” by Thorpe. I also pored over (again a reference!) Rene Francillion’s “Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War”. When I discovered books like “Samurai” by Saburo Sakai, and “The Divine Wind” by Inoguchi & Nakajima (I read the latter in 6th Grade and the former in Junior High) I devoured them. In fact when asked to write a paper about “who we admired most”, my subject was Saburo Sakai and his desperate flight from Guadalcanal to Rabaul after he’d been badly wounded in air combat.

    Of course I purchased and put together plastic model aircraft and ships. At the time that my interest in models waned in high school, I was in the middle of building a Mitsubishi A6M5 ZERO Model 52 (1/72 scale) with a scratchbuilt detailed interior. Alas, even now it rests in a shoebox waiting for me to finish it. I am sure you are acquainted with the “waterline” series of Japanese Naval Ships (1/700 scale). One of my prize pieces is a small diorama of the submarine I-370, leaving port with 5 Kaiten on deck. Part of the tableau is a small motor launch, opening a submarine net to allow the I-370 to fulfill it’s mission…

    Which brings me back to the subject of the Tokko pilots. Having been born in Japan, but American by heritage, it has always been difficult to read about or watch documentaries about these men. There are plenty of programs on the History Channel and reruns of “Victory at Sea”, etc. where actual scenes of Tokko attacks are shown. I find myself strangely split in my inner self. As I watch the intense AA, I hope that the pilot and plane will get through and hit it’s target, thus not sacrificing himself in vain. But then the other side of me wonders how I can feel this way knowing that many Americans on board those same ships died a flaming, painful death at the moment of impact.

    I found your epilogue to be very apropos, especially at a time when North Korea is testing “nukes” and rattling its sword, Japan is re-thinking militarization. Your question about whether the Japanese themselves are up to the task of becoming warriors and whether that instinct was lost after the 1945 defeat and subsequent transformation of it’s culture from one of militarism and war to trade and peace was insightful. I am hopeful that the Japanese will in fact be up to the task, despite so many contrary signs, to defend itself and live up to the example set by the Tokko pilots and Kaiten men. They may be tested yet…

    Thanks for allowing me to ramble on. As much as I learned of Japanese as a child I have forgotten most of it. Perhaps if I spent time there it would come back to me.

    Mark Terry

  8. M.G. Sheftall says:


    Very interesting anecdotes.

    RE: your childhood TV memory: I believe the dramatic (or comedic, if your prefer!) plot with the “goof-off, smokin’ and jokin’ Americans” getting caught with their pants down was not from a TV series, but rather, from the Kayama Yuzo/Toho Studios 1963 kitsch “senso eiga” classic “Taiheiyo no Tsubasa”. This may have been broadcast on primetime TV as a “ro-do sho-” (“roadshow”)in the mid to late Sixties. But in this case, Kayama and his men (fliers out of Rabaul — this much seems to match your memory pretty well) are stranded on a deserted island when the ship they are on is strafed and sunk by enemy planes. They wash up on the beach, find the wreckage of an American plane, and somehow use this to lure a passing American PT boat (no, JFK is not on board) into attempting a “rescue” mission. The PT crew disembark — and yes, they are all smoking and joking and not taking things very seriously (a well known character flaw of “fumajime” Americans) — and are made quick work of by Kayama and his fellow stalwarts, who hop the PT boat and ride it to safe haven (but not before nearly sinking a Japanese destroyer by mistake — they are subsequently blown out of the water, then rescued, by same vessel). I imagine this sequence must have been pretty entertaining for early Sixties Japanese moviegoers; from the standpoint of narrative, it is a little comedic relief for what follows; the movie ends with Kayama Yuzo doing a “kamikaze” dive against a flight of plastic model B-29s (FX are by Tsuburaya Eiji — the same guy that did all those Godzilla movies) while screaming “Nihon no sora kara deteike—!!!” (“Get out of Japanese skies!!!” — it loses something in translation).

