Imperial Japanese Navy

Imperial Japanese Navy
(Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun)
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg
Active 1868–1945
Country   Empire of Japan
Type Navy
Ceremonial chief Emperor of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN; Kyūjitai: 大日本帝國海軍 Shinjitai: 大日本帝国海軍 About this sound  Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun  or 日本海軍 Nippon Kaigun, "Navy of the Greater Japanese Empire") was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's defeat and surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN. [1]

The Japanese Navy was the third largest navy in the world by 1920, behind the Royal Navy and the United States Navy (USN). [2] It was supported by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service for aircraft and airstrike operation from the fleet. It was the primary opponent of the Western Allies in the Pacific War.

The origins of the Imperial Japanese Navy go back to early interactions with nations on the Asian continent, beginning in the early medieval period and reaching a peak of activity during the 16th and 17th centuries at a time of cultural exchange with European powers during the Age of Discovery. After two centuries of stagnation during the country's ensuing seclusion policy under the shōguns of the Edo period, Japan's navy was comparatively backward when the country was forced open to trade by American intervention in 1854. This eventually led to the Meiji Restoration. Accompanying the re-ascendance of the Emperor came a period of frantic modernization and industrialization. The navy's history of successes, sometimes against much more powerful foes as in the Sino-Japanese war and the Russo-Japanese War, ended in almost complete annihilation during the concluding days of World War II, largely by the USN.

Armed men on small ships, fighting each other.
Naval battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185
Replica of the Japanese-built 1613 galleon San Juan Bautista, in Ishinomaki, Japan


Japan has a long history of naval interaction with the Asian continent, involving transportation of troops between Korea and Japan, starting at least with the beginning of the Kofun period in the 3rd century. [3]

Following the attempts at Mongol invasions of Japan by Kubilai Khan in 1274 and 1281, Japanese wakō became very active in plundering the coast of China. [4] [5]

Woodblock print of a ship in sideview with sails raised.
A Japanese Red seal ship, combining eastern and western naval technologies

Japan undertook major naval building efforts in the 16th century, during the Warring States period, when feudal rulers vying for supremacy built vast coastal navies of several hundred ships. Around that time Japan may have developed one of the first ironclad warships when Oda Nobunaga, a daimyō, had six iron-covered Oatakebune made in 1576. [6] In 1588 Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued a ban on Wakō piracy; the pirates then became vassals of Hideyoshi, and comprised the naval force used in the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592–1598). [5]

Japan built her first large ocean-going warships in the beginning of the 17th century, following contacts with the Western nations during the Nanban trade period. In 1613, the daimyō of Sendai, in agreement with the Tokugawa Bakufu, built Date Maru, a 500-ton galleon-type ship that transported the Japanese embassy of Hasekura Tsunenaga to the Americas, which then continued to Europe. [7] From 1604 the Bakufu also commissioned about 350 Red seal ships, usually armed and incorporating some Western technologies, mainly for Southeast Asian trade. [8] [9]

Western studies and the end of Seclusion

Colored drawing of a three-masted warship.
Shōhei Maru (1854) was built from Dutch technical drawings.

For more than 200 years, beginning in the 1640s, the Japanese policy of seclusion (" sakoku") forbade contacts with the outside world and prohibited the construction of ocean-going ships on pain of death. [10] Contacts were maintained, however, with the Dutch through the port of Nagasaki, the Chinese also through Nagasaki and the Ryukyus and Korea through intermediaries with Tsushima. The study of Western sciences, called " rangaku" through the Dutch enclave of Dejima in Nagasaki led to the transfer of knowledge related to the Western technological and scientific revolution which allowed Japan to remain aware of naval sciences, such as cartography, optics and mechanical sciences, seclusion however, led to loss of any naval and maritime traditions the nation possessed. [5]

Apart from Dutch trade ships no other Western vessels were allowed to enter Japanese ports, a notable exception was during the Napoleonic wars, when neutral ships flew the Dutch flag. However frictions with foreign ships started from the beginning of the 19th century. The Nagasaki Harbour Incident involving the HMS Phaeton in 1808 and other subsequent incidents in the following decades led to the shogunate to enact an edict to repel foreign vessels. Western ships which were increasing their presence around Japan due to whaling and the trade with China began to challenge the seclusion policy.

The Morrison Incident in 1837 and news of China's defeat during the Opium War, however, led to the shogunate to repeal the law to execute foreigners and instead to adopt the Order for the Provision of Firewood and Water. The shogunate also began to strengthen the nation's coastal defenses. Many Japanese realized that traditional ways would not be sufficient to repel further intrusions and western knowledge was utilized through the Dutch at Dejima to reinforce Japan's capability to repel the foreigners; field guns, mortars and firearms were obtained and coastal defenses reinforced. Numerous attempts to open Japan ended in failure in part to Japanese resistance, this was until the early 1850s.

During 1853 and 1854, American warships under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry entered Edo Bay and made demonstrations of force requesting trade negotiations. After two hundred years of seclusion the 1854 Convention of Kanagawa led to the opening of Japan to international trade and interaction. This was soon followed by the 1858 Treaty of Amity and Commerce and treaties with other powers.

Development of Shogunal and Domain naval forces

Side view of a three-masted ship with a smokestack on a flat sea.
Kanrin Maru, Japan's first screw-driven steam warship, 1857
Small warship on flat sea, with smokestacks bent backwards.
Japan's first domestically built steam warship completed in May 1866 Chiyoda. [11]
Large warship, seen from the prow, with protuding ram.
The French-built Kōtetsu (ex-CSS Stonewall), Japan's first modern ironclad, 1869

As soon as Japan opened up to foreign influences, the Tokugawa shogunate recognized the vulnerability of the country from the sea and initiated an active policy of assimilation and adoption of Western naval technologies. [12] In 1855, with Dutch assistance, the shogunate acquired its first steam warship, Kankō Maru, and began using it for training, establishing a Naval Training Center at Nagasaki. [12]

Samurai such as the future Admiral Enomoto Takeaki (1836–1908) were sent by the shogunate to study in the Netherlands for several years. [12] In 1859 the Naval Training Center relocated to Tsukiji in Tokyo. In 1857 the shogunate acquired its first screw-driven steam warship Kanrin Maru and used it as an escort for the 1860 Japanese delegation to the United States. In 1865 the French naval engineer Léonce Verny was hired to build Japan's first modern naval arsenals, at Yokosuka and Nagasaki. [13]

The shogunate also allowed and then ordered various domains to purchase warships and to develop naval fleets, [14] Satsuma, especially, had petitioned the shogunate to build modern naval vessels. [12] A naval center had been set up by the Satsuma domain in Kagoshima, students were sent abroad for training and a number of ships were acquired. [12] The domains of Chōshū, Hizen, Tosa and Kaga joined Satsuma in acquiring ships. [14] This was not enough to prevent the British from bombarding Kagoshima in 1863 or the Allied bombardments of Shimonoseki in 1863–64. [12]

By the mid 1860s the shogunate had a fleet of eight warships and thirty-six auxiliaries. [14] Satsuma (which had the largest domain fleet) had nine steamships, [15] Choshu had five ships plus numerous auxiliary craft, Kaga had ten ships and Chikuzen eight. [15] Numerous smaller domains also had acquired a number of ships. However these fleets resembled maritime organizations rather than actual navies with ships functioning as transports as well as combat vessels, [12] they were also manned by personnel who lacked experienced seamanship except for coastal sailing and who had virtually no combat training. [12]

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