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Sailor Diplomat

Sailor Diplomat

Nomura Kichisaburō and the Japanese-American War

Peter Mauch

ISBN 9780674055995

Publication date: 07/11/2011

As Japan’s pre–Pearl Harbor ambassador to the United States, Admiral Nomura Kichisaburō (1877–1964) played a significant role in a tense and turbulent period in Japanese–U.S. relations. Scholars tend to view his actions and missteps as ambassador as representing the failure of diplomacy to avert the outbreak of hostilities between the two paramount Pacific powers.

This extensively researched biography casts new light on the life and career of this important figure. Connecting his experiences as a naval officer to his service as foreign minister and ambassador, and later as “father” of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Forces and proponent of the U.S.–Japanese alliance, this study reassesses Nomura’s contributions as a hard-nosed realist whose grasp of the underlying realities of Japanese–U.S. relations went largely unappreciated by the Japanese political and military establishment.

In highlighting the complexities and conundrums of Nomura’s position, as well as the role of the Imperial Navy in the formulation of Japan’s foreign policy, Peter Mauch draws upon rarely accessed materials from naval and diplomatic archives in Japan as well as various collections of personal papers, including Nomura’s, which Mauch discovered in 2005 and which are now housed in the National Diet Library.


  • Nomura Kichisaburo is an infamous figure, known primarily as the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. who only notified U.S. officials of Japan’s intent after his country’s ‘sneak attack’ on Pearl Harbor in 1941. This new biography seeks to put Nomura’s ambassadorship in the context of his long career in the Japanese navy. It examines his growth as a navy officer along with his consistent belief that Japan could not defeat the U.S. in an armed conflict, a view that grew out of his naval experience. The author, a historian at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, does not absolve Nomura of responsibility for the diplomatic failures of his mission, but instead seeks to show how his views about Japanese–American relations both before and after WWII were remarkably prescient. Moreover, Mauch shows that Nomura’s actions can only be understood in the context of his naval career—hence the ‘sailor diplomat’ moniker. There is much here that will expand general and professional readers’ understanding of Japan’s disastrous diplomacy, and those same readers will learn much about the organization and character of the prewar Japanese navy.

    —W. D. Kinzley, Choice


  • Peter Mauch is Lecturer of History in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of Western Sydney.

Book Details

  • 332 pages
  • 1-1/16 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center