Mitsumasa Yonai

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Mitsumasa Yonai
米内 光政
Yonai Mitsumasa.jpg
26th Prime Minister of Japan
In office
January 16, 1940 July 22, 1940
Monarch Shōwa
Preceded by Nobuyuki Abe
Succeeded by Fumimaro Konoe
Minister of the Navy
Empire of Japan
In office
2 February 1937 30 August 1938
Prime Minister
Preceded by Osami Nagano
Succeeded by Yoshida Zengo
In office
22 July 1944 1 December 1945
Prime Minister
Preceded by Naokuni Nomura
Succeeded byNone (Position abolished)
Personal details
Born(1880-03-02)March 2, 1880
Morioka, Japan
DiedApril 20, 1948(1948-04-20) (aged 68)
Resting placeMorioka, Japan
Political party Independent
Alma mater Imperial Japanese Naval Academy
Profession Admiral
Signature YonaiM kao.png
Military service
AllegianceMerchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Empire of Japan
Branch/serviceNaval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg  Imperial Japanese Navy
Years of service1901–1945
Rank Admiral

Mitsumasa Yonai(米内 光政,Yonai Mitsumasa, March 2, 1880 – April 20, 1948) was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and politician. He was the 26th Prime Minister of Japan from January 16 to July 22, 1940.

Admiral is one of the highest ranks in some navies, and in many navies is the highest rank. It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM". The rank is generally thought to have originated in Sicily from a conflation of Arabic: أمير البحر‎, amīr al-baḥr, "commander of the sea", with Latin admirabilis ("admirable") or admiratus ("admired"), although alternative etymologies derive the word directly from Latin, or from the Turkish military and naval rank miralay. The French version – amiral without the additional d – tends to add evidence for the Arab origin.

Imperial Japanese Navy Naval branch of the Empire of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.


Early life and naval career

Yonai was born in Morioka city in Iwate Prefecture as the first son of an ex- samurai retainer of the Nanbu clan of the Morioka Domain. He graduated from the 29th class Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1901, ranked 68 of 125 cadets (Japan Center for Asian Historical Records, n.d.). [1] After midshipman service on the corvette Kongō, and cruiser Tokiwa he was commissioned as ensign in January 1903. He served in administrative positions until near the end of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, when he went to sea again on the destroyer Inazuma and the cruiser Iwate.

Iwate Prefecture Prefecture of Japan

Iwate Prefecture is a prefecture in the Tōhoku region of Japan. Located on the main island of Honshu, it contains the island's easternmost point. The capital is Morioka. Iwate has the lowest population density of any prefecture outside Hokkaido. Famous attractions include the Buddhist temples of Hiraizumi, including Chūson-ji and Mōtsū-ji with their treasures, Fujiwara no Sato, a movie lot and theme park in Esashi Ward, Oshu City, Tenshochi, a park in Kitakami City known for its big, old cherry trees and Morioka Castle in Morioka City.

Samurai Military nobility of pre-industrial Japan

Samurai (侍) were the military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan.

Nanbu clan

The Nanbu clan was a Japanese samurai clan who ruled most of northeastern Honshū in the Tōhoku region of Japan for over 700 years, from the Kamakura period through the Meiji Restoration of 1868. the Nanbu claimed descent from the Seiwa Genji of Kai Province and were thus related to the Takeda clan. The clan moved its seat from Kai to Mutsu Province in the early Muromachi period, and were confirmed as daimyō of Morioka Domain under the Edo-period Tokugawa shogunate. The domain was in constant conflict with neighboring Hirosaki Domain, whose ruling Tsugaru clan were once Nanbu retainers.

After the war, he served as chief gunnery officer on the cruiser Niitaka, battleship Shikishima, and cruiser Tone. [2] After his promotion to lieutenant commander in December 1912, he graduated from the Naval War College and was assigned as naval attaché to Russia during the height of World War I, from 1915 to 1917. While overseas, he was promoted to commander; after the collapse of the Russian Empire, he was recalled to Japan and later became executive officer on the battleship Asahi. [2] He rose to the rank of captain in December 1920 and was subsequently sent as naval attaché to Poland from 1921 to 1922.

Japanese cruiser <i>Niitaka</i>

Niitaka (新高) was the lead ship of the Niitaka-class protected cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy. She was the sister ship of the Tsushima. Niitaka was named after Mount Niitaka in Taiwan, at the time, the tallest mountain in the Japanese Empire.

Battleship large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns

A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of large caliber guns. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the battleship was the most powerful type of warship, and a fleet of battleships was considered vital for any nation that desired to maintain command of the sea.

