Nambu World: Japanese Good Luck Flags

 

            Japanese soldiers often carried a couple of mementoes to bring them good luck. One was the famous senninbari, or gthousand stitch belth, covered in a separate section. The other, perhaps more common, was an autographed hinomaru flag. These were called hinomaru yosegaki, or grising sun autographsh in Japanese. I have three of these. The first one I acquired is shown above, and the other are further down this page. I also have one banner celebrating a young manfs entry into the service; it is described at the bottom of the page.

             Hinomaru literally means gcircular sunh; this design is often called a gmeatballh flag by American collectors to distinguish it from the Army and Navy flags with rays emanating from the sun. Here is a paragraph from page 261 of Mike Hewittfs book, Uniforms and Equipment of the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II that describes the practices associated with these flags:

            gWhen new recruits or reservists were called to active duty almost invariably either their family members or company purchased a Japanese flag and had the recruitfs relatives or friends and co-workers sign their names and a good luck or patriotic message to the flag. Throughout the war the soldier carried these flags, close to the bodyh (there are related photos on pages 272-274 of this outstanding book, which is packed with amazing colour photos of artifacts as well as period photos in black and white of the items in use).

            The flag would be carried in the soldierfs pocket for luck. It could also come in handy to signal his position. This flag is about 25h X 34h, or 64cm by 86cm, although it is hard to get an exact measurement due to the wrinkles. Consistent with having been carried in a soldierfs pocket for a long time, it has a several small holes, especially along the top, lots of wrinkles and some stains (a couple could be blood stains and surround a hole that is the right size to be a bullet hole; look at the middle of the upper edge). The material is either silk or a similar synthetic and has reinforcements of a stiffer, brown material on the right corners with woven ties. These flags usually had a patriotic slogan of some kind written across the top and the soldierfs name written vertically along the right side. On this flag the four large characters across the top read from right to left: jinchu hokoku, which means gloyalty and national serviceh (hokoku can also be translated as gpatriotismh, but there is another word for that, aikoku, which means literally glove of countryh). The soldierfs name along the right side is a very unusual name. It is not listed in my dictionary of names, but the first character (top right) is probably not part of the name itself, but rather gtameh, meaning gfor, on behalf ofh. The family name (written first, the next two characters along the right side), is probably gKameuchih (the characters mean literally gturtleh and gwithinh). The given name (the next two characters) is also not listed, but is probably gTatsuichih. These characters mean literally gthe dragonh, the fifth sign of the Oriental zodiac, and goneh. The last character on the bottom is gkunh, which means gMr.h when referring to a young man. The rest of the writing is just names. Given names are hard to transliterate, but the family names are mostly fairly easy providing the handwriting is clear (as with English handwriting, Japanese handwriting is sometimes almost illegible). This list starts in the lower right and goes clockwise to the upper left corner. I have used g?h to take the place of the names I have to research or examine more and g?h in brackets to indicate uncertainty about a name. Here are the family names of those who signed:

Nagase, Watanabe, Takahashi, ?, ?, Matsumura, ?, Matsuoka, Yamamoto, Sakai, Kindo, ?, Murata, ?, Miyata, Sakai (the larger, vertical characters in the lower left), Usui, Kato, ?, Morishita, Kawamatsu, Terada, (two written diagonally in the left corner I canft read), Kojima, Komuro, Shimada, Hasegawa, Kajita, Nakizawa, Uesugi, Nebashi(?), Taki(?), Hane(?), (?)-zawa, Yamada (last two are written parallel to left edge), ?, Shirotano, Takahara, Kindo, Komi, Suzuki, Kato, Miyazaki, Inada.

            In several spots there are mirror images of the writing from the ink weeping. In the upper right corner, for example, the faint writing is actually the mirror image of the writing on the opposite side, indicating the flag was folded right to left first. I bought this flag on eBay together with the Japanese currency shown below. Both the flag and currency were reportedly gbrought back from Japan by a First Lieutenanth in the US Army. No more history was available, unfortunately.

            The second flag I have is a little different. It is almost square (30.5h wide by 29.5h high, or 77cm X 75cm) and is made out of very thin cotton with real leather corner tabs. It has more slogans on it than names. Here it is.

