Isoroku Yamamoto: Japan’s Mastermind of the Pearl Harbor

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Yamamoto, the man who planned Pearl Harbor increased my knowledge about the people of Japan because it introduced me to their culture, and the life and times in Japan before World War II.

In Japan, the family is the basic unit of society. For example, if a Japanese has the unfortunate occurrence of producing only daughters, they will insist that one of their daughters husbands changes his last name to keep their daughter’s last name alive.

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It was, also, not unusual for people to change their last names. Isoroku Tankano was born in 1884. In 1916, he changed his last name to Yamamoto, because the name Yamamoto was an honorable and ancient one in the history of Japan. One such figure was Tatekawa Yamamoto, who fought against the Emperor, and his forces at the Battle of Watkamatsu, during the Bosshin War. Since he was one of the leaders of the rebellion, when he was captured, he was beheaded at Watkamatsu. Since Tatekawa had no sons, Isoroku was also the future of the Yamamoto clan.

Not uncommon in Japan was the fact that men got married for the purpose of producing sons to keep the family name alive. This is exactly what Isoroku did. In 1918, he got married to Reiko, who, ironically, was from Watkamatsu. They had 4 children together, 2 sons, and 2 daughters. It was the standard Japanese family, the mother in charge of the household and of raising the children. He never really loved her, because he had many extramarital affairs, and 2 of the women he “loved”.

The life and times in Japan right before World War 2 are simply explained: The Imperialist Japanese Army, otherwise known as the “young Turks” was steadily gaining power in the government, was assassinating anyone who did not share in their views for a united Asia (Yamamoto received many death threats, because he wanted to avoid war with the U.S.A. or with Great Britain at all costs), and was using propaganda to convince the Japanese to believe in a united Asia. The Emperor could not stop what was going on in his country because Emperors stayed out of the daily life of his people.

When I say that the government is to unstable, I mean that it is too susceptible to being taken over by an army. For example, in the 1930’s, the Imperialist Japanese Army was using their influence over the Minister of War to take over Manchuria, and eventually the Japanese government, and they were using assassination as the chief method of wiping out any political opposition. Also, if I moved in Japan, the culture shock would be enormous, starting with the simple language barrier, and the difference in religion.

Isoroku Yamamoto was correct in his thinking that war between the U.S.A., Great Britain, and Japan should be avoided at all costs, and in the event of war between the U.S.A., Great Britain, and Japan, Japan would lead in the beginning, like the first 6 to 12 months, but would eventually lose the war. One quality I admire about Yamamoto is that he was able to do a task that he was totally against. For example, even though he was against going to war against the U.S.A. and Great Britain, when the Imperialist Japanese Navy appointed him Commander of the Combined Fleet, he immediately went to work on a battle plan (Which we all know resulted on the attack on Pearl Harbor). Another quality of Yamamoto’s that I admire is that he led his life to the fullest. He was an avid gambler, both at the table, and at a time of war. One such gamble he took was on April 18, 1943 when he flew in a battle and was shot down. The truth is that the Americans decoded Japans naval code, found out the details of Yamamoto’s flight, and F.D.R. himself ordered American pilots to ambush Yamamoto and the Japanese. Japan did not know that the U.S.A. decoded their signal. Yamamoto also had certain ideals, or standards of excellence. For example, he believed that the students at the Kasumigaura Aviation Corps were not being trained harsh enough, so he made the training there a lot tougher, he made all the students there shave their long hair, but he finished the security rounds for the students, showing he had a heart.

Isoroku Yamamoto did not have to overcome many hardships on his climb to the top of the success ladder except for being poor. Another particular negative incident, which occured in 1928, when he was overseeing a training exercise in the Sea of Japan, was when all of a sudden, overcast clouds appeared and the pilots could not see the ship at all, and then, over the radio, one of the pilots kept on describing how he had 30 minutes of fuel left in his tank, 25 minutes of fuel left, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, and then, there was no more contact with any of the planes, they all crashed into the water, and Yamamoto did not sleep, eat, or drink until all the bodies were recovered.

Isoroku Takano was born in 1884, in a medium sized city called Nagaoka. In 1901, Isoroku won an appointment to the Imperial Naval Academy, on the little Island of Eta Jima, off the coast of Hiroshima. He won an appointment there because on a competitive entrance examination, he scored second out of the top students in the entire nation. His appointment signaled changing times in Japan, because, even though that all the enemies had not completely passed on, it signaled that the new government was making strides to unify the new Japan. At the Academy, Isoroku’s speciality was gunnery, which meant that he would become a deck specialist In 1904, upon his graduation at the Japanese Naval Academy, Isoroku joined the Imperial Japanese Navy aboard the cruiser Nisshin as a deck officer, and as a gunnery specialist. The Nisshin was one of the cruisers used in the Russo – Japanese war. In August,1905, Isoroku was sent to the gunnery school at Yokosuka Naval Base. In September of that year, he was promoted to sublieutenant. In October, 1905, He received a letter of commendation for the brave action taken in the Battle of Tsushima Strait, which meant that his career was on the rise. He remained at Yokosuka until 1907, when he was transferred to the ship Kagero, and his naval career resumed slowly, as it should during a time of peace. In 1908, the sublieutenant served aboard the Maezuru, in Manchurian waters. In 1911, Isoroku was promoted to Lieutenant, moving slowly up the chain of experience and promotion in a peacetime navy.

