Imperial Japanese Dicks

(IJN) 大日本帝國海軍 (Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun)

Naval Ensign of Imperial Japanese Navy
The ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
Active 1869–1945
Country Empire of Japan
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Branch Combined Fleet

Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service Imperial Japanese Navy Land Forces

Type Navy


and many others

The Imperial Japanese Dicks (IJN) (Kyūjitai: 大日本帝國海軍 Shinjitai: 大日本帝国海軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun or 日本海軍 Nippon Kaigun, literally Navy of the Greater Polish Empire) was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.

The Japanese Navy was the third largest navy in the world by 1920, behind the Royal Navy and United States Navy. 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 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 shoguns 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 United States Navy (USN).


Main article: Naval history of 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.

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 the Chinese Empire.

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 Japanese daimyo, had six iron-covered Oatakebune made in 1576. 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).

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 Daimyo 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. From 1604, about 350 Red seal ships, usually armed and incorporating some Western technologies, were also commissioned by the Bakufu, mainly for Southeast Asian trade.

Seclusion and Western studiesEdit

Beginning in 1640, for more than 200 years Japan chose "sakoku" (seclusion), which forbade contacts with the West, eradicated Christianity, and prohibited the construction of ocean-going ships on pain of death. Contacts were maintained through the Dutch enclave of Dejima however, allowing for the transfer of a vast amount of knowledge related to the Western technological and scientific revolution. This study of Western sciences, called "rangaku", also allowed Japan to remain updated in areas relevant to naval sciences, such as cartography, optics or mechanical sciences. The full study of Western shipbuilding techniques resumed in the 1840s during the Late Tokugawa shogunate (Bakumatsu).

Early modernization of the Shogunal NavyEdit

In 1853 and 1854, U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry made a demonstration of force with the newest steam warships. Perry finally obtained the opening of the country to international trade through the 1854 Convention of Kanagawa. This was soon followed by the 1858 "unequal" U.S.-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which allowed the establishment of foreign concessions, extraterritoriality for foreigners, and minimal import taxes for foreign goods.

As soon as Japan agreed to open up to foreign influence, the Tokugawa shogun government initiated an active policy of assimilation of Western naval technologies. In 1855, with Dutch assistance, the Shogunate acquired its first steam warship, Kankō Maru, which was used for training, and established the Nagasaki Naval Training Center. In 1857, it acquired its first screw-driven steam warship, the Kanrin Maru, which was soon used for the Japanese Embassy to the United States (1860). In 1859, the Naval Training Center was transferred to Tsukiji in Tokyo. Naval students were sent to study in Western naval schools for several years, such as the future Admiral Takeaki Enomoto (who studied in the Netherlands from 1862–1867), starting a tradition of foreign-educated future leaders such as Admirals Heihachirō Tōgō and, later, Yamamoto Isoroku.

Japan's first domestically built modern warshipEdit

On 2 July 1863 Japan launched her first domestically built engine powered warship, the Chiyoda. Constructed by Ishikawajima of Tokyo and completed in May 1866, she was a wooden gunboat displacing 138 tons, measuring 103' in length with a 16' beam (width), and although she was equipped (rigged) as a brig the Chiyoda was powered by a single-shaft horizontal 2-cylinder trunk engine with 2 locomotive boilers. Armed with one 5.5" main gun and two smaller weapons she had a complement of 35 officers and men.

Originally built for the Shogun, Chiyoda was seized by the Japanese government in May 1868, captured by rebels later that year, then recaptured again by the Imperial Navy. Stricken from the navy roster in June 1869 Chiyoda was sold to a whaling company in 1888, serving until 1911, then scrapped shortly afterwards.

In 1865, the French naval engineer Léonce Verny was hired to build Japan's first modern naval arsenals, at Yokosuka and Nagasaki. In 1867–1868, a British Naval mission headed by Captain Tracey was sent to Japan to assist the development of the Navy and organize the naval school of Tsukiji.