    p.s. I hope I did NOT give readers the impression at ANY point in my book that I approved of the tokko in any way. I merely admire the courage of the men (or boys, as the case usually was) who believed — however naively or not — that their own deaths would save their nation and loved ones from the certain annihilation THEY BELIEVED (AND WERE CONSTANTLY TOLD)WAS COMING. The points I was trying to make in the epilogue were: 1) that several postwar generations of Japanese educators may have “thrown the baby out with the bath water” when they decided that ANY kind of courage re: confrontational situations had the potential to be bent by the state to sinister use, and was thus a quality to be thoroughly expunged from the Japanese character; and 2) I could “feel the pain” — to use that smarmy Clintonism — of proud old men who ended up having to see the myths, dreams and values (whether these were “good” or not is besides the point) they cherished during the first quarter of their lives largely mocked, spited and debunked for the last three-quarters of those lives. Every one of them I spoke to (and yes, this includes the fellows like Hideo Suzuki and Tokuro Takei who thought the war was a terrible mistake) said their long postwar existences as “economic” soldiers for Japan Inc was a terrible anticlimax after their quasi-apotheosis as “war gods” in their high teens or early twenties. Moral of that story, I suppose, is that any fall from grace kinda sucks — even from a debunked grace. Was I wrong in empathizing with that? A couple of reviewers have really nailed my ass for doing just that, but if I had ended the book saying otherwise, I would have been lying. I was honored to even be in their presence, let alone let into their private lives for several years. Definitely THE heuristic highlight of my twenty year Nippon sojourn, hands down. Something to tell the grandkids about.

  9. Dear Mr. Sheftall,

    At the moment I’m looking at your photo in your fine book and thinking what an incredible leap in communication we now embrace, as I type these words with the realistic hope that I might receive a personal reply from you. As a retired instructor at a local community college, approaching 70 years of age, I remain overwhelmed at the incredible ability of the world wide web to provide for us the answers to our questions.

    Which brings me to the following:

    While researching old guestbooks from the “Crown Point Chalet”, a popular dining establishment that once existed above the Columbia River,about 20 miles NE of the seaport of Portland, Oregon, I came upon a guest entry for August 27, 1916, that including the following individual:

    Isoroku Yamamoto…..Kobe, Japan

    Quite excited that this entry may be that of the infamous admiral given credit for the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor,I requested a copy of Yamamoto’s signature from Harvard University,where he had gone to school in 1919, and a copy of his signature on his application seems a perfect match. Such a revelation that this famous warrior had once stood looking down on the Columbia River,appears to be the only evidence that Yamamoto had visited the area.

    After further investigation, I read that Yamamoto had graduated from the Naval Staff College in Kobe in 1916, and I would be interested in historical details of this college, ie: curriculum, number of cadets, and whatever became of the school.

    I might mention that one other famous Japanese Naval officer came to dine at Crown Point Chalet: On August 2, 1922, I find an entry for Captain Osami Nagano, later to become an admiral with higher authority over the actions of Isoroku Yamamoto.

    Certainly one historical circumstance that could not be over emphasized in any analysis of the good guys/bad guys who fought the war with Japan, should be the enormous energizing impact of the “sneak” attack on Pearl Harbor, master minded by Yamamoto. As Yamamoto famously proclaimed, after hearing that the attack was a complete surprise, withhout an intended announcement,…”I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.” As we now understand,indeed the resolve was most terrible! So now, so many years after the terrible war, one might still say with conviction….”the bastards asked for it!”

    At closure, I want to congratulate you on a fine book, most certainly a valuable addition to an aspect of the war with Japan, not previously given such a sensitive treatment in easily obtained book fom.

    One thought comes to me at this time, and I think of one of the lines attributed to General Patton of WW 2 fame, something like this: ” I am not here to ask you to die for your country….I want you to make the Son’s of Bitches die for theirs!”

    For exploration of my work on the Guestbooks of Crown Point Chalet, 1915-1927, I invite you to visit my website at http://www.crownpointchalet.com, where most of the study is visible.

    With regards,

    Cliff Nelson
    Benicia, CA 94510

  10. M.G. Sheftall says:

    Dear Professor Nelson,

    Thank you for your comments and interest re: BLOSSOMS.

    Re: Yamamoto’s career/IJN schools, if I remember correctly, he graduated from the Naval Staff College in Tokyo — not Kobe. That would have been around 1915 or 1916 or so. This school was equivalent in size and mission to similar U.S. military institutions such as the Army War College in Carlisle, PA, i.e., class year sizes of perhaps a hundred or so officers being “groomed for top slots in the corporation”, to paraphrase Captain Willard.

