Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office

The Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office (参謀本部, Sanbō Honbu), also called the Army General Staff, was one of the two principal agencies charged with overseeing the Imperial Japanese Army.

Postcard with view of Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office HQ, circa 1910


The Army Ministry (陸軍省, Rikugunshō) was created in April 1872, along with the Navy Ministry, to replace the Ministry of Military Affairs (Hyōbushō) of the early Meiji government. Initially, the Army Ministry was in charge of both administration and operational command of the Imperial Japanese Army however, from December 1878, the Imperial Army General Staff Office took over all operational control of the Army, leaving the Army Ministry only with administrative functions. The Imperial Army General Staff was thus responsible for the preparation of war plans; the military training and employment of combined arms military intelligence; the direction of troop maneuvers; troop deployments; and the compilation of field service military regulations, military histories, and cartography.

The Chief of the Army General Staff was the senior ranking uniformed officer in the Imperial Japanese Army and enjoyed, along with the War Minister, the Navy Minister, and the Chief of the Navy General Staff, direct access to the Emperor. In wartime, the Imperial Army General Staff formed part of the army section of the Imperial General Headquarters, an ad hoc body under the supervision of the emperor created to assist in coordinating overall command.


Following the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867 and the "restoration" of direct imperial rule, the leaders of the new Meiji government sought to reduce Japan's vulnerability to Western imperialism by systematically emulating the technological, governing, social, and military practices of the Western European great powers. Initially, under Ōmura Masujirō and his newly created Ministry of the Military Affairs (Hyōbu-shō), the Japanese military was patterned after that of France. However, the stunning victory of Prussia and the other members of the North German Confederation in the 1870/71 Franco-Prussian War convinced the Meiji oligarchs of the superiority of the Prussian military model and in February 1872, Yamagata Aritomo and Oyama Iwao proposed that the Japanese military be remodeled along Prussian lines. In December 1878, at the urging of Katsura Taro, who had formerly served as a military attaché to Prussia, the Meiji government fully adopted the Prussian/German general staff system (Großer Generalstab) which included the independence of the military from civilian organs of government, thus ensuring that the military would stay above political party maneuvering, and would be loyal directly to the emperor rather than to a Prime Minister who might attempt to usurp the emperor's authority.

The administrative and operational functions of the army were divided between two agencies. A reorganized Ministry of War served as the administrative, supply, and mobilization agency of the army, and an independent Army General Staff had responsibility for strategic planning and command functions. The Chief of the Army General Staff, with direct access to the emperor could operate independently of the civilian government. This complete independence of the military from civilian oversight was codified in the 1889 Meiji Constitution which designated that the Army and Navy were directly under the personal command of the emperor, and not under the civilian leadership or Cabinet.

Yamagata became the first chief of the Army General Staff in 1878. Thanks to Yamagata's influence, the Chief of the Army General Staff became far more powerful than the War Minister. Furthermore, a 1900 imperial ordinance (Military Ministers to be Active-Duty Officers Law (軍部大臣現役武官制, Gumbu daijin gen'eki bukan sei)) decreed that the two service ministers had to be chosen from among the generals or lieutenant generals (admirals or vice admirals) on the active duty roster. By ordering the incumbent War Minister to resign or by ordering generals to refuse an appointment as War Minister, the Chief of the General Staff could effectively force the resignation of the cabinet or forestall the formation of a new one.

Of the seventeen officers who served as Chief of the Army General Staff between 1879 and 1945, three were members of the Imperial Family (Prince Arisugawa Taruhito, Prince Komatsu Akihito, and Prince Kan'in Kotohito) and thus enjoyed great prestige by virtue of their ties to the Emperor.

The American Occupation authorities abolished the Imperial Army General Staff in September 1945.


The Organization of the Army General Staff Office underwent a number of changes during its history. Immediately before the start of the Pacific War, it was divided into four operational bureaus and a number of supporting organs:

Chief of the Army General Staff (general or Field Marshal)
Vice Chief of the Army General Staff (lieutenant general)

  • General Affairs (personnel, accounting, medical, mobilization planning)[1]
  • G-1 (Operations)
    • Strategy and Tactics Department
    • Land Survey Department (or Land Surveying Bureau)[2]
  • G-2 (Intelligence)
    • Russia Department
    • Europe and North America Department
    • China Department
    • Others Department
  • G-3 (Transport & Communications)
  • G-4 (Historical and Maps)[3]
  • G-5 (Fortifications) [from Jan 1889 – Dec 1908]
  • General Staff College

Chiefs of the General Staff

Note: The given rank for each person is the rank the person held at last, not the rank the person held at the time of their post as Chief of the Army General Staff. For example, the rank of Field Marshal existed only in 1872/73 and from 1898 onward.

