Promoted to colonel in 1934, Sakurai commanded the 77th Infantry Regiment in 1934 and 1935. He served as an investigator in the Cabinet Investigation Bureau and in the Planning Agency in 1936 and 1937. He was assigned to the 1st Shipping Transportation Headquarters in 1937 and the Army Transportation Department in 1938. Promoted to major general in 1938, Sakurai commanded an infantry brigade in the 22nd Division during the Sino-Japanese War (1938–1940), moving to be chief of staff of Thirteenth Army in central China (1940–1941).
Promoted to lieutenant general in 1941, Sakurai took command of the 33rd Division and led it in the invasion of Burma in January 1942. In 1943, he was appointed chief of the Armor Headquarters under the minister of war. He returned to Burma to command the newly established Twenty-Eighth Army and led it in Operation ha-go in January 1944, skillfully executing the Japanese retreat across the Sittang River in March and April. He continued to conduct delaying actions in Burma until the end of the war in August 1945. Sakurai died in Tokyo on 7 July 1985. Nakayama Takashi
Allen, Louis. Burma: The Longest War, 1941–1945. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984.; Callahan, Raymond A. Burma, 1942–1945. London: Davis-Poynton, 1978.