Jiro Horikoshi (堀越 二郎, Horikoshi Jirō, 22 June 1903 –
11 January 1982) was the chief engineer of many Japanese fighter
designs of World War II, including the
Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter.
1 Early life
2 Aircraft designer
3 The wartime years
4 Later life
5 In popular culture
Jiro Horikoshi was born near the city of
Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture,
Japan, in 1903. Horikoshi graduated from the newly established
Aviation Laboratory (Kōkū Kenkyūjo) within the Engineering
Department of the University of Tokyo, and started his career in
Mitsubishi Internal Combustion Engine Company Limited, which later
became Mitsubishi Heavy Industries,
Nagoya Aircraft Manufacturing
Horikoshi (center) and members of the A6M1 design team, Mitsubishi
Heavy Industries (July, 1937)
Horikoshi (October, 1938)
Jiro Horikoshi's first work was the flawed Mitsubishi 1MF10, an
experimental aircraft that never passed the prototype stage after some
flight tests. However, lessons learned from this design led to the
development of the far more successful
Mitsubishi A5M (Allied codename
"Claude") which entered mass production in 1936.
In 1937, Horikoshi and his team at Mitsubishi were asked to design
Prototype 12 (corresponding to the 12th year of the Shōwa era).
Prototype 12 was completed in July 1940, and it was accepted by the
Imperial Japanese Navy. Since 1940 was the Japanese year 2600, the new
fighter was named as "Model 00" or "Zero" or A6M Zero, in
known as the "Rei-sen" (literally meaning "zero fight", shortened for
Model zero fighter airplane). Subsequently, he was involved in many
other fighters manufactured by Mitsubishi, including the Mitsubishi
J2M Raiden (Thunderbolt) and the
Mitsubishi A7M Reppu (Strong Gale).
The wartime years
Despite Mitsubishi's close ties to the Japanese military establishment
and his direct participation in the nation's buildup towards the
Second World War, Horikoshi was strongly opposed to what he regarded
as a futile war. Excerpts from his personal diary during the final
year of the war were published in 1956 and made his position clear:
When we awoke on the morning of December 8, 1941, we found
ourselves — without any foreknowledge — to be embroiled
in war... Since then, the majority of us who had truly understood the
awesome industrial strength of the United States never really believed
Japan would win this war. We were convinced that surely our
government had in mind some diplomatic measures which would bring the
conflict to a halt before the situation became catastrophic for Japan.
But now, bereft of any strong government move to seek a diplomatic way
out, we are being driven to doom.
Japan is being destroyed. I cannot
do [anything] other but to blame the military hierarchy and the blind
politicians in power for dragging
Japan into this hellish cauldron of
On 7 December 1944, a powerful earthquake in the Tokai region forced
Mitsubishi to halt aircraft production at its plant in Ohimachi,
Nagoya. An air raid made by B-29s on the Mitsubishi Engine Works in
Nagoya a week later caused extensive damage to the works
and a severe setback in production. Horikoshi, who had been at a
Tokyo with Imperial Navy officers to discuss the new
Reppu fighter, returned to
Nagoya on the 17th, in time to experience
another air raid on the Mitsubishi factories the next day. As a result
of the air raid, the company evacuated its machinery and engineers to
the suburbs of eastern Nagoya. Horikoshi and the Engineering
Department were rehoused in a school building which had been
Exhausted and overworked, Horikoshi fell ill with pleurisy on 25
December and remained bedridden through early April. During this time,
he recorded in detail the horrors of the increasing air raids on Tokyo
and Nagoya, including the devastating Operation Meetinghouse Tokyo
incendiary raid of 9–10 March. A massive air raid on
following night, with B-29s hurling "tens of thousands of incendiary
bombs," destroyed most of the largely wooden city. On 12 March,
Horikoshi sent most of his family, including his elderly mother,
children and brother-in-law, to his home village near Takasaki to be
safe from the bombings, though his wife remained with him in
Though greatly weakened by his long illness, Horikoshi returned to
work at Mitsubishi in May. He was assigned to the company's No. 1
Works, located at Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture. While on the train
to Matsumoto, he witnessed the true scale of the war's impact on
For the first time, I really saw the effects of the incendiary raids
on Nagoya. The city is a wasteland, charred and unspeakably desolate.