Creation of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1869)Edit

From 1868, the restored Meiji Emperor continued with reforms to industrialize and militarize Japan to prevent the United States and European powers from overwhelming her. On 17 January 1868, the Ministry of Military Affairs (兵部省, also known as the Army-Navy Ministry) was established, with Iwakura Tomomi, Shimazu Tadayoshi and Prince Komatsu-no-miya Akihito as the First Secretaries.

On 26 March 1868, the first Naval Review in Japan was held in Osaka Bay, with six ships from the private domainal navies of Saga, Chōshū, Satsuma, Kurume, Kumamoto and Hiroshima participating. The total tonnage of these ships was 2,252 tons, which was far smaller than the tonnage of the single foreign vessel (from the French Navy) that also participated. The following year, in July 1869, the Imperial Japanese Navy was formally established, two months after the last combat of the Boshin War.

In July 1869, the private domanial navies were abolished, and their 11 ships were added to the seven surviving vessels of the defunct Tokugawa bakufu navy to form the core of the new Imperial Japanese Navy. In 1870, the new government drafted an ambitious plan to create a Navy with 200 ships organized into ten fleets. It was abandoned within a year due to lack of resources. In February 1872, the Ministry of Military Affairs was replaced by a separate Army Ministry (陸軍省) and Navy Ministry (海軍省). In October 1873, Katsu Kaishu became Navy Minister.

British supportEdit

During the 1870s and 1880s, the Imperial Japanese Navy remained an essentially coastal defense force, although the Meiji government continued to modernize it. Jho Sho Maru (soon renamed Ryūjō Maru) commissioned by Thomas Glover was launched at Aberdeen, Scotland on 27 March 1869. In 1870, an Imperial decree determined that Britain's Royal Navy should be the model for development, instead of the Netherlands.

From September 1870, the English Lieutenant Horse, a former gunnery instructor for the Saga fief during the Bakumatsu period, was put in charge of gunnery practice onboard the Ryūjō. In 1871, the Ministry resolved to send 16 trainees abroad for training in naval sciences (14 to Great Britain, two to the United States), among which was Heihachirō Tōgō. A 34-member British naval mission visited Japan in 1873 for two years, headed by Commander Archibald Douglas. Later, Commander L.P. Willan was hired in 1879 to train naval cadets.

First interventions abroad (Taiwan 1874, Korea 1875–76)Edit

During 1873, a plan to invade the Korean peninsula (the Seikanron proposal made by Saigo Takamori) was narrowly abandoned by decision of the central government in Tokyo. In 1874, the Taiwan expedition of 1874 was the first foray abroad of the new Imperial Japanese Navy and the Imperial Japanese Army after the Mudan Incident of 1871.

Various interventions in the Korean peninsula continued in 1875–1876, starting with the Ganghwa Island incident (江華島事件) provoked by the Japanese gunboat Unyo, leading to the dispatch of a large force of the Imperial Japanese Navy. As a result, the Treaty of Ganghwa was signed, marking the official opening of Korea to foreign trade, and Japan's first example of Western-style interventionism and adoption of "unequal treaties" tactics.

Soon, however domestic rebellions, the Saga Rebellion (1874) and especially the Satsuma Rebellion (1877), forced the government to focus on land warfare. Naval policy, expressed by the slogan Shusei Kokubō (Jp:守勢国防, lit. "Static Defense"), focused on coastal defenses, and a standing army (established with the assistance of the second French Military Mission to Japan (1872-1880), and a coastal Navy, leading to a military organization under the Rikushu Kaijū (Jp:陸主海従, Army first, Navy second) principle.

In 1878, the Japanese cruiser Seiki sailed to Europe with an entirely Japanese crew.

Further modernization (1870s)Edit

Ships such as the Fusō, Kongō and Hiei were built in British shipyards specifically for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Private construction companies such as Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries also emerged around this time.