Isoroku’s father died on February 21, 1912, and around this time, his mother fell gravely ill. He received military leave, to tend to his dying mother. He wanted to quit the navy, but his mother would not let him. In August, 1912, Isoroku’s mother died.

In 1913, Isoroku’s career moved into high gear. He received an appointment to the Naval Staff College at Tsukiji. In 1915, Isoroku was promoted to lieutenant commander. Graduation from this college was required if you wanted to hold a staff position in the Japanese navy and in 1916, he graduated from the Naval Staff College.

Also in 1916, there were some personal changes in Isoroku’s life. First and Foremost, as mentioned previously, Isoroku dropped his last name Takano and changed it to Yamamoto. Also, Yamamoto realized the time was correct to get married, and on August 31, 1918, Yamamoto and Reiko were married at the Navy Club in Shiba, Tokyo. On April 4, 1919, Yamamoto travelled to America aboard the Suwa Maru. Of course, he travelled in first class. He went to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was enrolled in a special course for foreigners at Harvard University titled English E. He also studied Petroleum resources, since it is of great importance to Japan. In December, 1919, Yamamoto was promoted to commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy. While in America, he was intrested mostly in aviation. He read in newspapers, and on the radio that General Billy Mitchell of the U.S.A. Army trying to convince Congress that airplanes could sink a battleship, but nobody believed him. He left America in 1922.

In 1922, Yamamoto was appointed to teach at the navy staff school. In August, he left the school, and took a job as an executive officer aboard the cruiser Kitakami. Also in 1922, Yamamoto and his wife had a son, Yoshimasa, and one of his obligations as a member of the Yamamoto clan was fulfilled. In 1923, he was promoted to captain of the Imperial Japanese Army, and in June, he was appointed to the cruiser Fuji. He held this position for a year before he convinced his bosses to let him teach at the Kasumigaura Aviation Corps. Late in 1924, he all of a sudden became executive officer, and director of studies. He instututed harsh new dress codes, and somewhat changed the curriculum. At first, the students complained, but they eventually settled down. In 1925, Yamamoto had a daughter, Sumiko. He was also appointed as a Japanese naval attache. He left for America on January 21 aboard the ship Tennyo Maru. His job was to observe all activities of the U.S.A. Navy, particularly to the adherence to the Naval Treaty of 1922. In the spring of 1928, it was time for Yamamoto to go home. In the same year, Yamamoto was appointed to command the cruiser Akagi. In the end of 1929, he was appointed to the Naval Affairs Bureau of the Navy Ministry. Also in 1929, Yamamoto had a second daughter, Masako. He was also appointed to the delegation that would be sent to the London Naval Conference in 1930.

One part of the Japanese group sent to the London Naval Conference in 1930, the fleet faction, wanted equal treatment compared with the U.S.A., and Great Britain. Another part of the Japanese delegation, the treaty faction would be quite happy with 70% of the Navy that the U.S.A., or Great Britain had. The old portion was 66%, and after the conference, it remained at that figure. While at the conference, Yamamoto was promoted to Admiral. His new job would be to develop new naval, air, and aircraft weapons. On October 3,1933, he was appointed to command the First Air Division of the Navy. In 1936 Yamamoto was named head of the aeronautics department of the navy. This job lasted only a short time, because he reluctantly accepted an appointment as vice minister of the navy, in the same year. Soon after his appointment, it was rumored that he was a primary target for an assassination. He held this position until August 30, 1939, when he was appointed Commander of the Combined Fleet. Soon after his appointment, he began planning his attack on Pearl Harbor.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy, led by Isoroku Yamamoto, attacked Pearl Harbor, and Japan took an early lead in the war. The turning point of the war was the Battle of the Midway, when the U.S.A. cracked Japan’s code.


Yamamoto was a very loyal man, a patroit, if you will. He did his job even when he disagreed with it, he flew a plane even though it was not necessary, and he cared about everyone he knew. From the American point of view, he was an evil man who killed many, put to the Japanese, he was a patroit, and a hero.

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Isoroku Yamamoto: Japan’s Mastermind of the Pearl Harbor. (2018, Oct 01). Retrieved from

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