    I have just returned from a visit to your Crown Point website, where I spent twenty or thirty happy minutes going through the pdf files in the “guest list” (several are now saved on my hard disk). Fascinating stuff, and not only the Japanese material. By the way, I think the name at the top of the guestbook signed by Yamamoto is “S. Aoyama”.

    Also, I understand that the “sleeping giant” remark Yamamoto is supposed to have given upon receiving the first Pearl Harbor after action reports is not historical, but rather, has its origins in the 1970 film (a good one, btw) Tora! Tora! Tora! I recall reading that somewhere, but can’t remember where just now.

    Anyway, thanks again for your comments. Nice “meeting” you here in the ether of cyberspace!

    M.G. Sheftall
    Hamamatsu City, Japan

  11. Miklos Kiss says:

    Dear Mr Sheftall,

    I have come across yor book by interesting circumstances. My mother-in-law, who works for UJA in Manhatten, sent me your book as a holiday gift to
    me while I am deployed in the mid-East as an Air Force officer, knowing I’d enjoy it. My homestation is Yokota AB, Japan! I am interested in J
    culture, but have not been able to see as much as I’d like becuase my job as a C-130 Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Commander is rather demanding,
    I live on base, I have two small children like you, and I’m deployed here until Feb 2007.

    I’ve been to Yasukini, before I read your book. Now I will visit again with greater knowledge because of you. I’d like to take a group of USAF officers with me
    next time and was wondering if you gave tours? I would also like to invite you to a visit to Yokota Air Base. There are few, if any,
    historic buildings remaining, but there are monuments to where things once were, and I can give you a flightline tour. To see remnants from Great Pacific War, the USAF has a recreation site in Tama hills, where they Imperial Army produced explosive powerder. There are a few rubbled buildings and a shrine that can be found in their 1945 state.

    Living in Japan, I have gained a greater appreciation for Japanese culture. I regard it highly now. The people are genuinely civil, polite, and (privately) happy.
    I still have not found charm to be omnipresent like in Germany or Europe, but that’s probably my fault because I haven’t traveled
    wide enough. I would like to visit a place in Japan that is still truly serene. A town that has not lost its charm, has a Japanese style bed and breakfast, a pedestrian street, near a forest…a Japanese version of Interlaken or Salzburg. Does such a place exist?

    Finally, as a Hungarian, I was thrilled to hear that Fukagawa-san’s Senninbari was on permanent display near Budapest. I lived there too, but I
    wonder exactly where that museum is located?

    -Miklos Kiss Jr, Lt Col, USAF

  12. M.G. Sheftall says:

    Dear Colonel Kiss,

    Thanks for your kind comments.

    Your “ideal” tourism spot sounds a bit like Karuizawa or the Hakone area. You may want to check those places out.

    As for Yokota/Yasukuni trip, I’m all up for it. Please contact me offlist at:

    bucky(“at” mark)tokai(“dot”)or(“dot”)jp

    M.G. Sheftall

  13. Ellen Veden says:

    I came across you site after chatting with another who also taught English in Japan. In asking her if she knew you, I went to google and voila…I loved your Fordam art paintings, you were always very talented and reading this blog. Leaving WP was a good choice to pursue your passion…..in Japan….Ellen Veden (JHS 104 Art)

  14. M.G. Sheftall says:

    Wow! Ms. Veden! What a blast from the past!

    I often think about how different my life would have been if I’d taken your advice in junior high school and “followed my muse” re: art. It wasn’t in the cards for me, for various reasons (some of which are outlined above), but I’ve kept “my art” near to hand and heart ever since — on rare occasions professionally, and as a life-enriching hobby/passion all the other times. I suppose if you can consider what I’m doing now to fall into the realm of literary activity, I could claim to be an “artist” of sorts (Herodotus considered history and cultural study to be literature and therefore an “art” — but I don’t think he footnoted very much!).

    Anyway, great to hear from you. My mom — who always liked you (as did I, of course!) — will get a big kick hearing about our thirty-plus-year reunion in cyberspace!

    Take care, and I hope things are going well for you.


