The Truly Reluctant Admiral Yamamoto – Part VI

Admiral Yamamoto on Rabaul in 1943 and shortly before his death.

The Imp and a Nickname

In direct contrast to his smug and no nonsense military face while on duty, Admiral Yamamoto was indeed a complex yet unselfconcious man.  He was a strategist and used spontaneity to his utmost advantage…

…and typical of that time, Admiral Yamamoto sought relief and amusement in true geisha houses. (1)

The Impish Admiral Yamamoto

In Part II of this series, you learned that Admiral Yamamoto pursued gymnastics given his small build and illness-ridden childhood.  He had persevered and became quite good at it.  This skill came into good use throughout his military career.

Even as a young ensign, he would love to see his companions’ reactions; on the spur of the moment, for example, he would do a handstand on a ship’s rail.  He was that confident in his gymnastic abilities. I wouldn’t even get near the handrail just standing on my two aging feet.  I hate heights.

Admiral Yamamoto doing a handstand at a geisha house. Source unknown.

Still later in life, at dinner parties most often held in geisha houses, he would refrain from drinking more than a small cup or two of osake while his other navy fellows would drink to excess.  If you recall, he couldn’t drink as he would turn bright red even after a sip like my Dad.  All of a sudden, he would do a handstand to the amusement of not his fellow sailors but the geisha as well.  As they would break out into laughter at his spontaneity then settle down, he would quietly observe them as he knew they would either serve together or under him.  He sought out their weaknesses and strengths.

This is what is meant by “a cup or two” of osake.

On yet another show of spontaneity, he was sailing to America in 1919 on board the Suwa Maru.  His Japanese contingent was dining with Western diplomats when the Westerners started to get drunk and began to sing and dance.  They tried to get the stoic Japanese to also dance but they refused.  Very typical; I am like that. Yamamoto saw a relational rift already developing and to break it, did yet another handstand to the joy of the Westerners.  He then took some dishes from a bus boy and began spinning them on his fingers to the great joy of the Westerners.

It was also said that upon his return in 1935 from failed talks in London, the now Rear Admiral Yamamoto childishly stuck his tongue out at some Akasaka geisha who were at the Tokyo train station just to get a reaction.

The Gambler Admiral Yamamoto

Admiral Yamamoto was indeed a gambling man – and a very good one at that.  He would empty many a pocket of his opponents in several countries during his official and unofficial travels… even in Siberia.  He remarked that the British were the easiest victims.  Indeed, he had mastered bridge and later poker during his travels in America and England.

He was so openly against warring with America that the navy “hawks” despised him so much that he was “put out to pasture”, so to speak, in the Navy Affairs Bureau in 1935.  At that time, he was depressed to the point that he confided with his closest friends that he was thinking about resigning – and that he would be totally happy retiring in Monaco while opening up a casino there.  He was that confident in his gambling abilities.

A Nickname from the Geisha

In Part I, it was mentioned Admiral Yamamoto was given a nickname by the geisha – it has to do with money.  But before I disclose what it was, some time machine action has to take place.

Admiral Yamamoto with apparently one of his favored  geisha named “Chiyoko”. Someone unfamiliar with the military had written on April 18, 1954、「軍神も人間だった!」or “Gunshin mo ningen datta!” I translate it to read “The army God was a human!” As you know, Admiral Yamamoto was not army; he was Navy and despised the Army. Source unknown.

Admiral Yamamoto would often get his manicures from the geisha.  At that time, manicures would run about one yen.

“Yen” is the monetary unit in Japan as you all know.  In the 1920’s, just one yen went a long ways; it was a different time.  I understand one yen could have bought about a dozen eggs or about 5 pounds of rice (which was hard to get your hands on) or about ten bowls of ramen. However, there are “100 sen” in “one yen”.

Well, he was lovingly called “八十戦” or “Eighty Sen” by the geisha.  They apparently felt bad charging him one yen for a full manicure.

He only had eight fingers.