Japanese battleship <i>Shikishima</i> pre-dreadnought battleship

Shikishima (敷島) was the lead ship of the Shikishima class of pre-dreadnought battleships built for the Imperial Japanese Navy by British shipyards in the late 1890s. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, the ship fought in the Battles of Port Arthur, the Yellow Sea and Tsushima and was lightly damaged in the latter action, although shells prematurely exploded in her main guns in the latter two engagements. Shikishima remained in home waters during World War I. The ship was reclassified as a coastal defence ship in 1921 and served as a training ship for the rest of her career. She was disarmed and hulked in 1923 and finally broken up for scrap in 1948.

Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, 1936 Mitsumasa Yonai.jpg
Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, 1936

On his return to Japan, he was captain of the cruisers Kasuga (1922–1923) and Iwate (1923–1924), and battleships Fusō (in 1924) and Mutsu (1924–1925). Yonai was promoted to rear admiral on December 1, 1925. [2] He became Chief of the 3rd Section of the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff in December 1926. Within the Navy General Staff, he served on the Technical Council of the Navy Technical Department. [2] He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the First Expeditionary Fleet, sent to the Yangtze River in China in December 1928. Following the success of this mission, he was promoted to vice-admiral in December 1930 and placed in command of the Chinkai Guard District, in Korea.

Japanese cruiser <i>Kasuga</i> Kasuga-class cruiser

Kasuga (春日) was the name ship of the Kasuga-class armored cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy, built in the first decade of the 20th century by Gio. Ansaldo & C., Sestri Ponente, Italy, where the type was known as the Giuseppe Garibaldi class. The ship was originally ordered by the Argentine Navy during the Argentine–Chilean naval arms race, but the lessening of tensions with Chile and financial pressures caused the Argentinians to sell her before delivery. At this time tensions between the Empire of Japan and the Russian Empire were rising, and the ship was offered to both sides before she was purchased by the Japanese.

Japanese battleship <i>Fusō</i> battleship

Fusō was the lead ship of the two Fusō-class dreadnought battleships built for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Launched in 1914 and commissioned in 1915, she initially patrolled off the coast of China, playing no part in World War I. In 1923, she assisted survivors of the Great Kantō earthquake.

Japanese battleship <i>Mutsu</i> Nagato-class dreadnought battleship

Mutsu was the second and last Nagato-class dreadnought battleship built for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) at the end of World War I. It was named after the province, In 1923 she carried supplies for the survivors of the Great Kantō earthquake. The ship was modernized in 1934–1936 with improvements to her armour and machinery, and a rebuilt superstructure in the pagoda mast style.

Yonai was given command of the IJN 3rd Fleet in December 1932, following which he again commanded the Sasebo Naval District (November 1933), IJN 2nd Fleet (November 1934) and Yokosuka Naval District (December 1935) before receiving appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet and concurrently the IJN 1st Fleet in December 1936. [2] While in command at Sasebo, the Japanese Navy was shaken by the Tomozuru Incident, when it was determined that the basic design of the Chidori-class torpedo boats was flawed, thus calling into question the basic designs of many of the warships in the Japanese navy.

Sasebo Naval District

Sasebo Naval District was the third of five main administrative districts of the pre-war Imperial Japanese Navy. Its territory included the western and southern coastline of Kyūshū, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan and Korea, as well as patrols in the East China Sea and the Pacific

Yokosuka Naval District

Yokosuka Naval District was the first of four main administrative districts of the pre-war Imperial Japanese Navy. Its territory included Tokyo Bay and the Pacific coasts of central and northern Honshū from the Kii Peninsula to Shimokita Peninsula. Its headquarters, along with most of its installations, including the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, were located in the city of Yokosuka, which constituted the Yokosuka Naval Base.

Combined Fleet main ocean-going component of the Imperial Japanese Navy

Combined Fleet was the main ocean-going component of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Until 1933, Combined Fleet was not a permanent organization, but a temporary force formed for the duration of a conflict or major naval maneuvers from various units normally under separate commands in peacetime.

While in command at Yokosuka, the February 26 Incident erupted in Tokyo. Yonai was visiting his mistress in Shinbashi the night the attempted coup d'état began, only a couple of blocks away, but knew nothing of the situation until he returned to base the following morning.

February 26 Incident coup détat

The February 26 Incident, also known as the 2-26 Incident, was an attempted coup d'état in the Empire of Japan on 26 February 1936.

Shinbashi neighborhood in Minato-ku, Tokyo

Shinbashi (新橋), sometimes transliterated Shimbashi, is a district of Minato, Tokyo, Japan.

Coup détat Sudden deposition of a government

A coup d'état, also known as a putsch, a golpe, or simply as a coup, means the overthrow of an existing government; typically, this refers to an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power by a dictator, the military, or a political faction.

