Oyama Iwao (大山巌)

Iwao OYAMA (November 12, 1842 - December 10, 1916) was a Japanese samurai (warrior), statesman, Genro (elder statesman), and military man. His assumed name (common name) was Yasuke. His pseudonym was Kakuzan and Zuigan. His second name was Seikai. He was the Marshal (Japan), General of the Army, Junior First Rank with the Medal of Orders of the Chrysanthemum and Golden Pheasant, and Duke. He was a military man who was active from the founding period of the Imperial Japanese Army to the Japanese-Russo War.


He was born in 1842 as the second son of Hikohachi Tsunamasa OYAMA, a feudal retainer of the Satsuma clan, on the Kakimotoderadori Street in Kajiyacho Town (Shimokajiyacho Hogiri) near Kagoshima-jo Castle in Satsuma Province (His childhood name was Iwajiro.)
He belonged to the radical extremists influenced by Shinshichi ARIMA, and others in the same domain, but they were suppressed by the party advocating the integration of the imperial court and the shogunate in the Teradaya Incident of 1862, and thereby Oyama was suspended under house arrest in Satsuma.

In the Anglo-Satsuma War, he was shocked by the military forces of the powerful countries in Western Europe and started to learn about gunnery in the school of Hidetatsu EGAWA, a shogun's retainer. He developed a cannon called 'Yasuke cannon' and moved from place to place to fight, such as Toba Fushimi and Aizu, leading a new-style musket unit in the Boshin War. He strove for the anti-shogunate movement.

In 1869 after the Meiji Restoration, he visited Europe to inspect the Franco-Prussian War. He studied in Geneva from 1870 to 1873.

He rose smoothly in the army and suppressed a series of rebellions of the warrior class including the Seinan War. He was appointed to a commander of the second string in the Japanese-Sino War as the Army General (Japanese Army), and a commander in chief of the Manchuria troops in the Japanese-Russo War as the Army Marshal (Japanese Army). He greatly contributed to Japan's victory in both wars. It is said that 'Oyama on the ground and Togo in the sea,' in which the latter indicated Heihachiro TOGO who was also from the Satsuma clan.

In the early Meiji period, he won the internal conflict (the army controversy) with the so-called 'four-generals party' of Tateki TANI, Sukenori SOGA, Koyata TORIO, and Goro MIURA, as the Lord of Army to prevent the army from splitting, and after that he served as the Minister of Army for a long time from the middle of the Meiji period to the Taisho period, and also held various posts such as the Chief of the General Staff and prewar Home Minister (Japan). He was highly esteemed as the elder statesman and became a person of great influence in the army as well as Aritomo YAMAGATA, but lacked in political ambitions and a desire for power, and thereby kept declining to be a candidate of the prime minister together with Tsugumichi SAIGO.

He owned villas in Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, and in Nasushiobara City, Tochigi Prefecture; he especially loved Nasu and even owned a farm there.

In 1916, he accompanied the Emperor Taisho as the Minister of the Interior's Office and on the way back from watching the army's special large-scaled maneuver conducted in Fukuoka Prefecture, he fell ill due to stomach disorder and simultaneously cholecystitis occurred. On December 10, he died during medical treatment while still in the position of the Minister of Interior's Office. He was 75 years old. At his death bed, Aritomo YAMAGATA, Kageaki KAWAMURA, Masatake TERAUCHI, Tamemoto KUROKI and others gathered, and it is said that it was as if the marshals (Japan) moved into the residence of the Oyama family. A state funeral was held for him on December 17. He was buried in Nasu which he loved.

Family members

His father: Tsunamasa OYAMA (the second son of Takamitsu SAIGO, a feudal retainer of the Satsuma clan, adopted by Tsunatake OYAMA, a feudal retainer of the Satsuma clan, an expert of gunnery)

His mother: Kyoko (a daughter of Tsunatake OYAMA)
His grandfathers: Takamitsu SAIGO and Tsunatake OYAMA (the second son of Tsunamichi OYAMA, a lord chamberlain, also a supply officer-cum-lord chamberlain of the lord residence in Edo Shiba, and died in 1834 due to illness)
His first wife: Sawa (a daughter of Count Tomozane YOSHII, a warrior of the Satsuma clan)
His second wife: Sutematsu YAMAKAWA (a daughter of Shigekata YAMAKAWA, a warrior of the Aizu clan)
One of the female students dispatched by the new government to study in the United States of America accompanying the Iwakura Mission
His first son: Ko (killed by an accident in 1908)
His second son: Kashiwa OYAMA, an archaeologist
Azusa OYAMA, one of Kashiwa's sons, was a historian and Katsura OYAMA, the other son, was a scholar.

His grandson: Akira WATANABE
A former member of the House of Peers and known as 'the last fellow student of the Emperor Showa'
His great-granddaughter: Akiko KUNO
An executive director of the Japan America Society and author of "Stematz OYAMA, the Lady in Rokumeikan" (the place for social interaction in the Meiji era), published by Chuko bunko
His cousins: the brothers of Takamori SAIGO and Tsugumichi SAIGO
His brothers: Narumi OYAMA and Seinosuke OYAMA


In the Seinan War, Iwao fought against Takamori SAIGO, his relative, as a commander of the government army, and never returned to Kagoshima because this was his concern throughout his life. However, he was close to the Saigo family throughout his life, and especially with Tsugumichi SAIGO, they were the sworn allies more than the relatives.

