The word for 'suicide bombing via crashing your plane into something'(which most people will use in a broader sense that drops the plane from the equation) as seen done by the Japanese during WWII is 神風, who's kanji translates to 'Divine/God's wind'.

Could someone explain the etymology of this to me. What exactly does 'Divine wind' refer to? How was it meant to help justify this suicide mission to the men who did it? And is it connected to the State-Shinto they had at the time?

  • 3
    In Japan 特攻 (special attack) and 特攻隊 (special attack squad) are by far the most frequently used words to describe what is known as kamikaze outside of Japan. Feb 11, 2017 at 2:50
  • Really? Neat! thx, lad. :)
    – Tirous
    Feb 11, 2017 at 3:31

3 Answers 3


There were two typhoons that saved Japan from mongol invasions under Kublai Khan in the 13th century, and were thus named "divine wind" (神風). The pilots in WWII were supposed to be "divine wind", similar to the typhoon, saving Japan from other invading enemies.


Technically, the word for "suicide attack" is 特攻{とっこう}. It is derived from 特別攻撃隊 {とくべつこうげきたい}(special attack unit), which is often shortened to 特攻隊{とっこうたい}.

神風{かみかぜ} is a reference to the typhoons that prevented two Mongolian invasions of Japan. They were thought to be gifts from the gods, defending Japan from its invaders. Kamikaze simply takes from that, painting a picture that the attacks would turn the tides of battle and bring victory to Japan. It's not uncommon for a country to use mythological terms for military purposes.

And it doesn't have anything to do with the State-Shinto, as far as I know.

  • Techinically speaking, isn't the proper reading for 神風 — shinpū? I've heard that the name "kamikaze" was improperly transcribed as such by American army staff during WWII?
    – szychy
    Feb 10, 2017 at 23:59
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    @razorramon 神風{しんぷう} is a valid reading as well, but 神風{かみかぜ} isn't wrong either, and it existed well before the suicide attacks occurred, such as the class of destroyers. I believe the original pronunciation was 神風{かむかぜ}.
    – Jimmy
    Feb 11, 2017 at 0:27

First of all, 神風 doesn't mean suicide attack in Japanese unless it's used as a re_imported word. American started to call it "kamikaze" because one of the units that participated in the operation was called "Shinpu", whose kanji can also be read as "kamikaze".

  • 1
    Incorrectly read as kamikaze.
    – virgil9306
    Feb 13, 2017 at 3:20

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