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.
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 match.com 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.
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.