No. Portrait Chief of the General StaffTook officeLeft officeTime in office
Aritomo, YamagataField Marshal
Count Yamagata Aritomo
24 December 18784 September 18823 years, 254 days
Iwao, ŌyamaField Marshal
Ōyama Iwao
4 September 188213 February 18841 year, 162 days
Aritomo, YamagataField Marshal
Marquis Yamagata Aritomo
13 February 188422 December 18851 year, 312 days
Taruhito, ArisugawaGeneral
Prince Arisugawa Taruhito
22 December 188514 May 18882 years, 144 days
Takeo, OzawaLieutenant General
Ozawa Takeo
14 May 18889 March 1889301 days
Taruhito, ArisugawaGeneral
Prince Arisugawa Taruhito
9 March 188915 January 1895 5 years, 318 days
Akihito, KomatsuField Marshal
Prince Komatsu Akihito
26 January 189520 January 18982 years, 359 days
Soroku, KawakamiGeneral
Kawakami Soroku
20 January 189811 May 1899 1 year, 111 days
Iwao, ŌyamaField Marshal
Prince Ōyama Iwao
16 May 189920 June 19045 years, 35 days
Aritomo, YamagataField Marshal
Prince Yamagata Aritomo
20 June 190420 December 19051 year, 183 days
Iwao, ŌyamaField Marshal
Prince Ōyama Iwao
20 December 190511 April 1906112 days
Gentarō, KodamaGeneral
Kodama Gentarō
11 April 190623 July 1906 103 days
Yasukata, OkuField Marshal
Baron Oku Yasukata
30 July 190620 January 19125 years, 174 days
Yoshimichi, HasegawaField Marshal
Hasegawa Yoshimichi
20 January 191217 December 19153 years, 331 days
Yūsaku, UeharaField Marshal
Uehara Yūsaku
17 December 191517 March 19237 years, 90 days
Misao, KawaiGeneral
Kawai Misao
17 March 19232 March 19262 years, 350 days
Soroku, SuzukiGeneral
Suzuki Soroku
2 March 192619 February 19303 years, 354 days
Hanzo, KanayaGeneral
Kanaya Hanzo
19 February 193023 December 19311 year, 307 days
Kotohito, Kan'inField Marshal
Prince Kan'in Kotohito
23 December 19313 October 19408 years, 285 days
Sugiyama, HajimeField Marshal
Hajime Sugiyama
3 October 194021 February 19443 years, 141 days
Tojo, HidekiGeneral
Hideki Tojo
21 February 194418 July 1944148 days
Umezu, YoshijirōGeneral
Yoshijirō Umezu
18 July 1944September 19451 year, 45 days

See also


  1. Post created 16 January 1899. Responsible for general affairs, personnel affairs, accounting, war organization and mobilization planning. Post abolished 15 October 1943 and responsibilities taken over by the General Affairs Section subordinated directly to the Vice Chief of the General Staff.
  2. "Topographic Map of Japan (medium scale) | 調べ方案内 | 国立国会図書館". Retrieved 15 September 2019.
  3. Responsible for cartography, military history matters, translation and archives. Post abolished 15 October 1943 and responsibilities transferred to the Second Bureau


  • U.S. War Department, Handbook of Japanese Military Forces, TM-E 30-480 (1945; Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1991, reprint).
  • Hayashi, Saburo; Cox, Alvin D (1959). Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War. Quantico, Virginia: The Marine Corps Association.
  • Shin'ichi Kitaoka, "Army as Bureaucracy: Japanese Militarism Revisited", Journal of Military History, special issue 57 (October 1993): 67–83.
  • Edgerton, Robert B. (1999). Warriors of the Rising Sun: A History of the Japanese Military. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3600-7.
  • Harries, Meirion (1994). Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army. Random House. ISBN 0-679-75303-6.
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