1/72 Mitsubishi G4M1 (“Betty”) with Ohka

Over all my years of collecting and building models, I never had a Betty… until I saw this old kit in the local hobby store. I saw the price tag of $13 (you can see the sticker in my box-top image) and thought, “Now’s my chance!” I didn’t realize that the sticker on the front was the original sticker, and that the current asking price — which was substantially more, of course — was on the bottom. When the shop owner told me it was a misunderstanding and saw the disappointment in my face, she sold it to me at the lower price! I felt a little guilty, but I accepted her generosity. That’s what I call taking care of a loyal customer!

This G4M1 came with a macabre little weapon, the Ohka (“Cherry Blossom”) piloted bomb. Suicide attacks of all kinds were part of Imperial Japan’s late-war strategy of trying to make every battle so brutal and costly that the American side would, they hoped, lose heart and strike a negotiated peace rather than demand an unconditional surrender. As we know, that effort, for all its cruelty, perhaps not least to Japan’s own young pilots, failed. The name “Cherry Blossom” may at first glance seem incongruous as the name for a jet-powered suicide bomb, but if you consider the metaphorical significance of the cherry blossom in Japanese culture, it makes a kind of twisted sense.

When the cherry trees all bloom in the spring in Japan, it makes for a magically beautiful spectacle, and people all over the country take a break from work and go meet friends and family to celebrate life with picnics under a canopy of fragrant, pink petals. But the flowering is short-lived, lasting only a matter of days, or a week at most, so in Buddhist Japan the blossoms have long been taken as the perfect symbol of human life’s own evanescent beauty. We are blessed with an existence full of feeling and love and desire and pain — and then, before you know it, it’s over and the petals drop from the tree and fall to the ground…. From this traditional Japanese perspective, it is the very brevity of the life we know that makes it so beautifully poignant.

So I suppose whoever thought up the name Ohka for this flying bomb was hoping to suggest that the young pilots, by dying “beautifully” in their prime of youth for the emperor, were like cherry blossoms falling to earth… from the belly of a medium bomber. Just another example of how the military dictatorship in the 1930s and ’40s in Japan perverted many aspects of Japanese culture in the name of nationalist expansion and war. But that’s a whole book to be written…

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