Ranks of the Imperial Japanese Navy

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The following graphs present the rank insignia of the Imperial Japanese Navy from its establishment in 1868 to its defeat during World War II in 1945 (with some changes in April and November 1942 [1] [2] ). These designs were used from 1931 onward. For the typical Navy, star modelling cherry blossom was used for showing their ranks/branches, but the Naval Reserve personnel wore the compass based star [lower-alpha 1] before 1942, when the Reserve and Special Duty Officers were merged with the typical naval personnel's insignia.


Commissioned officer ranks


All commissioned officer rank names were the same as their army counterparts. The navy would prefix the common rank names with 海軍 (Kaigun), while the army would prefix them with 陸軍 (Rikugun), meaning "Navy" and "Army", respectively. There was a minor difference in pronunciation of character 大 for Navy Lieutenant and Navy Captain. The navy pronounced it as Dai, while the army pronounced it as Tai. However, this pronunciation difference was not officially enacted.

Regular Officers (将校 Shōkō) were graduates of Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. Reserve Officers (予備将校 Yobi-shōkō) were university or college graduates, as opposed to going through the naval academy. Special Duty Officers (特務士官 Tokumu-shikan) were the officers with the rank of Lieutenant or below, who were promoted from the rank of Warrant Officer (starting from the enlisted ranks). [2] [3] [4] Typically the ranks discriminated in a way that the priority of taking command for Special Duty Officers was lower than that of Regular Officers or Reserve Officers. [lower-alpha 2] The distinction between Special Duty Officers and Regular/Reserve Officers was also highlighted in the rank insignia (see the table for details). This difference in the rank insignia was abolished in 1942, but the system itself remained.

The rank Commodore was not established but the Captain who was commanding the central ship in the fleet, usually close to being promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, or acting as the unit commander (which was usually held by a Rear-Admiral) nominally became a flag officer by raising the "Commodore Flag".

See the table below for details regarding the officer ranks and insignia: [5]

Insignia [6] TitleTranslation
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-10-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-10-shoulder.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-10-sleeve.svg N/A 大元帥海軍大将
Lord high admiral of the Japanese Empire or Admiralissimo
(the title used only for Emperor of Japan)
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-9-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-9-shoulder.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-9-sleeve.svg Yuan Shuai Hui Zhang .svg 元帥海軍大将
Fleet/Marshal/Grand Admiral
(the title used for some Admirals with achievements)
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-8-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-8-shoulder.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-8-sleeve.svg 海軍中将
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-7-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-7-shoulder.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-7-sleeve.svg 海軍少将
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-5-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-5-shoulder.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-5-sleeve.svg 海軍大佐

(some Captains held the "position" of Commodore)

Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-4-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-4-shoulder.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-4-sleeve.svg 海軍中佐
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-3-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-3-shoulder.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-3-sleeve.svg 海軍少佐
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-2-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-2-shoulder.svg [lower-alpha 3] Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-2-sleeve.svg [lower-alpha 4] 海軍大尉
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-1b-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-1b-shoulder.svg [lower-alpha 3] Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-1b-sleeve.svg [lower-alpha 4] 海軍中尉
(Lieutenant junior grade)
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-1a-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-1a-shoulder.svg [lower-alpha 3] Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-1a-sleeve.svg [lower-alpha 4] 海軍少尉
Acting Sub-lieutenant


Cap badges

Da Ri Ben Di Guo Hai Jun ..svg
Da Ri Ben Di Guo Hai Jun 1.svg

Rank flags

Rank flags
(1870–1871) Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy Admiral 1871-1889.svg Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy Vice Admiral 1870-1871.svg Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy Rear Admiral 1870-1871.svg
(1871–1889) Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy Vice Admiral 1871-1889.svg Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy Rear Admiral 1871-1889.svg
(1889–1896) Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy Admiral 1889-1896.svg Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy Vice Admiral 1889-1896.svg Flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy Rear Admiral 1889-1896.svg
(1896–1945) Standard of Vice Admiral of Imperial Japanese Navy.svg Standard of Rear Admiral of Imperial Japanese Navy.svg
RankAdmiralVice admiralRear admiral

Cadet and warrant officer ranks

Midshipman and Warrant Officer's collar insignia is same (both were treated as officer-equivalent), but in detail, midshipman's position is above Warrant Officer. Furthermore, midshipman rank was not via commissioned, but it was via ordered or warranted. Cadet is much likely to be classified as a slightly higher than non-commissioned officer, since the cap's line is only one, compared to the commissioned officer's cap which has two lines and the type 3 uniform is based on the enlisted personnel.