 

            The main slogan across the top is read from right to left: shuku-nyu-tai, or gCongratulations on your enlistmenth.  The big characters down the right side are read from top to bottom and say Sato Atsushi-kun, or gMr. Atsushi Satoh. The slogans radiate out from the central red circle like rays of the sun. A few have names indicating who added them, but most donft. Herefs a close-up of the right side. To the left of the manfs name in another slogan written top to bottom and signed by a Mr. Sawaguchi. The slogan reads: ken-teki-his-satsu-bo-ga-kyo, or g[achieve] a state where upon seeing the enemy, without thinking you certainly kill himh. In the lower left of the photo is another slogan comprised of two characters, chu-koku, or gloyalty to the countryh.

 

            This is a close-up of the bottom. In the upper right corner of this photo you can see the two characters that were in the lower left of the first picture, along with the family name of the person who wrote them: Yamada. Those two columns are written at an angle. The first more or less perpendicular column says tao-se bei-ei, or gdefeat England and Americah. Since Japan wasnft at war with these two countries until December, 1941, this flag probably dates to the 1942-1945 period. The name next to that slogan is Nishida. Working further to the left is a line that says tomo-ni hit-to, gtogether we will certainly be victorioush. It is signed by another man named Sato, probably his brother.  The two big, darker characters more or less at 6 ofclock in relation to the red circle say yu-mo, valour. Two lines over, the last line that is fully visible is the very common slogan bu-un-cho-kyu-inori, gwe pray for eternal good fortune in warh. On either side are the signatures of what appears to be a couple, Mr. & Mrs. Sakamoto. On the right is the womanfs name, and on the left the manfs.

 

            Since this flag has so many slogans on it, I will eventually type out a little glossary showing each slogan in Japanese and its pronunciation and translation for those who have other flags. It will probably cover most of the common slogans likely to be found on these flags.

 

            Here is the third flag, which I bought in August, 2004. It is about 40h (100cm) wide and 28h (69cm) high, seems to be made of silk and has leather tabs on the right corners. The stains do not look like blood: blood separates and usually has an outer, lighter ring around the dark area. This seems more like mud stains or something that has leached out of wood. The reason I wanted this one is that someone had sent me a scan of a photo of a Japanese soldier holding a flag with a a slogan on it that I hadnft seen before, and then right afterwards I saw this flag with the same slogan. It is at 3 ofclock and says shchi-sho-ho-koku, gseven lives of national serviceh. I am going to do some research and see whether I can find out what the significance of this phrase is. Another interesting one is over in the lower left corner: koku-i sen-yo. It means genhance national prestigeh, and is also found repeated at about 5 ofclock. I have seen a couple of flags with variations on this gnational prestigeh idea. Up at the top written right to left starting at the big tear is the common inori-bu-un-cho-kyu, gwe pray for eternal good luck in warh. About 4 ofclock is the same slogan repeated. Just a little counter-clockwise is another common slogan, jin-chu-ho-koku, gloyalty and national serviceh (ho-koku can also be translated as gpatriotismh).

 

           The soldierfs name is not as prominent as on most flags. It seems to be around 7 ofclock and is simply Tadashi-kun. This is unusual since Tadashi is a given name. Kun, meaning gMr.h when applied to a young man, can be applied to either a given name or surname, but Japanese are seldom called by their given names except by very close friends in informal situations. There are several more slogans on this flag that I will translate later. It seems to be about 50% slogans and 50% names.

            These autographed flags were very popular souvenirs among US servicemen in the Pacific. One often sees group photos of them holding up such flags, often backwards or upside down because, of course, very few could read the Japanese writing. This photo was sent to me by the son of a US veteran who served in the Pacific just as the war was ending. The soldier on the right is PFC (later SFC) John J. Kierzkowski of the 25th gTropical Lightningh Division. In October, 1945 the First Battalion was posted in the Nishiyama Powder Factory and the Third in Toriimatsu Small Arms Factory. The surnames of the other two soldiers are believed to be Beatrice (left) and Evans (centre). Toriimatsu was the location of a branch of Nagoya Arsenal that made the largest number of Type 14 pistols. The flag is upside down with the back facing the photographer, but the four large characters in the corners are legible: bu-un-cho-kyu, geternal good luck in warh, the most common Japanese slogan on good-luck items of all kinds. The two characters in the centre top of the flag in the photo (should be bottom centre of flag) are also legible. They say ichi-do, meaning roughly gfrom everyone ath, meaning the flag was probably prepared for the soldier by his colleagues at his workplace or school. This photo is shown courtesy of the Walter Kierzkowski collection.

 

           

 

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Last updated: July 25, 2006. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.