More to follow in Part VII.



(1) There are only several hundred true geisha left in Japan.  A once ancient tradition, their number and appeal has diminished so much that many Kyoto merchants who had solely serviced the geisha for centuries (silk kimono making, elaborate accessories, wooden sandals, etc.) have closed their doors.


The Truly Reluctant Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Part V

A still youthful looking Admiral Yamamoto. Source unknown.

Just as Patton, Ike and Nimitz led with their hearts and souls for America, Admiral Yamamoto did the same for his country… from even before WWII started.

He had tremendous foresight and used it to modernize the Japanese fleet – both on the water and most of all, in the air.

This is not said to glorify or sympathize with the Japanese military of World War II.  It is just a statement of fact.  Admiral Yamamoto – given his duty and orders by the Japanese government and as career military – was going to do his utmost to defeat America if it came to war…

…but he knew down to the tips of his ten toes and eight fingers the Japanese Empire would end if they were to take on the Americans and Brits.


Up to the beginning of WWII as we know it, Japan’s professional military had an unreal view of their invincibility after their lop-sided victory over an European power in the Russo-Japanese War.  While Admiral Togo did soundly defeat the Russians, the Japanese military failed to realize Togo had much better gunnery equipment and newer warships.

For the losing Russians, they had taken a knife to a gunfight.  In a way, you can say the Japanese military – especially the Imperial Army – were full of themselves after this “impressive” victory…

But not Admiral Yamamoto.

He was always a cool cookie.


Foresaw End of Battleships and Need for Carriers/Naval Aviation Superiority

In his steady rise to the admiralty and while attending Harvard, Yamamoto had heard of (but not witnessed) the famous demonstration of General Billy Mitchell sinking an obsolete German battleship by dropping bombs from now primitive biplanes (see video).  This was in 1921. The American military scoffed at Mitchell initially but as you can see here, aerial bombardment did sink a battleship.

Up to that time, the battleship ruled the seas.

No longer.

While the successful demonstration failed to awaken the US military (1), that historic moment sparked Yamamoto’s insatiable belief that aircraft, their pilots and aircraft carriers – and NOT battleships – would be the heart of all victorious naval fleets of the future.

He was dead on.

Achieving Aerial Supremacy

In 1924, Yamamoto was a captain.  While he briefly captained the cruiser Fuji, Japan’s ascent to naval aerial supremacy started when he was assigned to the Imperial Japanese Navy Aeronautical Technology and Training Center (海軍航空技術講習所) at Kasumigaura.

Located north-east of Tokyo near a beautiful lake, Captain Yamamoto was met by disdain by the young “hot-shot” aviators, brash with  swash-buckler attitudes: long hair, a general disregard for uniform code and a lot of drinking.  (Think of the fantasy “Baa-Baa Blacksheep” TV show and Robert Conrad.)  They further looked down on this much older officer; his 5’3″ frame certainly didn’t help nor did his “battleship” experience.  Yamamoto believed to achieve his vision of aerial supremacy, it had to begin with the pilots.

Cast of TV’s “Baa-Baa Blacksheep” which fictionalized the heroic escapades of MOH Pappy Boyington’s true “Blacksheep” squadron.

Yamamoto knew he had to get them in shape in all aspects.  It took over a month with some hot-heads even resigning during the ordeal, but it began with everyone getting crew cuts; when questioned about length, he rubbed his own head and crew cut and simply said exactly like mine.  He also “urged” strict adherence to the uniform code.  His solid character was critical to success.

He knew and wanted to know how to fly.  He began taking flying lessons at 40 years of age and studied late into the night to earn his wings. (2)

In addition, he would set the example.  He would not order a pilot to do anything he would not do himself.  In tests for structural integrity, HE would fly the aging craft himself.

When there were three fatalities during a training flight, he was out in the freezing sleet and cold rain along with the recovery team for three days and did not quit until all three cadets were recovered.   During those three sad days, he stoically yet quietly showed a very solemn side of his character to those around him – remorse and compassion.  Yamamoto had won them over.

