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Kumiko Kakehashi
248 Pages
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (February 2007)
ISBN: 0297853325
Price: S$25.00 (Available in Borders)





Like Clint Eastwood’s film of the same name, this book looks at the war of Iwo Jima from the Japanese’s point of view. Like the critically-acclaimed movie, this collection of eyewitness stories will affect you emotionally.

Written by first-time book writer Kumiko Kakehashi, the pages of this collectible-worthy book chronicles her research, which centers itself on Lieutenant General Kuribayashi Tadamichi, played by Ken Watanabe in the film version. It follows his initial landing on the doomed island, to the several letters he sent out to his family, and eventually the last telegram from the noble soldier.

Within the pages are stories told to the author by his children (who were dead by the time the book was published), as well as touching vignettes of how the man would show his love for the family through the personally affecting letters he sent from Iwo Jima.

There are also patriotic commands and verses written by Kuribayashi which showed what a great leader he was. It seems like this commander was well-respected, even by the Americans.

Present in the book are also tidbits about the island, how it is rich in sulfur (hence its Mandarin direct translation for ‘sulfur island’), and how the black sands are a result of the ashes from the dormant volcanoes.

There are also references made to James Bradley’s “Flags of Our Fathers”, which we thought are a nice touch to bring both sides of the story together.

Two outstanding chapters to read are “The Island Where You Walk On The Dead” and “The Soldiers’ Letters”, where the author writes about the somber feelings of dread when she visited Iwo Jima in person, and how she went through many miscellaneous letters from other soldiers that painted pictures of homesickness and longing. We’d advise you get your tissues ready for this.

Perhaps the most affecting parts of the book are the pictures enclosed in the middle section. There, you’d see Kuribayashi’s real-life picture, with his German Shepard and walking cane. A truly dignified photo indeed. There are also scanned letters written by the man himself. We can’t help but feel a lump in our throats, especially while seeing Kuribayashi’s daughter’s letter to her father. There, the family man corrects a grammatical error made by his daughter, which only goes to show how noble family love is.


As I read Kuribayashi’s letters in chronological order, I realized that they all started with an assurance of his safety.

“Skipping all the opening formalities, I am hale and hearty as ever, so there’s no need to worry about me”; “I am robust and working away, so there’s no need to worry about me,”; “I am really very well, so there’s no need to worry about me,”; “I am still safe and sound, so there’s no need to worry about me,” Given the circumstances he was in, Kuribayashi clearly felt that his still being alive was the most important fact for him to get across to his family. "


A highly recommended read which will remind you that there are no winners, only losers, in a war. As the present war-ignorant generation enjoys peace, it is only apt that we reflect on those important historical events gone wrong. Like the film, this book is also a good companion to James Bradley’s “Flags of Our Fathers”.

Review by John Li


. Letters From Iwo Jima: The Movie Review

. Letters From Iwo Jima: The Soundtrack Review



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