Ōyama Iwao

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Ōyama Iwao
大山 巌
Iwao Oyama 2 (cropped).jpg
Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
In office
23 April 1915 – 10 December 1916
Preceded byPrince Fushimi Sadanaru
Succeeded byMatsukata Masayoshi
1st & 3rd Minister of War of the
Japanese Empire
In office
22 December 1885 – 17 May 1891
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byTakashima Tomonosuke
In office
8 August 1892 – 20 September 1896
Preceded byTakashima Tomonosuke
Succeeded byTakashima Tomonosuke
Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office
In office
4 September 1882 – 13 February 1884
Preceded byYamagata Aritomo
Succeeded byYamagata Aritomo
In office
16 May 1889 – 20 June 1904
Preceded byKawakami Soroku
Succeeded byYamagata Aritomo
In office
20 December 1905 – 11 April 1906
Preceded byYamagata Aritomo
Succeeded byKodama Gentarō
Personal details
Born(1842-11-12)12 November 1842
Kagoshima, Satsuma Domain
(now Kagoshima, Japan)
Died10 December 1916(1916-12-10) (aged 74)
Tokyo, Japan
Military service
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Branch/service Imperial Japanese Army
Years of service1871–1914
Rank元帥徽章.svg Field Marshal

Prince Ōyama Iwao, OM, GCCT (大山 巌, 12 November 1842 – 10 December 1916) was a Japanese field marshal, and one of the founders of the Imperial Japanese Army.


Birthplace in Kagoshima

Early life[edit]

Ōyama was born in Kagoshima to a samurai family of the Satsuma Domain. as a younger paternal cousin to Saigo Takamori.[1] A protégé of Ōkubo Toshimichi, he worked to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate and thus played a major role in the Meiji Restoration. He served as the commander of the Detached First Brigade during the Boshin War. At the Battle of Aizu, Ōyama was the commander of the Satchōdo's field artillery positions on Mount Oda. During the course of the siege, he was wounded by an Aizu guerilla force under Sagawa Kanbei.

Military career[edit]

Field Marshal Ōyama during the Russo-Japanese War

In 1870, Ōyama was sent overseas to the École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr in France (August 1870 – March 1871)[1] to study and was appointed the official Japanese military observer to the Franco-Prussian War. He also spent three years (July 1871 – October 1874)[1] in Geneva studying foreign languages, and became fluent in Russian. In 1872, he was sent by the Japanese government to the United States to study at Temple Hill Academy in Geneseo, New York.[2] Ōyama Iwao is the first recorded Japanese customer for Louis Vuitton, having purchased some luggage during his stay in France. After promotion to major general, he went to France again for further study, together with Kawakami Sōroku.[3] On his return home, he helped establish the fledgling Imperial Japanese Army, which was soon employed in suppressing the Satsuma Rebellion,[1] although Ōyama and his elder brother were cousins of Saigō Takamori.

In the First Sino-Japanese War, Ōyama was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Second Army,[1] which after landing on Liaotung Peninsula, carried Port Arthur by storm, and subsequently crossed to Shantung, where it captured the fortress of Weihaiwei. After the war, Ōyama was disparaged by American reporter Trumbull White for failing to restrain his troops during the Port Arthur Massacre.[4]

For his services Ōyama received the title of marquis under the kazoku peerage system, and, three years later in January 1898,[1] he became a field-marshal. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 he was appointed the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese armies in Manchuria. As Supreme Commander of the Japanese Manchurian Army, Ōyama had complete authority over all Japanese land operations during the war, and personally directed the tactics of Japanese forces in all major battles, winning the Battle of Liaoyang and repulsing Russian counter-attacks at the Battle of Shaho and the Battle of Sandepu. He was replaced by General Kodama Gentarō briefly during early 1905 due to illness, but recovered to direct Japanese forces in the final Battle of Mukden.[5]

After Japan's victory, Emperor Meiji elevated him in September 1907[1] to the rank of prince (公爵, kōshaku),[6] the highest rank of the Empire of Japan.