He had turned around the aviation school’s reputation and glamor of being a pilot so much that many sailors flocked to apply.  He would then handpick candidates to become aviators; that’s how strongly he felt about achieving aerial supremacy.

He had now planted the seed for a world-class aviator force.  The next step necessary to achieve his vision of aerial superiority required building a fleet of aircraft carriers and advanced aircraft for the pilots fly off them. (3)


The Imperial Japanese Navy’s Akagi Aircraft Carrier commissioned in March 1927 (apparently colorized). Akagi is written 赤城 in Japanese which means “Red Castle”.


Hell With the Battleships

In January 1929, he took the captain’s chair on board the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Akagi aircraft carrier. He was thrilled but without further mention at this point, his captaincy was marred by tragedies.

But later that year came a crucial development in his career that would have a direct impact on his hopes for an offensive air arm of the Navy.  He was assigned as director to Japan’s Naval Affairs Bureau of the Navy Ministry.  This was a magic door opening up for him as the bureau issued decisive policies on naval assets – the critical weapons and equipment.

You see, at this point in Japan’s naval history, their leaders still viewed aircraft as defensive weapons – not offensive.  Their admirals (as well as those of other world powers at that time) saw naval guns  (i.e., the big guns used on battleships) as the primary offensive weapon.  They believed in utilization of planes only for scouting/short range reconnaissance and perhaps some pestering of enemy targets until a battleship’s big guns could be brought to bear.

This strategy was disdained by Yamamoto.  He believed an elite navy requires a totally separate arm comprised of specialized offensive aircraft – fighter planes, bombers and torpedo planes – capable of inflicting severe damage to enemy targets on land or on the sea far beyond the range of a battleship’s guns.  Yamamoto’s vision was years ahead of his counterparts including America’s and England’s. (Even as late as 1943, England still used biplanes like the Swordfish which could do nothing well.)

Fairey Swordfish taking off an English aircraft carrier in 1943. Source unknown.

This new responsibility, which Yamamoto invested all his energy and time, was welcomed by him.  His task was parallel with his goal: to build a peerless naval air force.

He immediately began a program to replace the now antiquated battleship-based strike force with a deadly carrier-based task force that King Neptune would be proud of.

One aircraft of note that Yamamoto had a hand in at the get-go was the Mitsubishi Type 96 (A5N) all-metal monoplane fighter (below).  This became the predecessor to the now famous Mitsubishi “Zero” of which he again was instrumental in bringing to existence.

The Type 96 Mitsubishi A5N(A5N) all-metal monoplane fighter. It was master of the sky over China but it still lacked retractable landing gear.


More to follow in Part VI.

Part I can be found here.

Part II can be found here.

Part III can be found here.

Part IV can be found here.



(1) Even at the time of the historic Battle of Midway, US Naval pilots were still flying the obsolete Grumman F4F Wildcat, outgunned and outmaneuvered by the more agile Mitsubishi Zero which Yamamoto championed.

(2) I may be incorrect but in all the materials I have read about WWII, it appears that Admiral Yamamoto was the only command admiral who was an aviator.

(3) Of note is that the little known Mitsubishi Type 10 carrier fighter was designed by the former English Sopwith designer Herbert Smith; Sopwith had filed for bankruptcy after WWI so Mitsubishi hired him and his team.  It was of wooden frame and fabric covering. Ironically, the world’s first carrier takeoff took place in December 1922.  William Jordon, a test pilot and part of Smith’s team, took off in a prototype Type 10 from the Japanese Navy’s first aircraft carrier, Hosho.


The Truly Reluctant Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Part IV

Losing His Last Name

Yamamoto’s gift for leadership and his intelligence was noticed by his superiors.  In 1915, Yamamoto was rewarded by a jump in rank to Lieutenant Commander.

