What were the wartime Japanese thinking?

According to western stereotype, the Japanese at the time of the Second World War were passive and obedient automatons. Yet the realities of daily life in imperial Japan were complex and politically charged, argues Christopher Harding.

On 24th November, 1944 America finally got what it had been waiting for. Nearly three years had passed since waves of Japanese aircraft appeared in the skies over Hawaii, the start of the raid on the US Pacific Fleet so devastating as to take a staunchly isolationist nation to war with only a single dissenting Congressional vote. Now, at last, more than a hundred American bombers were closing in on Tokyo.  

Despite costing more than the atomic bomb to develop, the enormous new B-29 Superfortresses were far from perfect. The Allies had been in too great a hurry to create an aircraft capable of hitting Japan at record-breaking range from southern China and what they got was a plane beset with mechanical trouble and fuel loss. Even when it became possible to launch missions from captured Pacific islands, the B-29s continued to face the same problems, in addition to the new risk of being shot down or even rammed by Japanese Zero fighters taking off from the island of Iwo Jima. 

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What were the wartime Japanese thinking?