Political career and death[edit]

As the War Minister in several cabinets and as the Chief of the Army General Staff, Ōyama upheld the autocratic power of the oligarchs (genrō) against democratic encroachments. However, unlike Yamagata Aritomo, Ōyama was reserved and tended to shun politics. From 1914 to his death he served as the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal (内大臣, naidaijin).[1]

In 1906, Ōyama was awarded the Order of Merit by King Edward VII. His Japanese decorations included Order of the Golden Kite (1st class) and Order of the Chrysanthemum.

Ōyama died at the age of seventy five in 1916. Ōyama was a large man, and enjoyed large meals. His weight exceeded 210 pounds (95 kg), and may have contributed to his death, possibly arising from diabetes.

Personal life[edit]

Ōyama Sutematsu at Vassar


Ōyama's first wife Sawa died of puerperal disorder. Second wife Sutematsu (a survivor of the Battle of Aizu, a sister of former Aizu retainers Yamakawa Hiroshi and Yamakawa Kenjirō) was one of the first female students sent to the United States as part of the Iwakura Mission in the early 1870s. She spent eleven years there, graduating from Vassar College in 1882.[7] In the next year she accepted her former enemy's proposal.

Ōyama was Emperor Meiji's first candidate for rearing future emperor Hirohito as a sort of surrogate father in 1901, in accordance with royal customs, but Ōyama declined and the role instead went to Count Kawamura Sumiyoshi.[8]

Ōyama's first son Takashi, a navy cadet, died in the accidental explosion and sinking of the cruiser Matsushima in 1908. Second son Kashiwa (ja) became an archaeologist after he retired from army.


Ōyama, who spoke and wrote several European languages fluently, also liked European-style architecture. During his tenure as the War Minister, he built a large house in Tokyo modelled after a German castle.

Although he was very pleased with the design, his wife Sutematsu did not like it at all, and insisted that the children's room be remodelled in Japanese style, so that they would not forget their Japanese heritage.[9] The house was destroyed by the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923 or possibly by American air raids during World War II[citation needed].


In 1869, the British military band instructor John William Fenton, who was then working in Yokohama as an o-yatoi gaikokujin, told the members of Japan's military band about the British national anthem "God Save the King" and emphasised the necessity of a similar national anthem for Japan. The band members requested artillery Captain Ōyama Iwao, who was well versed in Japanese and Chinese literature, to select appropriate words and Ōyama selected the poem which came to be used in Japan's national anthem kimigayo.


Statue of General Ōyama Iwao at Kudanzaka in Tokyo.

From the Japanese Wikipedia


  • JPN Kyokujitsu-sho blank BAR.svg Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (1 November 1882; Second Class: 9 November 1877)
  • Count (7 July 1884)
  • Imperial Constitution Promulgation Medal (Japan).png Imperial Japanese Constitution Promulgation Commemorative Medal (25 November 1889)
  • JPN Toka-sho BAR.svg Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers (5 August 1895)
  • Marquess (5 August 1895)
  • 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War Medal.png 1894–95 Sino-Japanese War Medal (18 November 1895)
  • 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War Medal (Japan).png 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War Medal (1 April 1906)
  • JPN Kinshi-kunsho blank BAR.svg Order of the Golden Kite, First Class (1 April 1906; Second Class: 5 August 1895)
  • JPN Daikun'i kikkasho BAR.svg Collar of the Order of the Chrysanthemum (1 April 1906; Grand Cordon: 3 June 1902)
  • Prince (21 September 1907)
  • Taisho Enthronement Commemorative Medal (Japan).png Imperial Accession Commemorative Medal (10 November 1915)
  • Silver gift cup set (1 April 1916)
  • First World War Medal (Japan).png First World War Medal (1 April 1916)

Court order of precedence[edit]