Trouble was… He possibly felt being called Lt. Commander Torano just didn’t cut it.  He may have felt there was a ball and chain in having the last name of Torano.  If you recall, that was still his last name.  His father – Sadayoshi Torano, one of the last true samurai – chose the wrong side and lost in a civil war.

In another way of looking at it, if you had an opportunity, would you stay with the last name of Clanton…  or change your name to Earp?


It’s All in the Name

Now that he was on the rise, Lt. Commander Isoroku Torano caught the eye of the – you guessed it – the Yamamoto family.

“Yamamoto” was a very honorable name throughout history.  One Yamamoto in the small group of men controlling Japan at the time of the Russo-Japanese War commissioned Admiral Togo to attack the Russian fleet at Port Arthur.

Then there was Tatekawa Yamamoto, another samurai in the mid-1800’s.  He also fought for the emperor in the Boshin War alongside with Isoroku’s father.  If you recall from Part II, Sadayoshi Torano and his two eldest sons survived the war but had been wounded.

But Tatekawa Yamamoto was higher up the leadership ladder than Isoroku’s father.  In fact, he was one of the faction leaders trying to protect the emperor.  He, too, was wounded but was captured, a tremendous disgrace for a samurai.  He was beheaded by his captors.  In many ways, it was putting an exclamation point on being victorious.

Unfortunately, for Tatekawa Yamamoto’s family, when his head was severed, so was that Yamamoto family line.  You see, he fathered only girls.  No son to carry on the family name. (1)  That’s when Isoroku Torano caught the eye of the surviving illustrious Yamamoto family members.

A young Isoroku Yamamoto. Source unknown.

In the meantime, Isoroku Torano knew the cards he was dealt being born into poverty.  There would be very little to inherit, especially since his older brothers made it clear to Isoroku early on in his life that he would not be receiving any  of the father’s minimal assets .

So as it happened, the Yamamoto family approached Isoroku and asked if they could adopt him and take on the Yamamoto family name.  In that period of Japan’s history – and even up to several years after WWII ended – it was not uncommon for a family to adopt males into a family to alleviate the issue of no sons. (2)

It was a no brainer for Isoroku Torano.  Besides, his parents had passed away a number of years earlier.  Isoroku humbly accepted the respected and wealthy Yamamoto family’s offer.

Through an elaborate Buddhist ceremony, Lt. Commander Isoroku Torano became Lt. Commander Isoroku Yamamoto.

Now you know.


Now burdened with “carrying on” the Yamamoto family name, he realized he would need to marry.  No, it was not a case of going through hundreds of pictures of girls on and asking them out on a date.  He saw it more of a duty than as an act of love.

He consulted with several close relatives and friends.  He apparently passed up on well-to-do aristocratic ladies as he deemed them to “require too much of their husbands”, so to speak.

Yamamoto and his new bride, Reiko, 1918. Source unknown.

He decided on taking on a girl named Reiko who had been educated at a girl’s school.  He wrote to his older brother:

“She stands about 5’1″ or two and is extremely sturdy.  It looks as though she could put up with most hardships which is why I am in favor of the match.”

After a very short courtship, they wed in 1918.  He fulfilled his family duty to the prestigious Yamamoto family by fathering two boys and two girls – all while fulfilling his duty as the consummate Imperial Japanese Navy officer.


More to follow in Part V.

Part I is here.

Part II is here.

Part III is here.


(1) In a similar fashion, that is why my grandmother kept my Dad’s younger brother Suetaro from returning to Seattle – to carry on the name and ownership of the Kanemoto home in Hiroshima.  Unfortunately, by keeping Suetaro in Hiroshima, he was conscripted by the Imperial Japanese Army only to be subsequently KIA in the Philippines in 1944 as a Japanese soldier. Like millions worldwide, his body was never recovered.

(2) The young male population in Japan was decimated from many years of war.  You have to remember “WWII” for Japan started in the early 1930’s but young men like my uncle perished by the millions, peaking from 1942 through the surrender in August 1945.  That was one overriding reason my Mom married my Dad, an “invader” as my grandma called the Occupying Forces – there were no young men.  Even my aunt (Mom’s younger sister) married a Nisei like my Dad.