  15. Paul Callomon says:

    Dear Mr Sheftall,

    I greatly enjoyed your new book, and have posted the following review on amazon.com:


    M. G. Sheftall has produced a very finely balanced account of the Japanese suicide attack programs of World War II. This is a major feat, as the Tokko (‘special attack’) program is a field so larded with biased and poorly-researched work that a serious historical approach must require doubting or discounting a great deal of what has already been written.
    Sheftall has done what any responsible historian should when dealing with such a recent set of events: he went and talked directly to those involved. Unlike accounts of the same events from the Allied side, however, this was something he could only achieve by first learning to speak Japanese, behaving correctly in the presence of very sensitive people and leaving his own agenda at the interview room door. Sheftall happily has a strong grasp of effective techniques for this work, and the result is a very good read presented in a style that mixes skilfully-wrought historical accounts with gentle first-person reportage somewhat reminiscent of Bill Bryson. Sheftall visits and describes the shrines and societies that today perpetuate the bonds forged among the wartime Tokko personnel – both the successful and the survivors – and manages neither to sneer nor fawn; he meets and travels with men who in their youth accepted self-willed extinction in defence of their homeland without once judging them or sensationalising their accounts, and he leaves at least this reader with such a clear picture of the Tokko program as to make one wonder why so much mystery and myth surrounded it for so long.
    As Sheftall points out near the end of the book, twentieth-century history is simply not taught in Japanese schools. Japan nowadays is gradually shedding its MacArthurian post-war sackcloth, however, and in view of the actions and pronouncements of its neighbors it is understandably keen to reassert itself in the region before the balance of power tilts too far towards some very unwholesome regimes. A steady supply of dispassionate, balanced accounts of Japan’s recent history will help reassure the world that it is not unaware of its dark past, but the shortage of serious native scholarship in such matters still means that these will have to come in large part from foreigners. With this great book, Sheftall steps up to join John Dower, Herbert Bix and the many others who are quietly helping Japan get its historical house in order.


    Best wishes,

    Paul Callomon
    Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, USA

  16. M.G. Sheftall says:

    Dear Dr. Callomon,

    Thank you for your very favorable and most eloquent review. I’d like to use some of your phrases in upcoming lectures (I especially like “MacArthurian post-war sackcloth” — great!). Putting me up in Dower/Bix leagues is an estimation with which I humbly decline to concur, but I’d be lying if I claimed I didn’t get a kick out of it.

    My next book will most likely be an extrapolation of my dissertation, i.e., a very dry study of Japanese war memorialization rhetoric and iconography, but if this kind of material is up your alley, you may enjoy it.

    Thanks again,

  17. Paul Callomon says:

    Dear Bucky,

    You’re most welcome. Like many japanologists-manque, I have any number of partly completed pieces lying around that because of age, work, leaves on the track and other good reasons have never been published. I therefore make a point of lifting my hat to those who actually get it done, especially if they then also say something worthwhile.
    Feel free to bewilder your audiences with any phrases I can provide. I might even try and get some of my old manuscripts onto the web now that such things are possible.
    My father-in-law was in Yokaren at the end of the war (at Yao aerodrome in eastern Osaka), and my own father was about to be tapped for officers’ training at Catterick in the UK. Had the war progressed another year, they might have met – albeit briefly, and not under optimal circumstances…
    My own historical speciality, incidentally, is the development of Malacology (the study of Mollusks) in Japan. I work with mollusks in my real job, so this allows me to combine my two greatest enthusiasms. The immediate post-war era is the most interesting part for me, as GHQ did a lot to change things via its Natural Resources Division. A particular person of interest for me is Alvin Cahn, a GHQ scientist whom most Japanese people nevertheless remember more as the manager of Yoshio Shirai, their first boxing world champion. Interesting times…


    Paul Callomon
    (Just Mr, not Dr!)

  18. Darryl says:

    Hello, Currently reading your book. It’s an excellent read. I suspect you have many more pictures that were published. I wish you could post them somewhere.

  19. M.G. Sheftall says:

    Hi Darryl.

    Glad you’re enjoying my book.

    Your assumption about what we might call my “unused photo stash” is right on the money. I have literally hundreds of shots (500+?) that, due to spatial limitations, I was not able to use in the book. Fukagawa-san’s wartime photo collection is an especially rich visual record of the day-to-day life of a pilot trainee on the Japanese home front in 1944-45. He let me scan his entire set — about three or four full albums’ worth.

    I will be meeting him, as well as Yoshitake-san and Hiroshima-sensei (who also have great collections I’ve scanned) on March 30 at Yasukuni, and when I do, I’ll ask their permission to post the pix.

