The Truly Reluctant Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Part I

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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.

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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.

32 thoughts on “The Truly Reluctant Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Part I”

      1. Pretty good – lot of family time the last six weeks – so that has been special
        — and glad you are back in blogosphere amigo

  1. I am so thrilled you decided to come back, Koji!! You certainly chose a big name to start off with too. Admiral Yamamoto was a brilliant man who one could easily admire, despite being the enemy.
    The quote, ““…to invade the United States would prove most difficult because behind every blade of grass is an American with a rifle.” shows he did understand us! (and made me smile!)

    1. He did indeed understand. He was a cool head amongst self-centered hot military arrogance… but we will have to see about truly blogging again. I decided to write this series as my kids’ high school teachers PISSED ME OFF on D-Day. 🙂

      1. I don’t blame you, Koji. I often worry about the kids of today who are learning less and less history in our schools.

  2. The current trend among some historians is that Yamamoto was not much of a strategist or tactician. I will not argue the point because I think that evaluation is looking past that same point. It matters not. What matters is that the U.S. (King, Kimmel, Nimitz) were afraid of him and his potential. Furthermore, he was probably the best that Japan had and could certainly inspire trust and invincibility in his men. That is an intangible force which supersedes one’s tactical or strategic prowess.

    1. I agree with your insights, Patick, as an armchair historian who has never served. I believe he had tremendous intelligence and foresight as we will see but he was handicapped by external sources: the unreigned omnipotence of their army, shortages of raw materiel and equipment and most of all Nagumo. His only tactical weakness lay in submarine utilization.

  3. I’m really enjoying your posts on Admiral Yamamoto. Having written books on the Pacific war for more than 20 years, I’m impressed with your writing and content. Well done! I’d love to open a private dialog via email.

    Bruce Gamble

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