Kamala Harris’s Ancestors Owned Slaves, Her Father Says


H/T The Washington Free Beacon.

Senator Kamala Harris(Delusional-CA)needs to pony up money from her own pocket for slavery reparations.

Presidential hopeful’s Jamaican father wrote about his slave-holding ancestor.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) is the descendant of an Irishman who owned a slave plantation in Jamaica, according to her father’s lengthy ancestral summary of his side of the family.

Donald Harris, a Stanford University economics professor, revealed in 2018 that his grandmother was a descendant of Hamilton Brown, the namesake of Brown’s Town in northern Jamaica.

“My roots go back, within my lifetime, to my paternal grandmother Miss Chrishy (née Christiana Brown, descendant of Hamilton Brown who is on record as plantation and slave owner and founder of Brown’s Town),” he wrote in a post for Jamaica Global.

Hamilton Brown built the town’s local Anglican Church, which is where Prof. Harris says his grandfather is buried. It is also…

View original post 430 more words

The Truly Reluctant Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Part III

Admiral Yamamoto’s white gloves. Source unknown.

Admiral Yamamoto nearly always had on white gloves when in public.

Do you wonder why?

Please read on…


By the time he graduated from the Naval Academy, he had established himself as a leader among the cadets.

His samurai familial heritage helped form the foundation of his strong character, a requirement of a strong leader. This was enhanced with his high school education which promoted cooperation.  He was calm, even when hassled by fellow cadets.

Yamamoto’s white gloves on board ship.

In one example and throughout his training, Yamamoto (remember his last name is still Torano) always carried around his Bible. His thirst to learn of Western ways was insatiable. With his diminutive size an invitation, a group of fellow cadets confronted him in his room about it. They interrogated him if he was Christian to which he calmly replied he wasn’t, and that he read the Bible to learn of Western ways. The cadets weren’t satisfied and continued throwing question after question at him. Yamamoto continued to calmly answer the questions then threw them out of his room.

The cadets, including Yamamoto, put out to sea on warships to learn seamanship on relatively short cruises due to national fuel reserves.  At this time, tensions between Japan and Russia began to percolate.  Both were eyeing conquering  Manchuria and Korea for their resources.  As such, the cadets talked frequently of what they would do if war erupted.  Yamamoto decided gunnery would be his specialty.

When Russia did not comply with a treaty with Japan, war did erupt.  A man named Heihachiro Togo was put in command as admiral of the combined Japanese fleet. While Yamamoto was still in school, Togo was victorious in two battles against the Russians.

Yamamoto graduated from the Naval Academy on November 14, 1904, commissioned as an ensign.  He graduated 7th in his class of 200. (Admiral Chester Nimitz also graduated from Annapolis the same year; he was also seventh in his class but it only numbered 114.)

Nisshin 1904. Masthead clearly visible. Source unknown.

By early 1905, Yamamoto had been assigned to the new cruiser Nisshin with Russo-Japanese War still raging. The fleet was under command of Admiral Togo. Yamamoto’s duty on deck as gunnery and watch officer was to man the masthead and scan the horizon for Russian warships. On May 26, 1905, he did so but did not see anything during his watch.

Depiction of Togo on the Mikasa.

His watch ended at 4:00 am and had retired but was awakened at 4:45 am. The Russians had been sighted. In typical samurai fashion, he completely changed his uniform down to his underwear and went back topside.

In the early afternoon, Togo engaged the Russians in a historic battle referred to as the Battle of Tsushima Straits. (1)

Yamamoto was able to observe the tactics of Togo first hand. Gunfire was exchanged but the Japanese gunnery was more accurate. Thousands of Russian sailors were killed and warships sunk.

