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Japanese Army Ranks in World War II

There were so many ranks in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. For some people, what each rank means and the order in which they progress can be confusing. In this video, we look at a simple guide to World War II Japanese army ranks in order.

Enlisted Ranks

Second Class Private

Second Class PrivateThis was the first and lowest rank in the Japanese Army. It’s where all new enlisted recruits would begin their careers in the army. Unlike many other armed forces, though, this rank does not hold an insignia.

First Class Private

First Class PrivateProgression to this rank was time dependent, and many would reach this within their first year in the army. The majority of enlisted men who held this rank throughout the war would see combat.

Superior Private

Superior PrivateA superior private was expected to mentor and show those junior to him the expectations a junior enlisted man within the Japanese Army had placed on them.

Lance Corporal

Lance CorporalAt this rank, a soldier would likely be second in command of a squad or be placed in charge of a smaller group of soldiers for minor operations.


CorporalA corporal in the Japanese army could be a squad leader in some circumstances, but the majority of the time would likely be the second in command. Their experience within the army has grown to a stage where their leadership skills are needed, especially in combat situations.


SergeantAt this level, a sergeant will be in charge of a squad and is often well respected amongst the enlisted men due to their degree of experience within the army.

Sergeant Major

Sergeant MajorThe Sergeant Major was a senior NCO rank who acted in a similar role to that of a First Sergeant. They would often be the go-between for the officers and the enlisted men. They commanded respect from the troops and were expected to lead by example in all situations.

Officer Ranks

Warrant Officer

Warrant OfficerA warrant officer would be performing command and administrative duties at the platoon level. They were expected to be across all the requirements and needs for the platoon. They could also specialize in certain areas in order to train those junior to them.

Second Lieutenant

Second LieutenantA second lieutenant could be placed in charge of a platoon or be the second in command in some cases. They are the junior-most officer rank and need time to gain experience in order to progress through the ranks further.

First Lieutenant

First LieutenantA first lieutenant was in charge of a platoon for the majority of the time, but could also serve as the second in command to a company. Since their promotion to this rank, their experience within the army has increased and they will continue to learn from the senior NCOs and those senior to them.


CaptainA captain within the Japanese army would usually be a company commander. They have shown good leadership and problem-solving skills to attain this rank and are likely to progress further as they meet their goals set by those above them.


MajorAt this level, the rank of major would be expected to take command of a battalion. As with the previous ranks, they’ve shown they have what it takes to facilitate the training and progression of larger groups of soldiers.

Lieutenant Colonel

Lieutenant ColonelA Lieutenant Colonel will typically be the second in command of a regiment. They have likely completed advanced training in areas of management and could be tasked by their superiors to ensure the regiment could meet certain goals.


ColonelAt this rank, a Colonel will be in command of a regiment. They are the senior-most field officer rank and were expected to make crucial decisions which could affect thousands of soldiers.

General Ranks

Major General

Major GeneralA major general was the lowest of the general ranks. Considered a one-star rank, they would take command of a Brigade or Infantry Group.

Lieutenant General

Lieutenant GeneralConsidered a 2-star general rank, a Lieutenant General would fill the role of Division Commander and often be involved in high-level decisions at the government level.


GeneralThis was the senior-most rank in the Japanese Army during World War II. Generals would take command of whole armies and were considered as a three-star rank.

Honorary Ranks

Field Marshall

Field MarshallThis was an honorary rank granted to a general by the Emperor of Japan. This is somewhat similar to that of a five-star general in the US Army.

Grand Marshal

Grand MarshalThe grand marshal was a ceremonial rank which was held by the Emperor of Japan during World War II. This was Emperor Hirohito. He could therefore have the final say in all matters regarding the Japanese Imperial Army.


What did you think about the Imperial Japanese Army ranks of World War II? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section down below. As always, guys, thanks for watching. Be sure to subscribe to hit that subscribe button if you want to expand your knowledge and join the growing premiere history community.

George N.