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The Chrysanthemum, the Rising Sun and the Star

Article about: The Chrysanthemum, the Rising Sun and the Star In mid November 2014, Kongouji Temple in Owase City, Mie Prefecture made the news when they announced that they had been safekeeping a Chrysant

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    Default The Chrysanthemum, the Rising Sun and the Star

    The Chrysanthemum, the Rising Sun and the Star

    In mid November 2014, Kongouji Temple in Owase City, Mie Prefecture made the news when they announced that they had been safekeeping a Chrysanthemum bow emblem from the WW2 Japanese submarine tender “Komahashi” since 1945.

    On 28th July 1945, the Komahashi ran aground after being attacked by a US carrier plane belonging to Task Force 38. Military personnel salvaged the mum from the ship the next day and brought it to the temple to hide it. Ever since, it lay hidden on the second floor of the temple’s main gate building. It was only in 1993 that it was taken out of hiding and after a religious ceremony, placed within the temple’s main building for public display towards the 50th anniversary of the ending of the Pacific War. This is counted as the 7th example of an original warship chrysanthemum that still survives today. The ship was lost, but crew still felt duty-bound to save the chrysanthemum. Why did they bother? Let’s explore the meaning of the emblems behind the Japanese army in WW2.

    The chrysanthemum, rising sun and the star were all important symbols for the Imperial Japanese Army, representing the Imperial Family, the Empire and the Army respectively. Where did they come from and how were they used?
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    Last edited by nick komiya; 11-28-2015 at 09:32 PM.

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    The Chrysanthemum

    For the collector of Japanese militaria, perhaps the more coveted of the three symbols would be the chrysanthemum stamped on top of the chamber of the guns, what collectors simply call the “mum”. I say this, because many examples of the guns outside Japan have had the mum ground off and thus the presence of it has become a highly desirable feature.

    The mum first appeared on Japanese rifles from the Murata rifle of 1880, and it is said that Tsuneyoshi Murata, who designed the rifle put it there to prevent soldiers from abandoning the guns, what turned out to be a rampant problem during retreats in the civil war of 1877 .

    During the Samurai era, it was the hollyhock crest of the Tokugawa Shogun which was the holy symbol of the reign, and the chrysanthemum was not actually a symbol of any restricted use, also used by commoners. This changed with the sovereignty returning to the Emperor in the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Already in 1869, laws were issued to narrowly restrict the right of use of the Eightfold Chrysanthemum with Sixteen Petals to the Imperial Family. Furthermore from June 1871 the use of the chrysanthemum emblem was prohibited outside the royal family. So by the time it got featured on the Murata rifle it was firmly established as the symbol of the emperor and any neglect or abuse to the weapon became cause for severe punishment.
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    In 1880, the same year as the introduction of the mum on the Murata rifle, in April, they also prohibited the commercial sale of goods with the emblem and started to police markets and punish offenders. However, as the prohibition also included emblems that resembled the chrysanthemum, many areas of grey developed within commercial designs of goods as well as in advertising that they repeatedly had to redefine legal boundaries from 1900 onwards to deal with the confusion on what was legal and what was not.

    It was at such a time that the army issued ordinance 1147 on 20th April, 1914 decreeing that from that day onwards any form of disposal of military rifles, be it scrapping or as sale to the private sector, required in advance, the obliteration of the chrysanthemum emblem. As reason, this ordinance said “ Not only are Items with the chrysanthemum emblems prohibited from exchanging hands in the private sector (as per decreed by the Ministry of the Imperial Household memo number 2 of 5th May, 1880), but policing of such by local police forces has become a big problem.”

    Gun collectors often discuss by whose orders weapons surrendered to the Americans at the end of WW2 had the mum erased. The decision had already been made at this time in 1914.
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    On 17th December 1925 the Army itself finally had to come under the scrutiny of the mum police when they were requested by the Ministry of the Imperial Household to provide a listing of army items carrying the emblem. At this time, the army displayed the chrysanthemum on most of its school diplomas as well as on citations for good conduct, etc. This proliferation of mum use happened, because each army office made its own decisions on where to feature the mum, and no one knew how they stacked up overall. As a result of conducting an internal audit, the army itself seemed to realize that they had gone overboard with use of the emblem and voluntarily decided to reduce, in particular, the application to diplomas ( Previously even the diploma for the army’s cobbler’s course featured the mum). On 9th December 1927 the Ministry of the Imperial Household finally approved this Army plan for a more selective application of mums. At this time the Ministry of the Army was also reminded by the Ministry of the Imperial Household in a memo dated 5th December of the need to obliterate the chrysanthemum in case army weapons were to be disposed of. Here is the chart from the army’s proposal, showing discontinuation of mum emblems from many of its citations.
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    The Mum Crack Down

    On 21st October 1929, the Ministry of the Interior finally came up with an illustrated manual for the police to show what was permissible and what was forbidden. However, they were mindful of the financial damage it could cause when applied to policing commercial goods, so careful consideration was urged. The most important feature that became subject of scrutiny was the number of petals of the chrysanthemum being between 25 and 12, anything more or less was OK. Anything within this range was to be regarded as a violation unless….

    1. The diameter of the center orb was greater than the length of the petals
    2. When character(s) or figure(s) with a diameter greater than the petal length was placed at center
    3. When three-fifths or more of the chrysanthemum was cut off or hidden
    4. When the center of the design was placed off-center by more than a quarter of the radius
    5. Oval or diamond shaped design with the shorter radius being less than two-thirds of the longer radius
    6. When the chrysanthemum was not arranged as a crest or logo, but was intended as a rendition of a real flower

    If a family was found to have a historical family crest that included a mum with 16 petals, the family was to be encouraged to change the number of petals in the design at an appropriate time.