However, during the battle, it appears that the two guns just below Yamamoto’s battle station on deck exploded, knocking him unconscious momentarily.  (2) When he regained consciousness, he found a baseball-sized chunk of thigh had been blown away and shrapnel had peppered his body. He then looked at his left hand – his first and second fingers were dangling.  While remaining calm and ignoring the pain, he used his handkerchief to bind up his hand and it is documented he continued with his duties.

Gun damage on the Nisshin.
Closeup of the guns that apparently exploded during the engagement, seriously wounding a young Ensign Isoroku Torano. Source unknown.

When the battle was over, he was taken below for immediate treatment.  They removed his blood stained uniform but he asked they be kept.  He was later transferred to a hospital ship then to Sasebo for treatment.

A rare photo taken of Admiral Yamamoto showing his injured left hand – ungloved.

He would lose his two fingers. You can see in this rare photo.

Now you know why Admiral Yamamoto usually wore white gloves in public.  He wanted to try and hide his injuries from view.

His missing two fingers, however, would also become well known later in geisha houses.  He would be given a loving nickname on account of them.


By the way, why did he have his bloodied uniform saved?  He shipped them to his father, Sadayoshi Torano, to evidence he did his duty.  Being a samurai, Sadayoshi was extremely proud and kept them in a special box until his death in 1913.


Yamamoto received a commendation from Admiral Togo, a huge feather in his cap.  While the combat, coolness in battle, injuries and commendation shaped Yamamoto’s psyche and future rise in the Imperial Navy, the Russo-Japanese had a much larger effect on the Japanese military and therefore, directly on the young ensign.

The Japanese military was extremely angry that Theodore Roosevelt prevented Japan from getting any cash reparations from Russia.  Japan had gone into tremendous debt building their warships and military to fight the Russians.  The career military would never forget; it would fester.  Roosevelt’s political decision had tremendous consequences on Japan trusting Western powers, ultimately contributing to war against FDR-led America.

(Editor’s Note: The original post was removed due an error caught by my good friend Mustang and also because of formatting issues caused by the WP editing application.)

More in Part IV.

Part I is here.

Part II is here.



(1) The Battle of Tsushima Straits was significant as it involved the first naval battle between all steel warships and used a primitive form of radio (sometimes called wireless telegraphy).

(2) Some military and combat experts report a squib round was the likely cause of the explosion which destroyed the guns.

The Truly Reluctant Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Part II

yama 22 yo
A young Isoroku Yamamoto as a cadet at Eta Jima Naval Academy.

Isoroku Yamamoto was NOT his birthname.  He was born Isoroku Takano, another surprise of buried history.

(And to make it easier for those who find Japanese names hard to follow, I will still refer to him by Yamamoto for this post.)


Indeed, his father Sadayoshi Takano, was a very proud and well respected samurai in the mid-1800’s. He lived his life as one. By this time, the samurai were peaceful and to while away their time, they studied art, philosophy and poetry. They were twiddling their thumbs, so to speak.

However, Admiral Perry showed up and caught the eye of many politicians and of a changing class of samurai who saw the European military style and assets.

The world had passed Japan by due to their isolationist ideals.

Tensions rose – the faction who wanted to keep Japan as it was and the faction who wanted change (modernization).  A bitter civil war erupted; it is referred to here in the Western World as the “Boshin War”.

soldiers in Western style uniform
The “modernized” Imperial Army soldiers as they were called instead of samurai. Notice the rifles and uniforms.. including boots. Samurai wore sandals.

Sadayoshi Takano, being the consummate samurai, chose to defend the existence of the samurai way of life and therefore isolationism.  While overall war casualties were low, indeed, he and his two oldest sons were wounded.

Unfortunately, he chose the wrong side.  His side, mired in old traditional ways of close quarter combat, i.e., samurai swords, was no match for the winning forces as they were armed with European rifles and cannon.(1)   Takano’s losing side even resorted to wooden cannon barrels bound with ropes towards the end.  They shot rocks instead of cannon balls and the wooden barrels would burst after but firing several rounds.(2)

yama last
A depiction of the traditional samurai (of which Yamamoto’s father was a member of) . They really had no chance against rifles and cannon.  They had to resort to using improvised wood cannon, bound with rope.  They shot rock for the most part and would burst after several shots.

