Cover of magazine "Asahi Graph", February 21, 1945 issue. Photo taken by reporter Sano.
The caption says: "Azayakana gekitsui no shirushi aiki ni notte kurai yoru sutsugekki suru waga seikutai yushi. - Hondo seikutai OO kichi ni te". [A "beloved*" airplane with a clear victory marking with one of our braves (in the controls) getting ready to take-off for another attack in the dark night. - At the XX base of mainland "seikutai"."
The aircraft is a Kawasaki Ki-45 "Toryu" (Nick) and the mention of the word "seikutai" in the caption indicates that it probably belonged to the 53rd Sentai which had a B-29 ramming unit called "Shinten Seikutai" (Heaven-Shaking Air Superiority Unit). Ramming Ki-45s were unarmed, had explosives in the rear pilot's seat and very often had the radio mast cut shorter. The also never operated at night. So the existence of the killing marking and the long radio mast suggest that this particular pilot and the aircraft were previous members of the ramming unit and were diverted to the "normal" fighting unit. This was the case with various members of the "Shinten Seikutai" unit. Originally assigned to a ramming unit they were diverted back to their fighter unit when B-29s started bombing at night.
From the available 53rd Sentai photos we can make out only two Ki-45s with the single color top camouflage, described as either dark green top, haryokushoku bottom or dark brown top, hairyokushoku bottom; all the other Ki-45s of the unit have blotches or squiggles. One such Ki-45 belonged to the flight leader (name unknown) of the 3rd Hikotai within the unit without the distinctive arrow of the seikutai unit and a white "59" on the tail. The second belonged to Sgt Aoyama Toshiaki who was a member of the seikutai unit and his Ki-45 has the arrow and a white "33" on the tail. Unfortunately the only photo of his airplane (FAOW 21, p. 85) is shot from the rear, the spinners are not visible and we have no further information about the pilot at the moment. Therefore our suggestion (based only on the caption) cannot be presently confirmed.
*A few years back I had an argument with a Japanese aircraft expert from the US regarding the correct translation of the Japanese word "aiki" which is how very often Japanese pilots called their personal aircraft. The word "ai" in Japanese means "love" and "ki" is part of "hikoki" which means airplane. Therefore, according to our opinion, the word "aiki" can be translated as "beloved plane" (synonyms for the word "beloved" are: darling, dear, precious, adored, cherished, treasured and valued; all very suitable. In Greek the word "αγαπημένο" describes perfectly the meaning without the need of synonyms.) although we feel that the word "precious" is much closer.
The US researcher insisted that since all aircraft belonged to the Emperor they could not belong to a certain pilot, therefore the proper translation of the word "aiki" is simply "his aircraft". Ignoring the contradiction created by the fact that the possessive "his" automatically cancels this opinion, we find it especially dry and impersonal, without a hint of the emotional bond Japanese pilots (and from all over the world indeed) created with a certain aircraft that brought them back home safely. Time and again during our discussions with Japanese veterans the word "aiki" is used by them with such strong emotions that even the world "darling", usually reserved for spouses, could describe. I hope you will allow us to use the translation "precious aircraft" or other synonyms in this blog.