  • Senior sixth rank (May 1871)
  • Senior fifth rank (24 February 1875)
  • Fourth rank (16 December 1879)
  • Senior fourth rank (24 May 1880)
  • Third rank (27 December 1884)
  • Second rank (19 October 1886)
  • Senior second rank (20 December 1895)
  • Junior First Rank (10 December 1916; posthumous)





See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "大山巌関係文書(寄託) | 憲政資料室の所蔵資料 | 国立国会図書館" [Documents related to Iwao Oyama (Deposited)]. The National Archives of Japan, National Diet Library. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  2. ^ Oyama, S. Personal letter. 10 July 1913. Livingston County Historian's Office, Mt. Morris, New York.
  3. ^ Dupuy, Encyclopedia of Military Biography
  4. ^ Trumbull White (1895). The War in the East. J. H. Moore and Company. pp. 597–606. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  5. ^ Kowner, Rotem (2006). Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5.page 276
  6. ^ National Diet Library, Portraits of Modern Historical Figures
  7. ^ "Prince Iwao Oyama Is Dead in Japan", The New York Times, 11 December 1916.
  8. ^ Bix, Herbert P. (2001). Hirohito and the making of modern Japan (1st Perennial ed.). New York: Perennial. p. 522. ISBN 978-0060931308.
  9. ^ Adachi, The Wife of Japan's great General Oyama
  10. ^ The London Gazette, 15 May 1906
  11. ^ "Oyama, Lake Country, Okanagan Valley, BC". vancouverisland.com. 1998. Archived from the original on 27 April 2014. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  12. ^ Barry, B. (October 2003) People Places: Contemporary Saskatchewan Place Names, 1-894022-92-0
  13. ^ "大山氏" Ōyama-shi [Oyama clan]. Reichsarchiv (in Japanese). Retrieved 5 January 2019.


Further reading[edit]

  • Gensui koshaku Oyama Iwao ("元帥公爵大山巌〔本編〕) ", with separate volume of Appendix. Oyama gensuiden kankokai (ed), 1935. Digital. Available only at the NDL and partner libraries.
    • Biography Editors of Field Marshal Oyama (大山元帥伝刊行会) (November 2012). 元帥公爵大山巌 [Biography of Field Marshal Prince Iwao Oyama]. ndlonline.ndl.go.jp (in Japanese) (reprint ed.). Matsuno Bookseller (マツノ書店). JPNO 22185550. Retrieved 25 March 2020. {{cite book}}: |author= has generic name (help) Based on 1940 edition.
  • Gensui koshaku Oyama Iwao Nempu ("元帥公爵大山巌 年譜"), by another group Oyama gensuiden kankojo (ed), 1940. Available only at the NDL and partner libraries. **Biography Editors of Field Marshal Oyama (大山元帥伝刊行会) (November 2012). 元帥公爵大山巌年譜 [Timeline, Biography of Field Marshal Prince Iwao Oyama]. ndlonline.ndl.go.jp (in Japanese) (reprint ed.). Matsuno Bookseller (マツノ書店). JPNO 22185551. Retrieved 25 March 2020. {{cite book}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  • Chounan, Masayoshi; 長南政義 (December 2007). "Oyama Iwao". In 伊藤隆; 季武嘉也 (eds.). 近現代日本人物史料情報辞典 [Modern Japanese Historical Information Dictionary]. ndlonline.ndl.go.jp (in Japanese). Yoshikawa Kobunkan. JPNO 21340667. Retrieved 25 March 2020.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Minister of War
Dec 1885 – May 1891
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of War
Aug 1892 – Sept 1896
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
Apr 1915 – Dec 1916
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by
post created
Commander, Second Army
September 1897 - May 1895
Succeeded by
Preceded by
post created
Commander-in-Chief, Japanese Manchurian Army
June 1904 -October 1905
Succeeded by
post abolished
Preceded by Chief of Imperial Japanese Army General Staff
Sept 1882 – Feb 1884
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief of Imperial Japanese Army General Staff
Jan 1888 – May 1899
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief of Imperial Japanese Army General Staff
Dec 1905 – Apr 1906
Succeeded by