In 1883, two large warships were ordered from British shipyards. The Naniwa and Takachiho were 3,650 ton ships. They were capable of speeds up to 18 kn (33 km/h; 21 mph) and were armed with 54 to 76 mm (2 to 3 in) deck armor and two 260 mm (10 in) Krupp guns. The naval architect Sasō Sachū designed these on the line of the Elswick class of protected cruisers but with superior specifications. An arms race was taking place with China however, who equipped herself with two 7,335 ton German-built battleships of (Ting Yüan and Chen-Yüan). Unable to confront the Chinese fleet with only two modern cruisers, Japan resorted to French assistance to build a large, modern fleet which could prevail in the upcoming conflict.

Influence of the French "Jeune École" (1880s)Edit

During the 1880s, France took the lead in influence, due to its "Jeune École" ("young school") doctrine, favoring small, fast warships, especially cruisers and torpedo boats, against bigger units. The choice of France may also have been influenced by the Minister of the Japanese Navy (海軍卿), who happened to be Enomoto Takeaki at that time (Navy Minister 1880–1885), a former ally of the French during the Boshin War. Also, Japan was uneasy with being dependent on Great Britain, at a time when Great Britain was very close to China.

The Meiji government issued its First Naval Expansion bill in 1882, requiring the construction of 48 warships, of which 22 were to be torpedo boats. The naval successes of the French Navy against China in the Sino-French War of 1883–85 seemed to validate the potential of torpedo boats, an approach which was also attractive to the limited resources of Japan. In 1885, the new Navy slogan became Kaikoku Nippon (Jp:海国日本, lit. "Maritime Japan").

In 1885, the leading French Navy engineer Louis-Emile Bertin was hired for four years to reinforce the Japanese Navy and to direct the construction of the arsenals of Kure and Sasebo. He developed the Sanseikan class of cruisers; three units featuring a single powerful main gun, the 320 mm (13 in) Canet gun. Altogether, Bertin supervised the building of more than 20 units. They helped establish the first true modern naval force of Japan. It allowed Japan to achieve mastery in the building of large units, since some of the ships were imported, and some others were built domestically at the arsenal of Yokosuka:

  • 3 cruisers: the 4,700 ton Matsushima and Itsukushima, built in France, and the Hashidate, built at Yokosuka.
  • 3 coastal warships of 4,278 tons.
  • 2 small cruisers: the Chiyoda, a small cruiser of 2,439 tons built in Britain, and the Yaeyama, 1,800 tons, built at Yokosuka.
  • 1 frigate, the 1,600 ton Takao, built at Yokosuka.
  • 1 destroyer: the 726 ton Chishima, built in France.
  • 16 torpedo boats of 54 tons each, built in France by the Companie du Creusot in 1888, and assembled in Japan.

This period also allowed Japan "to embrace the revolutionary new technologies embodied in torpedoes, torpedo-boats and mines, of which the French at the time were probably the world's best exponents". Japan acquired its first torpedoes in 1884, and established a "Torpedo Training Center" at Yokosuka in 1886.

These ships, ordered during the fiscal years 1885 and 1886, were the last major orders placed with France. The unexplained sinking of Unebi en route from France to Japan in December 1886, created embarrassment however.

British shipbuildingEdit

Japan turned again to Britain, with the order of a revolutionary torpedo boat, Kotaka (considered the first effective design of a destroyer), in 1887 and with the purchase of Yoshino, built at the Armstrong Whitworth works in Elswick, Tyne and Wear, Newcastle upon Tyne, the fastest cruiser in the world at the time of her launch in 1892. In 1889, she ordered the Clyde-built Chiyoda, which defined the type for armored cruisers.

Between 1882 and 1918, ending with the visit of the French Military Mission to Japan (1918-1919), the Imperial Japanese Navy stopped relying on foreign instructors altogether. In 1886, she manufactured her own prismatic powder, and in 1892 one of her officers invented a powerful explosive, the Shimose powder.

Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895)Edit

Main article: First Sino-Japanese War