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Lieutenant General was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army, best known for his role as overall commander of the Japanesemarker garrison during most of the Battle of Iwo Jimamarker in World War II.

His name became well-known outside of Japan in the 2006 movie Letters from Iwo Jima, in which he was portrayed by actor Ken Watanabe.


Life before the war

Kuribayashi was born into a low class samurai family in Hanishina District Nagano prefecturemarker. Although he had originally aspired to be a journalist, Kuribayashi was persuaded by his high school teachers to join the Imperial Japanese Army.

Kuribayashi graduated from Nagano High School in 1911 and from the 26th class of Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1914, where he had specialized in cavalry, and he continued on to the Army's Cavalry School in 1918. In 1923 he graduated from the 35th class of the Army War College with splendid marks and received a military sabre from the Taisho Emperor. Kuribayashi married Yoshii Kuribayashi (1904-fl 2003) on December 8 of that year. Together they had two daughters and a son (Taro, Yoko and Takako).

Kuribayashi was designated as deputy military attaché to Washington DCmarker in 1928. For two years Kuribayashi traveled across the United Statesmarker, conducting extensive military and industrial research. For a short time he studied at Harvard Universitymarker. He accurately evaluated the overwhelming industrial capacity of the United States. In one of his letters to his family he said, "It is desperate to enter the war with the USA". After returning to Tokyo he was promoted to the rank of major and appointed as the first Japanese military attaché to Canadamarker in 1931. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1933.

During his services in Imperial Japanese Army General Staff in Tokyo from 1933-1937 he wrote lyrics for several martial songs. In 1940 Kuribayashi was promoted to major general.

Pacific War

In December 1941, Kuribayashi was ordered into the field as the Chief of Staff of the Japanese 23rd Army commanded by Takashi Sakai, in the Invasion of Hong Kong. In 1943, he was promoted to lieutenant general, and reassigned to be commander of the 2nd Imperial Guards Division, which was primarily a reserve and training division. On 27 May 1944, he became commander of the IJA 109th Division. Just two weeks later, on 8 June, he received orders signed by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo to defend the strategically located island of Iwo Jimamarker in the Bonin Islandsmarker chain. He was accorded the honor of a personal audience with Emperor Hirohito on the eve of his departure.

Kuribayashi led a force of 22,000 men without air or naval support against the United Statesmarker invasion force of 110,000. In the ensuing battle almost all Japanese soldiers fought to the death. Only 1,083 surrendered and only 216 were captured. Kuribayashi died near the end of the battle and has since been recognized by the Japanese government for his dedication in commanding the staunch defense of the island against overwhelming odds, with the certain knowledge that he and his men would perish in the inevitable defeat.

Kuribayashi sent many letters home to his family prior to the engagement. The letters remain a valuable chronicle of the battle on Iwo Jima as information about what the Japanese soldiers were feeling and thinking at the time.

His wife Yoshii was only about 40 when Kuribayashi died on Iwo Jima at the age of 53, and she subsequently worked hard to bring up their children without a father. It was reported that she once saw Kuribayashi returning home in a dream. Many years later, she would visit Iwo Jima to commemorate her fallen husband.

Battle of Iwo Jima

Commander of Iwo Jima
Kuribayashi recognized that, without possibility of resupply, reinforcement, naval support, or air support, he would not be able to hold Iwo Jima against the overwhelmingly superior military forces of the United States. But loss of Iwo Jima would place all of Japan within range of American strategic bombers, so Kuribayashi determined to make the fall of Iwo Jima as late as possible and planned a campaign of attrition, by which he hoped to inflict such severe losses on the Americans that they would reconsider the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland.

Kuribayashi had studied other American assaults carefully and decided not to contest seriously the Allied beach landings. Instead, defense of Iwo Jima would be fought almost entirely from underground.

The Japanese honeycombed the island with more than 18 kilometers (11 miles) of tunnels, 5,000 caves, and pillboxes. Kuribayashi also instructed his troops that each man should kill ten of the enemy before dying, and he strictly forbade the banzai charge, which he viewed as ineffective. His men proceeded with the "silent" charge, which confused the Americans, who were accustomed to the traditional loud "banzai" charge, as they faced on Saipan.

Kuribayashi addressed his soldiers:

Kuribayashi's death remains a mystery. His men provided contradictory reports and his remains could not be traced. He was most likely killed in action upon leading the final assault. The general's body could not be identified afterwards for he had taken off his rank badge to fight as a regular soldier. Less credible theories of his death include seppuku.

The US declared Iwo Jima secure on March 26, 1945, after suffering 23,570 U.S. Marines casualties. Only 1,083 of the 22,786 Japanese defenders survived to be captured.

Rank Promotions

Portrayal in film

Kuribayashi is portrayed by actor Ken Watanabe in Letters from Iwo Jima, a film directed by Clint Eastwood about the Battle of Iwo Jima largely from the Japanese perspective. The film was released in December 2006. Eastwood also directed a precursor, Flags of Our Fathers, which told the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima largely from the American perspective. It was released in October 2006.

A tentative title for Letters from Iwo Jima was Lamps Before the Wind, taken from a line in a letter from Kuribayashi to his son, Taro: "The life of your father is just like a lamp before the wind."


External links


  1. Ammenthorp, The Generals of World War II
  2. James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers, page 148

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