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Onishi file photo [909]

Takijiro Onishi

Given NameTakijiro
Born2 Jun 1891
Died16 Aug 1945


ww2dbaseTakijiro Onishi had been involved with naval aviation for many years before becoming the head of the Naval Aviation Development Division in the Munitions Ministry early in WW2. He had been a controversial figure for nearly as long, too. Many considered him an impulsive and simple-minded leader, but there were also fellow officers who admired his perseverance and aggressiveness. "However right or wrong his decisions might be, he never shirked responsibility for their consequences", recalled Captain Rikihei Inoguchi. Onishi was among the architects of the attack on Pearl Harbor, though he personally sided with Admiral Osami Nagano against declaring war on the United States. In Oct 1944 he took command of the First Air Fleet in the Philippines. Among the first actions he had taken was to meet Inoguchi, Staff Officer Chuichi Yoshioka, Lieutenant Yokoyama, and Lieutenant Ibusuki. "As you know, the war situation is grave," he began. "The fate of the Empire depends on the outcome of the Sho operation, which Imperial General Headquarters has activated to hurl back the enemy assault on the Philippines." For Sho-Go to succeed, American carriers must be disabled or destroyed so the playing field would be more even. At this stage of the war, however, Japan's air power was so weak that conventional attacks would not achieve it. Inoguchi remembered when Onishi gave the difficult order:

ww2dbaseAs Admiral Onishi spoke, we sensed that he had come here for something more than just to repeat what we already knew was our mission. The question in all our minds was how we were to accomplish that mission against such overwhelming odds, and we waited for him to provide the answer.

ww2dbaseI watched the Admiral's heavily lined face as he spoke again.

ww2dbase"In my opinion, there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy carrier.... What do you think?"

ww2dbaseAs the commanders accepted their duty for each of their units, Onishi nodded and withdrew with a face showing "a look of relief coupled with a shadow of sorrow." Naturally, he was not proud of the decision that called for the sacrifice of bright Japanese youth (many were university students or graduates), but given the situation, he felt he had little choice. On 20 Oct 1944, he gave the following speech to the pilots who volunteered for the special attack duty. As Inoguchi remembered, Onishi's voice shook with emotion as he spoke the words.

ww2dbaseJapan is in grave danger. The salvation of our country is now beyond the power of the ministers of the state, the General Staff, and lowly commanders like myself. It can come only from spirited young men such as you. Thus, on behalf of your hundred million countrymen, I ask of you this sacrifice and pray for your success.

ww2dbaseYou are already gods, without earthly desires. But one thing you want to know is that your own crash-dive is not in vain. Regrettably, we will not be able to tell you the results. But I shall watch your efforts to the end and report your deeds to the Throne. You may all rest assured on this point.

ww2dbaseI ask you all to do your best.

ww2dbase"I have never heard such moving words", Inoguchi commented years later on Onishi's speech to the pilots. Soon after the Leyte Gulf battles, however, Emperor Showa expressed a different opinion. "Was it necessary to go to this extreme?" Questioned the Emperor. The only response Onishi could provide was to order his subordinates to "redouble our efforts to relieve His Majesty of this concern." He was reported extremely upset to receive this criticism from the Imperial Palace, but his faith in the special attack never faltered. He presented the following poem, written in the style of traditional Japanese calligraphy, to his special attack pilots. It was perhaps a reflection of his unfaltering faith in his service as well.

In blossom today, then scattered;
Life is so like a delicate flower.
How can one expect the fragrance to last forever?

ww2dbaseOn 16 Aug 1945, following Emperor Showa's radio address declaring his intention to surrender, Onishi committed ritual suicide in his quarters. His suicide note written the night before expressed his personal apology for sending special attack pilots to their deaths and urged the people of Japan to follow the lead of the Emperor for a peaceful occupation.

ww2dbaseI wish to express my deep appreciation to the souls of the brave special attackers. They fought and died valiantly with faith in our ultimate victory. In death I wish to atone for my part in the failure to achieve that victory and I apologize to the souls of those dead fliers and their bereaved families.

ww2dbaseI wish the young people of Japan to find a moral in my death. To be reckless is only to aid the enemy. You must abide by the spirit of the Emperor's decision with utmost perseverance. Do not forget your rightful pride in being Japanese.

ww2dbaseYou are the treasure of the nation. With all the fervor of spirit of the special attackers, strive for the welfare of Japan and for peace throughout the world.

ww2dbaseIt was recorded that while the seppuku was cleanly done, Onishi's attempt to slit his own throat was not as successful. When others found him and offered to assist, he declined. "Do not try to help me" he said, choosing to suffer fifteen hours of pain to repay the debt of sending off so many special attack pilots.