My former factory is a ghostly, steel-ribbed wreck, shattered by bombs
and torn apart by the dispersal crews. It is hard to believe that all
this is true. I knew that soon I would be well. Strangely, though, I
had little desire to return to work. The impression of the shattered
city and the wrecked factories will not leave me.:401–2
Still very weak, Horikoshi was sent home to rest after only a week
back at work. He returned to his hometown, where he rejoined his
family and rested through the month of July. In his diary, he recorded
how they could still hear distant explosions as the Allies bombed
nearby Takasaki and Maebashi. During the war's final months, Horikoshi
recorded Japan's descent into chaos and exhaustion. Though he returned
to work at the Matsumoto plant on 22 July, as Matsumoto had been
spared from air raids, he found the workforce demoralised and
operations in chaos as a result of the emergency evacuations which had
scattered employees and workshops around the country. Most of the
remaining Mitsubishi employees abandoned all efforts to work by early
August and prepared for Japan's defeat and surrender, which finally
came on 15 August.:403–6
After the war, Horikoshi participated in the design of the
Hidemasa Kimura. He subsequently left Mitsubishi and taught at
educational and research institutions. From 1963 to 1965, he was a
lecturer at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Space and
Aeronautics, and was subsequently a professor at the National Defense
Academy from 1965 to 1969. Between 1972 and 1973, he was a professor
of the Faculty of Engineering of Nihon University.
In 1956, Horikoshi collaborated on a book about the Zero with Okumiya
Masatake, a general in the JASDF and a former Imperial Navy commander
who had led Zero fighter squadrons during the war. The book was
published in the US in 1956 as Zero: The Story of Japan's Air War in
In semi-retirement by the early 1970s, he served as an advisor to the
society of Japanese aircraft constructors, and continued to receive
letters from aircraft enthusiasts around the world. On a trip to New
York, he travelled to Long Island and stayed in the Garden City Hotel,
where Charles Lindbergh had spent the night before his solo
trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.
In the 1973 autumn honours list, Horikoshi was awarded the Order of
the Rising Sun, Third Class, for his achievements. His memoir
regarding the development of the Zero was published in
Japan in 1970,
and was translated by the
University of Washington Press as Eagles of
Mitsubishi: The Story of the Zero Fighter, which was published in
English in 1981.
Horikoshi died of pneumonia in a
Tokyo hospital on 11 January 1982,
aged 78. His obituary was covered in several major newspapers
around the world. He was posthumously promoted to the fourth rank
in the order of precedence. He was survived by five children, none of
whom pursued a career in aircraft design or engineering.
In popular culture
Horikoshi is the subject of The Wind Rises, a fictionalized
biographical animated film by Hayao Miyazaki, released in 2013, in
which his voice was provided by
Hideaki Anno (and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
in the English dub). In particular, although the film follows the
progression of his aircraft designs, the details of his personal life
are mostly fictitious (for example, he had an older brother, not a
younger sister).[better source needed] These additional
plot elements were adapted by Miyazaki from Hori Tatsuo's 1937 novel
The Wind Has Risen.
^ Odagiri, Hiroyuki (1996). Technology and Industrial Development in
Japan. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. p. 215.
^ a b c d e Okumiya, Masatake; Horikoshi, Jiro (1956). Zero! The Story
of Japan's Air War in the Pacific. New York: EP Dutton & Co.
^ a b Penberthy, Jeff (December 14, 1972). "Plane Designer Recalls
Days of Zero's Success". The Los Angeles Times.
^ "Jiro Horikoshi, 78, Dies in Tokyo; Designer of Zero Fighter
Aircraft". The New York Times. January 12, 1982.
^ Associated Press (January 12, 1982). "Jiro Horikoshi, 78, Dies in
Tokyo; Designer of Zero Fighter Aircraft". The New York Times.
^ Cangialosi, Jason. "Miyazaki's 'The Wind Rises' Ignites Debate &
Japanese Box-Office". Yahoo! Voices. Archived from the original on 27
July 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
^ Bailey, Ian (2014-08-24). "
The Wind Rises Review". Archived from the
original on October 16, 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-31.
Jiro Horikoshi was
an actual man but he did not have a wife who suffered from
tuberculosis, and he did not smoke. ... Miyazaki has himself stated
that Naoko – Jiro Horikoshi’s fictitious wife was lifted from
the woman Setsuko in the
Hori Tatsuo novel The Wind has Risen
(as of the 23rd December of 2014 this link is now offline, and )
Horikoshi, Jiro (1992). Eagles of Mitsubishi: The Story of the Zero
Fighter. Trans. by Shojiro Shindo and Harold N. Wantiez. Washington,
DC: University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-295-97168-1.
ISNI: 0000 0000 8446 1867