Yonai became full admiral in April 1937 and Navy Minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Senjūrō Hayashi in 1937. He served in the same position under the subsequent first Fumimaro Konoe and Kiichirō Hiranuma administrations, through August 1939. [2] After Nobuyuki Abe became Prime Minister, Yonai remained on the Supreme War Council. While Navy Minister, Yonai was known as a man of few words. His speeches tended to be short, and were delivered in his almost indecipherable Nambu accent. Written records of his speeches are only about half the length of his contemporaries.

As Navy Minister, Yonai was alarmed by the growing tension between Japan and Great Britain and the United States, at a time when the bulk of the Imperial Japanese Army was tied down in an apparently unending quagmire in China. His efforts to promote peace made him unpopular with ultranationalist extremists, and (as with Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto) he was the target of several assassination attempts. However, Yonai supported the construction of the Yamato-class battleships in an effort to maintain a military balance with the world's other two naval superpowers.

Prime Minister of Japan

Yonai reading a memo during the House plenary session in February 1940. Yonai reading a memo at the House cainber during the assembry cropped.jpg
Yonai reading a memo during the House plenary session in February 1940.

Yonai was appointed Prime Minister of Japan from January 6, 1940, largely with the backing of Emperor Hirohito. As Prime Minister, he continued the strong pro-British, pro-American stance he held as Navy Minister and continued his strong opposition to the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.

Following the German occupation of the Low Countries and France in May–June 1940, the Imperial Japanese Army began to show dissatisfaction with Yonai's anti German policy. The disagreement became apparent in early July 1940, as Minister of War Shunroku Hata began to criticize the Prime Minister openly. [3] When Hata resigned, Yonai was subsequently forced to resign on July 21, 1940. The Japanese Constitution required the Minister of War to be a general from the Army, and no other general would accept the position, due to the pro-Axis stance of the Imperial Japanese Army. [4] The Tripartite Pact was signed on September 27, 1940.

Subsequent political activity

Yonai served as Deputy Prime Minister and concurrently as Navy Minister again under the cabinet of Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso from July 22, 1944, during which time he returned to the active duty roster from the reserve list. By this time, Saipan had fallen to the Allies.

Yonai remained Navy Minister under the administration of Prime Minister Kantarō Suzuki. In the last few weeks before Japan's surrender, he sided with Prime Minister Suzuki and Foreign Minister Shigenori Tōgō in support of acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration in opposition to Minister of War Korechika Anami, Chief of Naval General Staff Admiral Soemu Toyoda and Chief of the Army General Staff General Yoshijirō Umezu.

Yonai remained Navy Minister in the cabinets of Prime Minister HIH Higashikuni Naruhiko and Prime Minister Kijūrō Shidehara from August 1945, during which time he presided over the final dissolution of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

He played a major role during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in working with the major defendants, such as Hideki Tōjō, to coordinate their testimonies so that Emperor Hirohito would be spared from indictment. According to his interpreter Suichi Mizota, in March 1946 Bonner Fellers asked him to make Tōjō bear all responsibility for the Greater East Asia War [5] After the war, Yonai devoted rest of his life to help to rebuild devastated Japan.

Yonai suffered from high blood pressure most of his life, but he died of pneumonia in 1948 at the age of 68. His grave is located at the temple of Enko-ji in his hometown of Morioka.


Minister of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1937–1939)

Yonai was a man of few words, but people listened when he spoke. Because of his work as a military attaché in Russia and Poland and his travels around European countries, he had a broader perspective of world affairs than many other senior Japanese military officials. In the late 1930s Yonai already analyzed the naval capabilities of the Imperial Japanese Navy and allied countries, versus those of Germany and Italy and he concluded that Japan should not ally itself with Germany and Italy. In addition to his experience as an attaché, he had participated in the Battle of the Japanese Sea (known in the West as the Battle of Tsushima), during the Russo-Japanese war as a Lieutenant, so he understood the realities of naval warfare. Hence, on August 8, 1939, at the five-ministry commission that was intended to make a plan for war, the minister of finance, Ishiwata, asked Yonai, "Is it possible for the Imperial Japanese Navy to triumph over America and Britain?" (Agawa, n.d.). Yonai answered, "No. The Imperial Japanese Navy is not designed to open fire against them. The Third Reich and the Italian Navy are out of question." (Agawa, n.d.).

