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Bell at Buddhist Temple Will Toll to Bless Games

Winter Olympics: Former kamikaze pilot who survived World War II draws the privilege.

January 28, 1998|From Associated Press

NAGANO, Japan — When Motoichi Godo was 17, he didn't think he would live out the year. A new recruit in the summer of 1945, he was assigned to a unit of human torpedoes, the Japanese Imperial Navy's version of the notorious kamikaze.

But Japan's surrender saved his life. And Godo, now 69, is to play a special role in what he sees as a major celebration of world peace--the Nagano Winter Olympics.

Godo is to participate in a sacred bell-ringing ceremony this weekend at the Zenko-ji temple, one of the oldest Buddhist centers in this country and a sort of patron temple for this city of 360,000 where the games begin Feb. 7.

"It's a very special privilege," he said from the small room in the temple's main hall where he works as a lay assistant to its dozens of priests and monks.

Godo is to ring the temple's 7-foot-tall bronze bell throughout the day Saturday in a ritual of prayer. In accordance with Buddhist beliefs, he will wish for the success of the games, and the happiness and health of all people.

"Because of my past, I have a special feeling about peace," he said. "The war that I fought in should never happen again."

Godo, with a head of thick gray hair and the weathered face of a farmer, still carries with him a photo of the unit he was assigned to and the official orders that sent him to an almost certain death.

His unit was responsible for guarding a strip of coastline with torpedoes that required a human pilot. It was a one-way trip.

"I remember my commander telling me when I reported for duty that my life was in his hands," Godo said. "We all knew that it was our job to blow up both ourselves and our subs."

Before he got his orders to pilot one of the torpedoes, the war ended on Aug. 15, 1945.

"We all heard the emperor announce the end of the war on the radio, but the broadcast was so full of static that we didn't understand it," he said. "We were ready to go fight the Russians."

After the war, Godo returned to his life growing rice and raising silkworms. Twenty-seven years ago, he began working for the temple.

"I don't like to talk about the past," he said. "I don't want people whose loved ones died in the war to be angry that I am going to ring the bell. I don't want to open any old wounds."

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