After peace was achieved, the end results were that the samurai culture was abolished and troops were now called Imperial Army soldiers.  This period in history is referred to as the Meiji Restoration.(3)


His Unusual Name

yama home
The Yamamoto home, heavily restored.

Being on the losing side, the proud samurai father Sadayoshi encountered a financially brutal life.  Because he had supported the wrong side, the victors would not give them employment. He, his wife and four sons wandered from place to place trying to survive. They decided to return to Nagaoka where they had a small shanty.

His wife died shortly after and Sadayoshi married her younger sister.  She gave birth to three more children: a girl and two boys.  Isoroku was the youngest, born in 1884.

yama 25
Sadayoshi Takano, Father

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had an unusual first name even by Japanese standards. In Japanese, it is spelled with NUMBERS: 五十六, or five-ten-six (56). It turns out his father Sadayoshi was 56 years old when Admiral Yamamoto was born. (Sadayoshi beat me by seven years. I last fathered at 49 years of age.)

Yamamoto was small; he was but 5’3″ as an adult. He was quite sickly in youth but he persevered; his father even kept a diary on his numerous bouts with the flu. (Like his father, Yamamoto himself ended up keeping detailed diaries.) At first, he attended missionary schools but never adopted the Christian religion – but he carried a Bible around and had critical exposure to this Western religion.

At his elementary school, there was a missionary named Mr. Newell.  With him, he achieved his introduction to the English language.  He would even stop by Mr. Newell’s house to have coffee of all things (very bizarre for 1890’s Japan) and further his exposure to Western culture and learning English – a very critical influence towards his rise to the admiralty.


Another critical influence on his young life began when Mr. Newell moved to another city.  Once immersed in Western ways, he was now in an elementary school steeped in Japanese culture.

Although very poor, he was fortunate enough to be in Nagaoka and in 1894 began attending a progressive middle school, one of the largest in Japan.  With Japan’s modernization in mind, the school focused on Western technologies and sciences; yet, it expounded on the Japanese spirit.  Philosophies like individual responsibility and seeking opportunity, fortitude and cooperation were infused into the students.  The young Yamamoto absorbed it all, getting them embedded in his soul.  It would follow him for the rest of his life.

While not strong, he loved gymnastics and participated in a very small gymnastics program.  He knew he would have to try harder than the other boys due to his condition but he succeeded.  Gymnastics also becomes important in his naval career’s development as you will see.

He studied vigorously, realizing at his young age that to get out of this poverty, he would need to excel.  He knew some kind of scholarship or program would be the only way out.

His studious, serious nature paid off.  He placed second in the entire country in a very competitive entrance examination.  In the summer of 1901, at the age of 16, he therefore earned an appointment to the Japanese Navy’s Naval Academy on the small island of Etajima, just off the shores of Hiroshima.(4)

A young and focused Isoroku Yamamoto was on his way to become Admiral Nimitz’s most feared enemy 40 years later.

More to follow in Part III.

Part I is here.



(1) To clarify, both sides had rifles and used samurai swords. Takano’s Western armaments, however, numbered many times less.

(2) Another Hollyweird movie tries to depict this period of the Boshin War: “The Last Samurai” with the nutty Tom Cruise depicting an American soldier brought over to train the “winning” side on rifles.  He is captured by the “losing” side (the samurai) and at the end, fights for them.  Long story short, the fictional American soldier he portrays somewhat follows an actual man, a French soldier named Brunet.

(3) Meiji banned samurai from carrying swords; in fact, nearly all swords had to have their handles ground down so they would be difficult to wield. Sounds like California. However, my grandmother told me several times “the long nose, long legged invaders” (the occupying Americans of which my dad was one) came to each house and confiscated all ancestral swords. She tells me their ancestral swords that were taken away were from the 1600’s.