    Here are examples of what was allowed by the 1929 standards and what was regarded as violations.
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    Ever since the army had to review its own use of the Chrysanthemum emblems in 1927, they maintained a centralized listing of items approved to exhibit the emperor’s chrysanthemum emblem. This list was issued on 13th March 1928 as Army Ordinance 1008 (see below). Occasionally ordinances added to this list as new buildings were erected, which merited a mum on its facade. It is noteworthy that additions made to this list were mostly in 1937 and 1938, such as an expansion of mum applications on diplomas for officer courses, likely done to massage the young egos to gain their loyalty, as the outbreak of the China Incident demanded a fresh crop of officers to replace losses suffered.

    We saw how the navy treated the large bow emblem of its ship like a Holy Relic, but size did not matter really; even tiny examples were still sacred as a Navy memo from 22nd June 1936 proves.

    The navy reported that it found in its Ministry store room, 98 porcelain sake cups with the chrysanthemum design, which were produced in October 1905 for the celebration banquet with the Emperor at the Hamarikyu Palace on the occasion of the victorious return of the Grand fleet to Yokosuka after defeating the Russian Baltic fleet.

    The memo stated that they were disposed of by shattering them and burying in the ground for fear that they may end up in private hands.
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    The Rising Sun and the Army Star

    In May 1939, the 4th Replacement Division (Replacement /recruiting division set up while the 4th Infantry division was mobilized abroad) sent a memo to the Ministry of the Army, requesting information on the historical background of the army star insignia. To this inquiry, the Ministry responded by providing a copy of an Oct. 1926 article written for a Kaikousha (army officer’s club) magazine. It said that the establishment of the army’s insignia (Rising Sun and the Star) could be traced back to December 22, 1870 when the army established its various insignia. Although the official documentation described this only as introduction of insignia, actually it covered the whole range of uniforms and was Japan’s first army uniform regulation.

    The Rising Sun

    The Rising Sun badge was among them as the badge for the front of the Kepi field cap. Naturally this was from Japan’s Sun Goddess (Amaterasu worship, but in order to explain how the sunburst design was reached, we need to trace back the evolution of the Rising Sun flag as the regimental flag.

    The first regimental flag prototype design had taken shape by the end of 1869 along with the Emperor’s flag discussed above, and on 17th April of 1870, it was raised for the first time on the occasion of the Emperor’s inspection of the Komaba field exercise of the regiments. For this exercise, the previously used samurai banners of the various clans were put away and replaced by 10 Regimental standards and 16 battalion standards. However, at this stage the flags only featured a simple red orb, which the foreign spectators at the maneuvers merely recognized as a “red ball” and not as symbolizing the sun. So the officials at the Ministry of War tried adding thin radiating rays, but this in turn was criticized as looking too much like Kompeitou (Japanese Sugar Candy). Finally by making the rays broader they achieved the Rising Sun look they were after. At the time of the 1870 field exercise, the flags still only served as identifiers and did not yet have the sacred symbolism of the later official regimental standards, the first of which got bestowed by the Emperor in March 1874, and officially became the army regimental standard later that year on 2nd December, 1874. So the regimental standard evolved from a meatball into sugar candy before it finally ceased to be associated with something to eat and became the famous rising sun flag.
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    It was Lt General Sukenori Soga’s idea to take the sun from this regimental flag and use it as a cap badge for the kepis worn then by the army. The initial Rising Sun badge looked round like a sunflower, but later evolved into the octagonal badge, consisting of 32 beams, as seen on dress hats. At that time, officers had the sunburst in gold, NCOs in brass and EM in copper.
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    The Star

    The metal star insignia was first adopted when the visor cap was launched on 18th October 1873. It was taken from the star design on top of the kepis. The star had long been said to be a symbol that warded off evil. The reason for its use on the top of the French style Kepi is unclear, but it was there to denote rank, with Generals, having 6 gold stars, Lt General, 5 stars, General Major ,4 stars, and 3 for field grade officers, company grade officers having 2, and finally 1 for EM and NCOs. The 3 dimensional star design as used on the visor caps came in a bigger size in those days. Lieutenant and above, including army doctors, would wear it in gold, and the Paymasters would have it in silver. The lower rank’s version of the star had a circle around it and NCOs wore it in brass and EM in copper. At the time of establishment, field caps for EM and NCOs did not have a visor. This was changed in October of 1874, at which time a visor was added like those for officers.

    The star badge for EM and NCOs, surrounded by a circle was later changed to the style worn by officers on the occasion of the uniform regulation change of 1886. Later, silver stars were discontinued and only gold stars remained.
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    Last edited by nick komiya; 11-28-2015 at 09:43 PM.

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    The Star Police

    As the star was Army insignia, policing against abuse was the business of the Kempei (MPs). By 1939, abuse of army style insignia by people outside the army became an irritating issue for the army, so they issued policing guidelines as ordinance 2988 on 13th May 1939. This strictly forbade use of the army star outside the army, but so long as the insignia was not the star, it was not an issue to wear visor caps or field caps identical to the army specs. They also didn’t forget to flatter themselves by making an exception for children up to elementary school age, wearing army uniforms as a play costume or “out of adoration of the army”.

    As a final point on the topic, since the end of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan actively exported its old weapons outside the country, in which case the mums and stars were removed. The army also agreed to let war correspondents wear Type 90 helmets after the media companies pleaded for them saying all their casualties were from head shots. However, it was a special version made without the stars.

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