    My gut feeling is that they’ll say yes, and if that’s the case, the next chore to be attended to will be to find a web service provider willing to float me the necessary storage and bandwidth. I work for what is basically a computer studies department at Shizuoka University, and we’re pretty well set-up when it comes to that kind of techie stuff, so maybe I can get school to host our proposed site.

  20. Malcolm Wong says:

    Hi M.G.

    This may be a shot in the dark, but I googled the fighter pilot, Saburo Sakai, and this page came up. I was wondering if you knew of any Japanese language books about him. From a brief search, it looks like the Martin Caidin & Fred Saito book written in English is the only one.

    My kanririn-san is a WW II freak, but doesn’t know about Saburo Sakai and I feel he would enjoy knowing about him.




  21. M.G. Sheftall says:

    Hi Malcolm.

    Sakai has a quite extensive catalog (including posthumous material compiled from various unpublished essays, I guess). If you have a kanji-capable computer, go to amazon.co.jp and search: 坂井三郎

    Lots of stuff there. At least fifteen or twenty different titles, including manga versions of 大空のサムライ and what looks to me to be some sort of “samurai businessman” advice books.

    Hard to imagine a WWII freak in Japan who doesn’t know about Sakai…Well, here’s your chance to rock his world!

    Good luck with your search,

    M.G. Sheftall

  22. James Bartek says:


    I stumbled upon this website looking for information on Watanabe’s “Shattered God.” I’m currently an instructor in modern East Asia at the U. of Kentucky. Temporary position. My outside field was in East Asia (my dissertation concerns the American Civil War). Anyway, I learned about Watanabe’s diary/memoir from Dower’s brief summation in “Embracing Defeat.”
    Powerful stuff. Is there an English version? I’m a bonafide Yankee and don’t know a speck of Japanese. As of now,
    I’ve been incorporating the six pages from Dower’s work into my lessons as a reading assignment. I want more!


  23. Gus Dahl says:

    I just finished reading Blossoms in the Wind and was excited at long last to receive some insight into the motives of the men who so willingly gave their lives in WW2. Your work added humanity to previously cold and lifeless images. But your efforts failed to explore, or at least attempt to account for, the darker side of the tokko mindset, where Japanese troops acted with such vile barbarism to any non Japanese who fell under their control.
    I have visited Japan on several occasions and known and worked closely with Japanese people whom I admired and respected for their beliefs and sincerity, but to this day I can not reconcil the conflict between the two so radically different sides of the same people.
    Have you ever attempted to sort out and explain the ‘devil’ part of the devil/angel Japanese personality ? Or can you suggest sources that could provide some insight into the motivations for such inhumanely brutal behavior from a people who dwell 0n cherry blossoms in the wind ?

  24. Jeff Wasel says:


    First, my apologies for my use of the familiar, but after reading “Blossoms…” I now feel I know you as well as your marvellous interview subjects; kudos for a great, great work that fills a much over-looked gap in the genre. I’m a military historian of sorts, and as a former Marine, trend towards events in the Pacific theatre. I’ve read so much of what my compatriots experienced on the ground relative to Japanese duty and patriotism that your expansive research into the airborne component of this uniquely Japanese idea of duty has provided the most rounded of understandings yet, in my mind, of nature of combat, myth, and racial misinterpretations of this tragic, yet fascinating chapter in the history of our two nations.

    I was somewhat disappointed that, while you alluded to the efforts to “correct” history by some of your subjects, that you didn’t develop this theme more in your excellent epilogue. Given all the who-ha about Yasukuni, radical-rightist speaker trucks, and blatantly erroneous revisionism, I wanted to hear what you thought of these trends. As a fellow doctoral student, I’ve many, many more questions and comments I’d love to develop off-list if possible, and would like to start a dialog with you regarding this and other J-centric topics (Biz, culture and media…). I’m planning a long-overdue trip to Japan (I was on Okinawa during my service time) and would like to take advantage of your services as well as your obvious talents in a mutual area of interest…
    Warm regards, Bucky-san

  25. Grant Dickins says:

    Dear Mr. Sheftall,

    I’ll begin by thanking you. I have just completed your truly fine book ‘Blossoms In The Wind’ and found it, among other experiences, engaging, uplifting, saddening, exciting, and above all extremely educational. With regard to the latter I felt that I had just read something (Japan-related or not) that provided a real sense of what humans go through in their struggles with conflict and nationalism, etc. in times of desperation. It is so much more than people could (including myself) ever envisage having to experience/endure. And I am not an expert by any means on this or other similar topics. You have opened a world to me.