Since the historical triumph of the Battle of the Japanese Sea in 1905, as a part of the Russo-Japanese War, the Imperial Japanese Navy had been the world’s third strongest. By the end of World War I Japan had a powerful battle fleet. In the 1930s, following the Washington Naval Treaty, Japan built a strong naval aviation arm with excellent aircraft and pilots. Even so, the Imperial Japanese Navy could not compete against the Royal Navy and the United States Navy, the top two navies in the world. Consequently, the much smaller Kriegsmarine (German Navy) and the Regia Marina (Italian Navy) could not defeat these two dominants. Furthermore, the Imperial Japanese Navy had been made overconfident by its victory in the Naval Battle of the Japanese Sea and was not willing to acknowledge its inferiority. However, his unique experiences made him convinced of his view. Therefore, Yonai clearly announced his opinion: the Imperial Japanese Navy will lose if it attacked the Royal Navy and the United States Navy. [6] [7]

Pre-prime minister

Before he was chosen as the Prime Minister, Yonai showed strong leadership particularly in crisis. On February 26, 1936, there was a coup d'état led by young officers of the Imperial Japanese Army. The generals of the Imperial Japanese Army struggled to decide the appellation of the rebellion troops, whom the generals were hesitant to refer to as rebellion troops because it was extremely shameful for them to admit an internecine strife. In addition, one of the commanders of the rebellion was a son-in-law of the general. Hence, the generals were hesitant. On the other hand, Yonai, the commander-in-chief of the Sasebo Naval District, instantaneously labeled them as "Insurrectional troops", (Agawa, n.d.) and let the chief of his staff, Admiral Inoue Shigeyoshi, publish his position to all the Sasebo Naval District. Because of this immediate announcement, navy officers in the Sasebo Naval District were compelled to stop participating with the rebellion troops. Yonai's prompt action as the supreme commander tranquilized the Sasebo Naval District. [6]

Time as prime minister (January 16 to July 16, 1940)

Despite not being famous, Yonai made significant decisions that depict his strong moral character. At his appointment as Prime Minister, he retired from active service of the Imperial Japanese Navy without being asked to. He intended not to control his cabinet ministers by naval influences. This verdict was momentous. Because once military personnel retires, he loses effects on the military, hence all the generals and admirals rebuffed to retire. Indeed, Tojo Hideki, the 40th Prime Minister did not retire at his promotion to Prime Minister. He persisted with active service in the Imperial Japanese Army to uphold his effects over it, and the cabinet participants. Because of Yonai’s retirement from the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Yonai Cabinet was cooperative. One prominent evidence of this was that: nevertheless his cabinet had continued just a half a year, his cabinet members and followers formed a friendly reunion right after his resignation in 1937, and it still lasting in the Heisei period (1989–present). This reunion is named Ichi-Roku Kai, which means sixteenth gathering, because Yonai's appointment and resignation as a Prime Minister both happened on the 16th day of their months. [6]

Emperor's trust

Emperor Shōwa trusted Yonai's strong moral character. On July 1944, the situation of World War II was apparently against Japan. As for this difficult circumstance, the Imperial Japanese Navy was in a confusion. Supreme commanders of the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to appoint Yonai as the Minister of Navy because he had popularity and charisma enough to unite the Imperial Japanese Navy, although Yonai had already retired from the navy. To assign Yonai as the Minister of Navy, the Emperor's consent was necessary. Meanwhile, Admiral Suetsugu was also a candidate. The Emperor selected Yonai because Suetsugu was famous for his ambition, and allowed only Yonai to be the Minister of Navy as an active service military person. This appointment demonstrated Shōwa's trust in Yonai because he is the only one person in the Imperial Japanese Navy's history to return from retirement and be posted to the supreme position of the Minister of Navy. After the Imperial Japanese Navy was defeated, the Emperor called Yonai to his castle. The Emperor amiably invited Yonai to have lunch together. After that, the Emperor said, "I really appreciated your reign and effort not to begin the war. I think we are not going to meet often like before". He put a pen and inkstone into a case and said, "These are the things that I have used. I would like to present this as a gift to you." (Agawa, n.d.). This action is extremely rare because having presented the belongings of the Emperor is the supreme honor and the utmost expression of amiability. [6]


From the corresponding article in the Japanese Wikipedia


  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Stewart, Admirals of the World, p. 292.
  3. The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State, July 17, 1940, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1940, vol. IV, p. 964
  4. "Japanese Destroyer Captain, Tameichi Hara, Naval Institute Press, Chapter 12
  5. Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the making of modern Japan, Perennial, 2001, p.584.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Agawa, H.(n.d.), Yonai Mitsumasa, Koubunsha
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 24, 2012. Retrieved April 4, 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

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Military offices
Preceded by
Takahashi Sankichi
Commander of the Combined Fleet
December 1936 – February 1937
Succeeded by
Nagano Osami
Political offices
Preceded by
Nagano Osami
Minister of the Navy
2 February 1937 – 30 August 1939
Succeeded by
Yoshida Zengo
Preceded by
Nobuyuki Abe
Prime Minister of Japan
January 1940 – July 1940
Succeeded by
Fumimaro Konoe
Preceded by
Nomura Naokuni
Minister of the Navy
22 July 1944 – 1 December 1945
Position abolished