See the table below for details regarding the cadet/WO ranks and insignia:

Insignia [6] TitleTranslation
Imperial Japan-Navy-WO-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-Midshipman-shoulder.svg OR-9 Kaigun Jun'i (cuff).png 海軍少尉候補生
Midshipman/Reserve Midshipman
Reserve student
Apprentice (specialist branch)

e.g., Apprentice surgeon (Medical branch)

Imperial Japan-Navy-WO-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-Warrant Officer-shoulder.svg Kaiserliche Marine-Seekadett.svg [lower-alpha 5] 兵曹長
Warrant Officer
Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-(D)-collar.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-Cadet-shoulder.svg Imperial Japan-Navy-OF-D-sleeve.svg 海軍兵学校生徒
Cadet/Reserve cadet

Non-commissioned officer and enlisted personnel rates

For seamen and petty officers, which were selected from enlisted men or conscripts and given training in the Navy's service/technical school, the names were different from the army names but were equal in rank. Different service branches within the navy had their specialisation augment the common rank name. For example, Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (IJNAF) had "Flight" (飛行 Hikō) [lower-alpha 6] incorporated into the common rank name, such as Flight Petty Officer First Class (一等飛行兵曹 Ittō-hikō-heisō) or Flight Seaman Second Class (二等飛行兵 Nitō-hikō-hei). [1] [2] For practical use, these rank names were often shortened to 一飛曹 (Ippisō) or 二飛 (Nihi), respectively. [1] The enlisted rank insignia were changed in April 1942 [2] and the common rank names were updated in November 1942. [1] [2] [4]

The enlisted insignia prior to changes in 1942 was a round patch that contained one anchor for the lowest grade, two crossed anchors for the middle grade and two crossed anchors with a cherry blossom for the highest grade. The petty officer insignia followed the same pattern but additionally had wreaths. The insignia was red on black background for winter dark-blue uniforms (also for flight suits), black on white background for summer white uniforms, and red on green background for Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF) uniforms. The anchor would be replaced by different symbols for specialised branches; for example, aviation had an aircraft instead. [7] After the changes in 1942, the insignia was a black patch that was square-shaped on the top and arrow-shaped on the bottom. Inside the patch, all branches had a yellow anchor and one yellow horizontal stripe for the lowest grade, two for the middle grade and three for the highest grade. Similarly as before, the petty officer insignia followed the same pattern but additionally had wreaths. For all ranks there was also a cherry blossom in the middle, which changed its colour based on the branch; for example, light blue represented aviation. [7]

See the table below for details regarding the enlisted/NCO ranks and insignia: [5]

InsigniaTitleTranslationInsignia [6] TitleTranslation
Pre 1942Post 1942
Petty officers 下士官 (Kashikan)
Petty officer first class Rank insignia of jotoheiso of the Imperial Japanese Navy.svg 上等兵曹
Chief petty officer
Petty officer second class Rank insignia of ittoheiso of the Imperial Japanese Navy.svg 一等兵曹
Petty officer first class
Petty officer third class Rank insignia of nitoheiso of the Imperial Japanese Navy.svg 二等兵曹
Petty officer second class
Enlisted/Seamen 水兵 (Suihei)
Seaman first class Rank insignia of suiheicho of the Imperial Japanese Navy.svg 水兵長
Leading seaman
Seaman second class Rank insignia of jotosuihei of the Imperial Japanese Navy.svg 上等水兵
(senior seaman)
Able seaman


Seaman third class Rank insignia of ittosuihei of the Imperial Japanese Navy.svg 一等水兵
(seaman first class)
Ordinary seaman
(Seaman apprentice)
(seaman fourth class)
Rank insignia of nitosuihei of the Imperial Japanese Navy.svg 二等水兵
(seaman second class)
Seaman recruit

Service branch colours

The branch of the Navy in which non-executive personnel served was indicated by a colour code. For officers, including midshipmen, it was the colour of cloth placed as background to the cuff stripes, on both sides of the gold lace on the shoulder boards, and as longitudinal piping on the collar patches. Midshipmen and cadets wore a coloured anchor on the cap, which cadets wore on the shoulder boards as well. [5] The branch of enlisted men was denoted by the colour of the cherry blossom flower on their rank patch; line personnel using the default gold.

PurpleEngineering [lower-alpha 7]
BrownShip and engine construction
Purple-brownOrdnance construction
RedMedical (surgeon, dentist and pharmacist) and Hospital(Corps)man (combat medic)
Pale greenLegal
BlackExecutive/Line/Survey officers
Light blue Aviation (Warrant and Special Duty Officer [lower-alpha 8] ) and Hydrography
GreenChief carpenters
Grey-blueBand master (Warrant and Special Duty Officer)

See also


  1. Currently used in Japan Coast Guard's insignia.
  2. Navy Land Forces and some Naval Air Service used to neglect this system to focus more on the rank itself, regardless of Reserve or Special Duty Officer status.
  3. 1 2 3 The line was thinner as the Warrant Officer's rank insignia before 1942 for the Special Duty Officers.
  4. 1 2 3 Before 1942, three cherry blossoms were added below the stripe for the Special Duty Officer. [7]
  5. Three cherry blossoms were on the sleeve before 1942. [7]
  6. Before June 1941, it was "Aviation" (航空 Kōkū). [2]
  7. After 1942, engineering branch (above commissioned officer) were merged with the line branch. Hence, the purple branch colour was used only below Warrant Officer.
  8. After 1942, aviation Special Duty Officer was merged with line Special Duty Officer. Hence, the light blue branch colour was used only below Warrant Officer.

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