From autumn to early spring, strong westerly winds blow in the skies over Japan.

During World War II, this gave the former Imperial Japanese Army the idea of attacking the far-away U.S. mainland with bombs that were suspended from balloons.

Called “Fu-Go” incendiary balloon weapons, they were reportedly touted as “the ultimate secret weapon of the Imperial Japanese Army” while the conflict grew increasingly desperate for Japan.

The balloons were made of “washi” traditional Japanese paper and konjac glue, and many students were mobilized for their construction.

In a book titled “Fusen Bakudan wo Tsukutta Hibi” (literally, “Days of making balloon bombs”), alumnae of Kawanoe Girls’ High School in Ehime Prefecture recall their experiences.

When a “triumph” such as starting a wildfire was reported, the girls working at the factory were elated, according to the book.

A third-year student wrote in her diary: “I felt so high and emboldened while working overtime, I kept at it until my fingertips went numb.”

A total of 9,300 balloons were deployed, of which about 10 percent were believed to have crossed the Pacific, killing six Americans.

While the United States was developing nuclear bombs, Japan had already practically run out of materials and human resources.

One student, who was tasked with gluing washi together, noticed mistakes in the instructions she received on the dimensions of the sheets to be cut.

“I realized, for the first time then, that mistakes like these could cost us the war.”

Today, there are balloons carrying bags of paper trash, not bombs. They are from North Korea, sent in response to balloons from South Korea bearing anti-North leaflets.

I understand the North has sent 22 tons of garbage to the South as “goodwill presents.”

This is definitely not normal, and I strongly hope the situation will not devolve into exchanges of fire.

The above-mentioned book contains a tanka poem by one of the alumnae. It goes to the effect, “I do not feel it a burden to be making balloons in secret/ We are students protecting our country on the home front.”

I wonder what the balloon makers are thinking in a neighboring country under a dictatorship.

—The Asahi Shimbun, June 11

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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VOX POPULI: Trash balloons from N. Korea bizarre reminder of World War II

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11.06.2024

From autumn to early spring, strong westerly winds blow in the skies over Japan.

During World War II, this gave the former Imperial Japanese Army the idea of attacking the far-away U.S. mainland with bombs that were suspended from balloons.

Called “Fu-Go” incendiary balloon weapons, they were reportedly touted as “the ultimate secret weapon of the Imperial Japanese Army” while the conflict grew increasingly desperate for Japan.

The balloons were made of “washi” traditional Japanese paper and konjac glue, and many students were mobilized for their construction.

In a book titled “Fusen Bakudan wo Tsukutta Hibi”........

© The Asahi Shimbun


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