    I am, for want of a better description, simply a person very interested in all things Japanese and this read provided me with insights into important historical and cultural events and modern social issues that I was previously unaware of (ignorant in fact). I cannot thank you enough for your efforts in making this book available to the masses. I am now telling/giving it to others to read as it offers so much that I think is difficult to understand, especially living in a disconnected modern society as I do. There are always lessons to be learned.

    I am a rambler by nature (I love to talk!) and although somewhat off-topic, I wanted to mention (as a means to introduce myself to you – sorry to bore you!) that I have always had a fascination with the Japanese language and culture. This was kindled when I was 6 years old and would you believe the source for my inspiration came from a song written by Queen called ‘Teo Torriate’. My dad was a fan and from first hearing it I was amazed at how people could read and write in a manner so ‘alien’ from English – I was very young. I was and still am particularly fond of the written language as a form of art, i.e. calligraphy. Anyway life got in the way for a couple of decades and I never had the opportunity to really follow that first inspiration. But now it would seem events are conspiring in my favour and 1. I have just made a first trip to Japan with my family (on our way to NY where my wife hails from and I spent some years), 2. by chance I now work alongside a ‘real’ Japanese person who has become a great friend and provided immense support and encouragement, and 3. I am finally making the effort to ‘learn’ the language. Events have nudged me in the direction I always wanted to go!

    But I digress. So thank you for your book. It has provided me with an insight into an important historical chapter I had little to no background in (other than the usual documentaries you mentioned above). I have no military experience (a great grandfather fought in WWII but I never met him – all I see is a plaque on the wall) and my own generation (I am 40) has also lived without poverty and in a seemingly blissful state for the past half century – I tend to think we are becoming dumbed-down or at least desensitised from such events. The saddest thing seems to be that we are, as you wrote about, forgetting the details and thus we are losing the connections to the human stories and hence we have little to no understanding of why these events happened.

    I am sorry but I tried to resist writing superfluous words about my own life, but I gave in (on purpose) because you have significantly added to my awareness and appreciation of the dramatic yet sad human experiences of that time. I wanted to at least communicate that. I know now that your book and what I understand and got from it should be communicated to as wide an audience as possible. I also thank you for making this interactivity available and that you do not mind my rambling.

    Kindest regards,
    Grant Dickins

  26. Mike B says:

    Mr. Sheftall:

    I have read your book recently. My father was on the Stlo CVE63VC65. In the book you describe the ship’s sinking by Kamikze Pilot Yukio seki. I have met several of the people you mention, Including Holy Crawforth & Joe Downs. at my fathers reunions held in October of each year. My father passed away two years ago. In 2007 before he passed away, he got to do something really timely and left behind a recorded legacy for me and my family. He participated in an interview sponsored by the Library of Congress and called the Veteran’s History Project. In the interview he got to describe what happened to his ship, but there is more. I’m sure you have heard the adage “it’s a small world. It turns out the man who interviewed him, named Ted Gardner, had been in the same battle and stationed on the Kalinin Bay the ship next to him. Mr Gardener witnessed the sinking of the St Lo. They had been living 10 miles apart in cincinnati for 50 years and did not know that each other existed. Mr Gardner is originally from Oregonand moved here for his job about 50 years ago. If you are interested in viewing my father’s interview, search for the Public Library of cincinnati on the internet and look for the Veteran’s History Project. When you find it, search by his last name, Bramel. You way also want to search by Gardner & Bright. Mr Gardner was interviewed 6 months before my father. He gave a vivid account of the battle they were in & recounted some of his later experiences later in the war including Meeting Winston Churchill at the first UN Conference in San Francisco in 1945. Lucille (Marion) Bright is my aunt. She served in the USO and saw Japan & Korea shortly after the war. She passed through Hiroshima on a train and remembers seeing the devastation. I hope this message reaches you. Mike B.

  27. Angelica C. says:

    Hi Mr.Sheftall. You see, I’m very interested in Japan. Therefore, I am doing my National History Day project on the Meiji Restoration(1868-1912). I just found out about you today. I was wondering if I could interview you through e-mail or chat for my project. I really need a resource and I though that someone like you who has lived in Japan for a long time and has an infinite knowledge about its history would be very helpful. Thank you, pls reply ASAP.

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