Tadamichi Kuribayashi Biography

Tadamichi Kuribayashi, a Japanese military general, is remembered for his leadership during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Despite knowing the odds were against him, Kuribayashi employed unconventional tactics to inflict damage on the advanced U.S. army. Though the Japanese ultimately lost, Kuribayashi’s bravery and sacrifice are honored by his countrymen.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: General Tadamichi Kuribayashi
  • Died At Age: 53
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Yoshii Kuribayashi (m. 1923)
    • Children: Takako Kuribayashi, Taro Kuribayashi, Yoko Kuribayashi
  • Born Country: Japan
  • Military Leaders
  • Japanese Men
  • Died on: March 26, 1945
  • Place of death: Iwo Jima
  • More Facts
  • Education: Harvard University, Imperial Japanese Army Academy
  • Awards: Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun

Childhood & Early Life

Tadamichi Kuribayashi was born on July 7, 1891, in the Hanishina District of Nagano, Japan, into a lower-class family. He was the fifth generation of a family that had worked for six emperors as “samurai.” His family had lived there since the 15th century.

According to Vice Admiral Kaneko, who attended ‘Nagano High School’ with Kuribayashi, while in school, he once organized a strike against the authorities. He loved writing poetry and speech.

In 1911, he graduated from ‘Nagano High School.’ He initially wished to be a journalist but later joined the ‘Imperial Japanese Army Academy.’ In 1914, he graduated from the 26th Class of the ‘Army Academy,’ specializing in cavalry. In 1918, he joined the army’s ‘Cavalry School.’ He graduated from the 35th class of the ‘Army War College’ in 1923. He was awarded a military sabre by the Taisho Emperor.

Early Military Career

In 1928, Kuribayashi was assigned as deputy military attaché to Washington, D.C. He traveled across the U.S. for the next 2 years. He also studied at ‘Harvard University.’ Following his return to Tokyo, Kuribayashi was promoted to the position of major and was then sent to Canada as the first Japanese military attaché to the country. In 1933, he was promoted to the position of lieutenant colonel. From 1933 to 1937, he served the ‘Imperial Japanese Army General Staff’ in Tokyo. During that time, he wrote the lyrics for quite a few war songs. Kuribayashi was promoted to the post of major general in 1940.

The Pacific War and The Battle of Iwo Jima

At the beginning of the Pacific War, he was reluctant to provoke the U.S. into a war. In December 1941, he was made the chief of staff of the ‘Japanese 23rd Army,’ which had Takashi Sakai as the commander. He was given the charge to invade Hong Kong. In 1943, he was promoted to the post of lieutenant general. He was then made the commander of the ‘2nd Imperial Guards Division.’ He was made the commander of the ‘IJA 109th Division’ on May 27, 1944. On June 8 that year, he was ordered by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo to defend the island of Iwo Jima, which was part of the Bonin Islands chain. It is said he was personally chosen by Emperor Hirohito “Showa” for the mission. Kuribayashi commanded a 21,000-strong army, without the support of the air force or the navy, against the U.S. force of 100,000. Kuribayashi knew that he would not be able to defend Iwo Jima against the sophisticated U.S. military forces. However, he knew that the loss of Iwo Jima would make Japan accessible to U.S. strategic bombers.

He thus decided to delay the fall of Iwo Jima and cause as much damage as possible to the American army, to make them reconsider their plan of invading the island. He decided to fight the battle from underground. The Japanese launched their attack from the countless tunnels and caves on the island. Kuribayashi is also said to have told his army that each Japanese soldier should kill at least 10 enemy soldiers before dying. His army proceeded with the “silent” charge, which puzzled the U.S. army, who were expecting the traditional loud “banzai” charge, as they had encountered on the island of Saipan. The US declared the fall of Iwo on March 26, 1945. More than 6,800 U.S. Marines were killed and over 19,000 were wounded. Almost all Japanese soldiers who fought the battle died. About 1,083 soldiers surrendered. Kuribayashi, too, died in the end. Kuribayashi had written several letters to his family before the battle began. They chronicled the emotions of the Japanese soldiers in the face of an inevitable defeat.

Family, Personal Life, & Death

On December 8, 1923 (the year he graduated from the ‘Army War College’), Kuribayashi married Yoshii. They had two daughters, Yoko and Takako, and a son, Taro. Kuribayashi’s death continues to be a mystery. On the evening of March 23, 1945, Kuribayashi radioed his last message to Major Tomitara Hori. Major Hori later tried communicating with him for 3 days but failed. His soldiers offered contradictory reports. His remains, too, were not found. Some believe he was killed in action on March 26, 1945, while launching the last assault of the Battle of Iwo Jima. One reason why his body could not be identified was that during the final battle, he had reportedly taken off his rank badge, to fight as a common soldier. Some reports even suggest he had committed suicide (“seppuku”) at his headquarters located in the Gorge. At the time of his death, he was around 53, while his wife was about 40. He has a memorial at the ‘Yasukuni Shrine’ in Tokyo.


He had received several honors and awards, such as the ‘Order of the Rising Sun with Gold and Silver Star’ (2nd class), the ‘Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon (3rd class),’ the ‘Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure,’ and the ‘Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun’ (posthumous, in 1967).


Actor Ken Watanabe played Kuribayashi in the December 2006-released film ‘Letters from Iwo Jima.’ It was directed by Clint Eastwood and showcased the Battle of Iwo Jima mainly from the Japanese perspective. Eastwood had also directed October 2006-released ‘Flags of Our Fathers,’ which narrated the tale of the Battle of Iwo Jima from the American perspective. ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ was initially named ‘Lamps Before the Wind,’ which was taken from a sentence in a letter written by Kuribayashi to his son, Taro. The sentence stated: “The life of your father is just like a lamp before the wind.”

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