Iwao was remarkably intelligent and outstanding until his adolescence, but tried to acquire the limitless style with himself after the age of maturity. It is considered that this was the traditional style of the supreme commander in Satsuma.
An anecdote is left that in the Battle of Saka during the Japanese-Russo War: an atmosphere of the General Headquarters became frantic after experiencing a hard battle, Oyama woke up from a nap, instantly brightened up the air in the room and recovered everyone's composure by jokingly saying that 'Mr. Gentaro KOJIMA, is there a battle anywhere today?'
However, his intelligence and outstanding character remained even during the Japanese-Russo War and an official recorded is left that, he presided over the staff officer meetings, actively asked reports, and conducted the commands when Kojima took a trip to Lushun for encouraging the third troop of the Japanese Army.

In December 7, 1905, Iwao triumphantly returned to his residence at Aoyama (Harajuku) in Tokyo at last, and Kashiwa, his son, asked him 'what was the most difficult thing during the war as the commander in chief?'; he replied that 'I had to pretend not knowing but I knew, to make young soldiers not worry.'
Perhaps it was one way to express his point of view on the matter whether to be 'limitless' or 'superb.'

While studying in Geneva, Iwao met Lev MECHNIKOV, a Russian revolutionist. Later Mechnikov took a post of a teacher in 'Tokyo School of Foreign Languages' (old system), and it is said that this was under Oyama's influence. Two of the Mechnikov's books were translated by Masaji WATANABE. They are "Meiji Restoration in Memories, Notes of a Russian Revolutionist" (Iwanami bunko) and "Meiji Restoration seen by an Exiled Russian" (Kodansha Academic Paperback). Incidentally, Ilya MECHNIKOV, a medical scientist, was Lev's younger brother.

Iwao's family crest was 'corner-standing four black squares with one small white circle in the center of each square entirely encircled by a black circle,' typical for the Oyama clan of the Sasaki-Genji (Minamoto clan).

Takamori SAIGO, his male cousin, was also stout and overweight, but Oyama was also fairly big himself. He was called 'Gama' (toad), a nickname taken from his body shape and the impression of his face. In addition, he was extremely Western influenced, and also an epicure. According to a memory of his son, Kashiwa OYAMA, Iwao gobbled up a bowl of rice topped with a more than 40 cm of kabayaki (grilled and seasoned with a slightly thick, slightly sweet sauce) eel, and favored beefsteaks and red wine imported from France, thus Iwao's weight was more than 95 kg when he was the heaviest. As a result, he had been suffered from diabetes in his later years.
Iti is said that Sutematsu, his wife, wrote a letter to her friend complaining, 'lately my husband is becoming fatter and fatter, and I am becoming thinner and thinner.'
However, according to 'Marshal Duke Iwao OYAMA,' he became obese in his later years, and at first he was rather thin and good at the art of the spearmanship.

Western culture was the object of Oyama's adoration and he also had a deep knowledge about it. The invitation card for a reception banquet of his second marriage with Sutematsu amazed the people, because it was written in French. After leaving the official residence for the Minister of Army, he built his own house in the motif of old castles in Germany. However, the taste of the appearance was less than flattering and even Sutematsu's old friend (American) severely criticized it when visiting the place. Although Iwao was satisfied with this new house, Sutematsu, his wife, worried about their children's future from own experience, thinking that 'a life based on the excessive Western-style may prevent them from being used to Japan's customs' and therefore, she arranged children's rooms in Japanese-style. This building was collapsed by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Iwao's signature remains in a Vuitton's client list as 'the first Japanese clients of Louis Vuitton' together with Shojiro GOTO, Kinmochi SAIONJI, and others.

It has been told that he was listening to 'Snowy military advance' composed by Kenshi NAGAI after he was confined to bed until the final stage of death. It has been told that he deeply loved this tune.

Oyama died on the day after the death of Soseki NATSUME. Many newspapers dedicated a large space in mourning the great literary figure's death, and therefore the news of Oyama's death on the following day was so simple compared to that of other elder statesmen, but rather impressed differences from him and the others newly. In the state funeral held on December 17, the Major General Yahontov, a military officer attached to the Russian Embassy, visited the Oyama family in person, apart from the attending Russian ambassador in Japan, to deliver a condolence speech 'representing the entire Russian army,' and placed an exceptionally predominant wreath on the altar by himself. It was only two of them, Oyama and then Heihachiro TOGO, to whom such courteous condolences were expressed by the military commander of a former enemy.

A lot of articles left by Oyama are kept by the Utsunomiya Base of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, and displayed in the Museum.

The Oyama family owned a huge private residence in Aoyama (Harajuku), Tokyo, but it was lost by fire due to the air raid in the Pacific War. It is said that the United States Forces targeted the residence of Oyama and others. Moreover, although the size has been reduced, his descendants still live in that place.

The four volumes of "Iwao OYAMA" written by Noboru KOJIMA (published by Bungeishunju Ltd., later Bunshun Bunko) is a representative biography, but now is out of stock.

[Original Japanese]