Imperial Japanese Army

The Imperial Japanese Army (大日本帝国陸軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun) was the official armed force of Japan from 1867 to 1945. It was controlled, at least in theory, from the Imperial General Headquarters and the Ministry of War of Japan.



The Imperial Japanese Army was created to replace the traditional Japanese samurai with a modern European-style conscript army during the chain of events, known as Meiji Restoration, that led to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (bakufu) and the restoring of Imperial rule in Japan.

The Imperial Japanese Army was initially developed with the assistance of American (post Civil War), then French and finally by German advisors (post Franco-Prussian War); eventually it had grown to become the most modern army in Asia, well-trained, well equipped and high in morale. However, it was at times relatively deficient in artillery, tanks and other armoured vehicles when compared with its European contemporaries. Since Japan had no independent air force, the Imperial Japanese Army also developed a potent air arm, the Army Air Service equipped with modern locally-built aircraft with the primary mission of tactically supporting the ground operations.

The Imperial Japanese Army saw combat during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the occupation of Formosa in 1895 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1905; during the occupation of Korea in 1910; at the seizing of the German territory at Qingdao during World War I; at the occupation of Manchukuo in 1931; and throughout the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) beginning with the Nanjing Massacre of 1937. From December 1941 the Imperial Japanese Army served as the main instrument in the Japanese Empire's aggressive expansion across East Asia during World War II. It was finally dissolved in September 1945 at the request of Allied forces, and later replaced by Japan Self-Defense Forces.

Throughout the Sino-Japanese War and World War II the Imperial Japanese Army had gained a reputation both for its fanaticism and for its brutality against POWs and civilians alike. After Japan surrendered in the summer of 1945 many of the Imperial Japanese Army's officers were tried and punished for committing numerous atrocities and war crimes.


Japanese nationalism meant that the military was built around a concept of the time period: a Rich Country has a Strong Military. Japan as a land was sacred, and it's people were special due a combination of Zen, Buddhism and Shinto. Service in the Japanese military was seen as service to the Emperor. Each soldier believed it was a great honor to die for the Emperor as the samurai concept "to serve" was deeply ingrained in all the soldiers culture.

The concept of Yamato Damashi gave each soldier the concept, no capture, no surrender. To be either was a disgrace to the family, to the community and to the country. Each soldier was brought up to fight to the death and was expected to die before dishonor. Imperial soldier often would shout "Banzai" before they die, so they would die with honor. Each soldier culturally leaves everything at nothing, need nothing but honor.

The Emperor was a concept of investiture of power by the state in a figurehead. In effect the power of the Emperor was in name only, as the real power was held by the bureaucrats underneath him. While the Emperor was in theory the commander in chief, he usually went along with whatever the government "asked" him to do. The IJA had only two Emperor commander in chiefs, Taisho and Showa.


  • 1870, consisted of 12,000 men.
  • 1885, consisted of of seven divisions including the Imperial Guard Division.
  • In the early 1900's, the IJA consisted of 12 divisions and numerous other units. These contained the following:
    • 380,000 active duty and 1st Reserve personnel - former Class A and B(1) conscripts after 2 year active tour with 17 and 1/2 year commitment
    • 50,000 Second line Reserve - Same as above but former Class B(2) conscripts
    • 220,000 National Army
      • 1st National Army - 37 to 40 year old men from end of 1st Reserve to 40 years old.
      • 2nd National Army - untrained 20 year olds and over 40 year old trained reserves.
    • 4,250,000 males available for service and mobilization.
  • 1934 - army increased to 17 Divisions
  • 1940 - 376,000 active with 2 million reserves in 31 divisions
    • 2 Divisions in Japan (Imperial Guard plus one other)
    • 2 Divisions in Korea
    • 27 Divisions in China and Manchuria
  • In late 1941 - 460,000 active in 41 divisions
    • 2 divisions in Japan and Korea
    • 12 divisions in Manchuria
    • 27 divisions in China
  • 1945 - 145 Divisions (includes 3 Imperial Guard), plus numerous individual units, with over 5 million men (includes Imperial Japanese Army Air Service).
    • additionally Japanese Army poses various Arsenals with tecnical developed and weapons manufacture along regular private arms and armoury factories:
  • Japanese Army Sagami Arsenal(with Mitsubishi developed and Manufactured Tanks)
  • Japanese Army Sasebo Arsenal(along Mitsubishi manufactured Tanks)
  • Japanese Army Heijo Arsenal(with Nambu manufactured hand and long infantry weapons)
  • Japanese Army Mukden Arsenal(along Nambu making Infantry weapons)
  • Japanese Army Tachikawa Arsenal(dedicated to develop and manufacture of aircraft to Army Air service)
    • Japan Defense Army in 1945 had 55 divisions with 2 million men.


1.7 million killed, wounded, missing and captured.

See also

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