Japanese Military Ranking System
by David Aiken

Japanese Officer ranks are the same for IJA and IJN. The point of difference is in the translation. If we speak of British terms then the translation is somewhat
different than American terms. American terms are used for the following:

Chujo*=*Lt General******=Vice-Admiral
Shosho=*Major General***=Rear Admiral

Chusa*=*Lt Colonel******=Commander
Shosa*=*Major***********=Lt Commander
Shoi**=*2nd Lt**********=Ensign

It becomes a problem to compare the enlisted ranks with American enlisted ranks. There were also changes in the Japanese Naval enlisted ranks after select dates
which add to the problems.

IJA Enlisted RANKS (with approximate equivalents)
Juni***= Warrant Officer
Socho**= Sergeant Major
Gunso**= Sergeant
Gocho**= Corporal
Heicho*= Lance Corporal (leading Private)
Jotohei= Superior Private
Ittohei= Private First Class
Nitohei= Private

IJN Enlisted Ranks (with approximate equivalents):

PRE-June 1941
Joto (Koku) Heiso**=**(Air) Chief Petty Officer
Itto (Koku) Heiso**=**(Air) Petty Officer First Class
Nito (Koku) Heiso**=**(Air) PO2c
Santo (Koku) Heiso*=**(Air) PO3c
Itto (Koku) Hei****=**(Air) Airman 1c
Nito (Koku) Hei****=**(Air) Airman 2c
Santo (Koku) Hei***=**(Air) Airman 3c

POST-June 1941
Joto (Hiko) Heiso**=**(Flight) Chief Petty Officer
Itto (Hiko) Heiso**=**(Flight) PO1c
Nito (Hiko) Heiso**=**(Flight) PO2c
Santo (Hiko) Heiso*=**(Flight) PO3c
Itto (Hiko) Hei****=**Flyer 1c
Nito (Hiko) Hei****=**Flyer 2c
Santo (Hiko) Hei***=**Flyer 3c

After November 1942, the (Hiko) Heicho 'Assistant (Flight) Petty Officer' and a Joto (Hiko) Hei 'Chief Flyer' REPLACED the Santo (Hiko) Heiso 'PO3c' and the Flyer ranks given above.

The additional term "Koku" or "Hiko" determines the aeronautical nature of the aviator job. This is "understood" in aeronautical texts and thus left out of many books.

The difference between Japanese Naval ratings is similar to US Navy ratings. A Japanese Seaman First Class, for example, has crossed anchors on his rank badge, the Japanese Airman First Class has crossed aircraft, the Japanese Mechanic First Class has crossed wrenches, etc.

The range of NAVAL aviators IN COMBAT is (usually) "Flyer 1c" and above. Those lower ranks of "Flyer 2c", "Flyer 3c" are in training schools. Again usually, the top NAVAL flying officer "Hikotaicho"(on a CV) /"Kokutaicho"(in land units) is "Lt Commander"; with the "Commander" slot going to a non-flying officer (most times of aviation experience) as "Hikocho". As the war progressed, several "Hikocho" positioned men were placed in combat flight "slots" as "Hikotaicho"/"Kokutaicho".

Of interest, the ground crews for the aircraft had the same rank system except for the word "Hiko"/"Koku" was replaced by "Seibi". The Itto (Seibi) Hei also had
crossed aircraft rank badge...but the crossed aircraft were "in profile", rather than like the Itto (Hiko) Hei, which had top views of the crossed aircraft.

Return to Menu