Rikihei Inoguchi and Tadashi Nakajima, The Divine Wind

Last Major Revision: Nov 2006

Takijiro Onishi Interactive Map


Tamon Yamaguchi, Shigetaro Shimada, Takijiro Onishi, and others in China, late 1930sTakijiro Onishi in flight gear, circa 1940s

Takijiro Onishi Timeline

2 Jun 1891 Takijiro Onishi was born.
21 Aug 1937 Takijiro Onishi was on board a prototype G3M bomber as an observer during a raid on Chinese positions in Jiangsu Province, China when the flight was intercepted by Hawk III fighters of Chinese 5th Pursuit Group; the bomber flying two positions behind his aircraft was shot down by Chinese pilot Lieutenant Yuan Baokang, but Onishi's aircraft was able to escape.
15 Jan 1941 The Japanese Navy formed the 11th Air Fleet with the 21st, 22nd, and 24th Air Flotillas with Vice Admiral Eikichi Katagiri in command and Rear Admiral Takijiro Onishi as his chief of staff.
7 Oct 1944 Takijiro Onishi arrived in Manila, Philippine Islands.
17 Oct 1944 Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi took command of the 1st Air Fleet based in the Philippine Islands.
19 Oct 1944 Takijiro Onishi met with the senior staff officers of Japanese 201st Kokutai at Mabalacat airfield north of Manila, Philippine Islands, and asked for volunteers to form a special attack unit.
16 Aug 1945 Takijiro Onishi committed ritual suicide in his quarters.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
1 Dec 2008 05:22:08 PM

Moving account. A commander and a leader who is willing to take the responsibility. A rare trait these days.

While the Japanese were the original perpetrators of the war against the USA, one must not forget that there were many young people on both sides that will never see their family again.

May there will never be another war such as WW2 ever again.
2. Anonymous says:
30 Dec 2010 10:19:10 PM

The Japanese were unbelievably cruel in south east asia especially to Australian and American troops and the local population. But I do really like his poem.
3. John C says:
9 Sep 2011 09:09:50 AM

A good soldier in a bad cause. His decision to launch kamikaze attacks was horrifying by our standards, and made no difference in the long run. Still, he was enough of a man to share their fate by honorably committing seppuku, and that I have to respect.
4. Anonymous says:
19 Jun 2012 01:07:06 AM

we should not judge his decisions by today's world standards. we live in peace, but war is madness and desperation. looking at his poems and words, i see a good man in him, who was just trying to give his level best for his country. that's why i have a big respect to him. also his death shown, that he practised what he preached. may the peace be with Him.
5. Anonymous says:
6 Oct 2014 10:05:11 AM

Special attacks were not less crazy or cruel than Atomic bombs over human beings...
Japan was defending its own future from the beginning till the very last! Japanese spirit is so indomitable and far from our western civilization we cannot judge it at all, except for its neverending strenght and deep respect.
6. Anonymous says:
26 Apr 2016 11:50:52 PM

To be reckless is only to aid the enemy. - Takijiro Onishi


The tactic was highly effective, but most of the "Special Attackers" were not skilled enough to use it.

The most devastating Kamikaze attacks required a tremendous level of skill and cunning.

Bunker Hill:






It's a Darwinian gamble, and the very best (and luckiest) at it - the kind of pilots who would make great trainers - all go out in a blaze of death and their experience and skill are spent.

Not a great way to win a war. As Onishi reflected in his suicide note:

"To be reckless is only to aid the enemy." - Takijiro Onishi
7. Vrinda says:
21 Aug 2017 04:35:33 PM

Japan was not defending its future. Actually read up on what they were doing. They wanted their own raw materials and didn't want to depend on the U.S. for everything. They wanted to colonize Asia. The Japanese invaded China, the Philippines, Korea, and several other countries and islands in Southeast Asia for this purpose. They murdered the locals, raped women, took allied civilians captive. They brutalized American, British, Chinese, and Filipino soldiers. Remember the Bataan Death March? None of this was to protect their future. If kamakazi attacks and invading countries for rubber is your idea of a country defending it's future, you don't know what you are talking about. The Allies didn't start the war in the Pacific by dropping an atomic bomb on civilians. The Japanese started it when they wanted to colonize other countries for their industries and the U.S. wouldn't allow it. You forgot Pearl Harbor? That came 3 1/2 years before Hiroshima. Pearl Harbor was the Japanese's decision to make and that's what led to 3 1/2 years of fighting and the atomic bomb.
8. Toby says:
26 Jul 2018 04:53:17 AM

A wise Japanese man once said, is better to accept a honorable pace than a disastrous victory. By the way the ruling family of japan never wanted war in the first place. In all Japanese history, when have the Emperor of Japan order war. Pls check and call me back. Thks
9. Stanley hesketh says:
9 Nov 2018 03:09:38 PM

Such a moveing poem , says with a few words what feels , I will always remenber it ,,,, ,,,,, Life is like ,,,,,,,

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More on Takijiro Onishi
Event(s) Participated:
» Philippines Campaign, Phase 1, the Leyte Campaign

Ship(s) Served:
» Hosho
» Kaga

Takijiro Onishi Photo Gallery
Tamon Yamaguchi, Shigetaro Shimada, Takijiro Onishi, and others in China, late 1930sTakijiro Onishi in flight gear, circa 1940s

Famous WW2 Quote
"I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."

General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944

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