(4) Understandably, the occupying Americans shuttered the Naval Academy in 1946 but Japan reopened it in 1957. It is now home to Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. I was extremely fortunate to have been given a personal tour in 1999 but the few pictures that were allowed are now lost. Their is a solemn memorial hall for kamikaze. Maybe that will be another post in the future.

The Truly Reluctant Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Part I

yama 16
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto shortly before his death in 1943.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”


Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto never said that.

That “quote” was all Hollyweird, made famous by the 1970 film, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”

Fakenews at its finest.

That is ironic as the movie itself – one of the last epic movies of that magnitude with actual explosions and stunts – was pretty darn accurate.


In a slow return to blogging about WWII, I hope to provide some tidbits dug up from buried history about the man named Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto of the once feared Japanese Imperial Navy. I only wish to present unusual facts lost in history; certainly, your children will never read about him in school history textbooks. The textbooks don’t even mention Iwo Jima or World War II for that matter aside from only highlighting minority sacrifices in the US (Iwo Jima is now known as “Iwotou” as even the Japanese military misread the Japanese characters of 硫黄島.).


Well before being ordered to plan the attack on Pearl and for the record, he was totally against having the US as a foe. He documented many times – privately and publicly – that to take on the Americans would mean the end of the Japanese Empire. His publicly voiced sentiments since the 1930’s in Imperial Army controlled pre-war Japan actually had him targeted for assassination. He was against warring with America that strongly. Imagine that.

For instance, before the imminent attack on Pearl, an aide to MacArthur (Gordon Prange, known as MacArthur’s personal historian) reported that he had one of Yamamoto’s personal letters. Prange claimed that Yamamoto had written in this letter to his close friend Ryoichi Sasakawa, “…to invade the United States would prove most difficult because behind every blade of grass is an American with a rifle.

Second Amendment, folks.

yama 15
Yamamoto in Washington, DC (year unknown). You can see the cherry blossoms surrounding the tidal basin

You see, Yamamoto had spent time in America as a diplomatic envoy (a role he detested) observing this nation. He even took English classes at Harvard, mastering it, studying the language late into the nights. He witnessed America’s production might, observing the Ford production lines and even went AWOL in a way, disappearing into Mexico living in attics and meager rations of bananas, bread and water. Not even the Imperial Japanese knew of his whereabouts.

His goal in Mexico? He had the military foresight to also take petroleum classes at Harvard. He wanted to observe Mexico’s oil fields – oil fields which Japan did NOT have, just like the island territory of Hawaii. He appeared so much like a hobo locals reported him to the Mexican authorities.

When questioned by the Mexican authorities, he told them he was a Commander in the Imperial Japanese Navy. They were in disbelief – so they wired the Japanese Imperial Navy. They replied to the effect that, well, there IS a Yamamoto in the United States but that was all they knew. The Mexican authorities were placated and Yamamoto continued on.

By the way, you may wonder how he could have even afforded that privately funded foray into Mexico. At Cambridge, Yamamoto had made a small fortune gambling. He was an excellent gambler. He learned to play bridge quickly and his American opponents lost nearly all the time. (1)


More to follow in Part II on his childhood, entry in the Japanese Imperial Navy, love life, pre-war political power in Japan, military career and the handicaps he was dealt being an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy.


(1) Yamamoto had actually amassed a tidy sum from gambling and took that with him to Mexico to fund his adventure. However, early into his foray into Mexico, he met a fellow Imperial Japanese naval officer who WAS stationed there. They became friends and as it turns out, this fellow was also a gambler – just a very poor gambler. He had incurred debt and he was to be rotated home shortly. Yamamoto couldn’t allow his new friend to return home in shame so Yamamoto gave him nearly all of his own winnings. The officer was then able to return home to Osaka without fear of shame. That is how Yamamoto ended up living like a homeless man.