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Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan

Article about: Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan Foreword As I had already finished writing a complete history of Japanese War Medals, I thought I might start something on the commemorative medal

  1. #21



    Another totally new hospitality initiative introduced from this Royal Silver Wedding Anniversary was the introduction of Royal “Bonbonnières” as gifts for those invited to imperial banquets, starting with the one held from 18:30 on 9th March 1894.

    As the name suggests, these were little bonbon containers, often in the shape of ornamental silver pill boxes, an adaptation of originally an Italian tradition of presenting little gifts containing confetti to celebrate weddings and childbirth. Another European name for it was the French, “Drageoir”, as “Dragée”, typically sugar-coated almonds were served in similar containers.

    That night, the roughly 500 guests invited to the royal dinner banquet took home from this banquet a silver sculpture of a crane perched on a rock upon which two turtles were bathing in the sun. The circular bottom was the container, which held Japanese sugar candy called “Kompeito”, based on the Portuguese word, “Confeito”, which ties in with the Italian, confetti.

    This must have been a real sensation with the 100 foreign guests, who shared the same table with the Emperor and Empress that night. This work of art must have impressed them infinitely more than the commemorative medal they also got that day.

    As a matter of fact, my first personal encounter with these royal bonbonnieres was at the home of an elderly widow of a German ex-diplomat to Japan, a family acquaintance in Vancouver, Canada. The old widow now in her 90s, showed me with pride, all the pure silver gifts from the Japanese Emperor she keeps on display on her living room coffee table. There is no denying that those items succeeded in showing off Japanese craftsmanship much better than any medal could and still continue to fascinate even today people like that granny that showed me her family collection.

    Since that evening, every royal banquet featured a unique bonbonniere as a gift, which was not merely items of silver, but sometimes lacquer-ware, enamel or even bamboo, like during WW2, when even the royal family needed to refrain from using silver. This tradition continues to this day and imperial bonbonniere collecting has become a well established hobby of its own in Japan.

    So though the 25th Silver Wedding Anniversary Medal may seem to medal collectors to be a sad “flash-in-the-pan” dud of a medal, both philatelists and bonbonniere collectors celebrate that anniversary, as a glorious beginning for their respective hobbies.

    Thus Emperor Taisho’s 25th Wedding Anniversary got celebrated both by commemorative stamps and a unique bonbonniere, but no longer any commemorative medal.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan   Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

    Last edited by nick komiya; 10-21-2017 at 10:39 PM.

  2. #22


    FYI, a 25th Wedding Anniversary Silver Medal with the lacquered box just sold for $1,526 on Ebay on 16 October 2017.


  3. #23


    Quote by ghp95134 View Post
    FYI, a 25th Wedding Anniversary Silver Medal with the lacquered box just sold for $1,526 on Ebay on 16 October 2017.

    But that is still less than half the price of a bonbonniere from the same day.

  4. #24


    It should be noted that in the latest (third) edition of Peterson's "Orders and Medals of Japan and Associated States" the image of the reverse of the wedding anniversary medal was reversed, with the kanji inscription running right-to-left rather than left-to-right. Just a small point but it could lead to some confusion. Great article!

  5. #25


    Quote by tsuki View Post
    It should be noted that in the latest (third) edition of Peterson's "Orders and Medals of Japan and Associated States" the image of the reverse of the wedding anniversary medal was reversed, with the kanji inscription running right-to-left rather than left-to-right. Just a small point but it could lead to some confusion. Great article!
    Hi all!

    "Tsuki" is known to me -- he is very knowledgeable, so don't let the single post mislead you!! (^__^)


  6. #26


    Tsuki, thanks for pointing that out, as I had not noticed that before. When I read your comment, I initially thought you meant it like his Greater East Asia War Medal prototype and I was thinking, "Oh my god, how can one explain reversed writing directions so early in history?!". So many characters on that medal are symmetrical, so one does not realize so quickly how the negative got flipped when creating the printing plate, but I was actually "relieved" to see it was just a printing error in the end.

    Perhaps, for the sake of accuracy, I should also add that regional government bureaucrats were at the Silver Wedding Anniversary celebration.

    There obviously were established guidelines on whom to send to Tokyo to represent local governments at national celebrations like Empire Day, which they also applied to the anniversary invitation, but I chose not to pursue what those guidelines were.
    Last edited by nick komiya; 10-24-2017 at 01:00 PM.

  7. #27


    And having made my earlier comment, I just realized that I confused it myself. The kanji should be written right-to-left (as on the medal you illustrated), rather than left-to-right. Petersen's illustration is indeed photographically reversed, but I myself got turned around in describing it. Sorry!

  8. #28


    Japan’s one and only Imperial Trip Memento Medal

    A Caged Canary

    On 16th October 1907, Japanese Battleship Katori entered the port of Incheon. Onboard was Japan’s Crown Prince Yoshihito, the future Emperor Taisho, who came for a 5-day visit to Korea, staying until the 20th.

    And on 27th March 1909, almost 1.5 years after that visit, a medal was established to commemorate that visit, which became another type of medal that did not see similar repeats like the one-off 25th Wedding Anniversary Medal.

    Why was this medal established and why so late, and why did no medals get issued for other royal family trips? Those are the questions raised by this medal, which I will try to answer through research.

    By current standards, it is no big deal for a Crown Prince to hop over to another country to say hello, but back then, this trip made him the first Japanese Crown Prince to ever travel outside of Japan.

    Emperors appear to be all powerful, sending missions to all corners of the world, just by lifting a finger, but the truth was that he himself was pretty much a “caged canary”, never having any chance to see the world outside Japan and could only experience the wonders of the world secondhand, as stories brought back by those people he sent.

    As a matter of fact, it was only as recently as in 1971 that an Emperor of Japan ever got to make a trip abroad. Luckily that Emperor, Hirohito, also had one earlier chance to see the world as Crown Prince, but that other occasion was already 50 years further back in history, when he made a trip to Europe in 1921.

    Nowadays, royalty of the world fly around the world without anyone raising an eyebrow, but back then if one was in line for ascension to the throne, getting to go abroad was pretty much a once in a lifetime thing.

    Yoshihito actually yearned to further visit Europe and the USA, but never could get his father, Emperor Meiji to let him.

    At least, he was able to set foot in Korea whereas Emperor Meiji never even took a step outside Japan. So the event might have been seen as a “big leap” for the royal family. But in the bigger scheme of things, it was “too small a step for mankind” to suit a medal. As if to underline this point, Crown Prince Hirohito’s tour of Europe in 1921 did not occasion any medal.

    Then why was this medal needed?
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  
    Last edited by nick komiya; 10-27-2017 at 11:06 AM.

  9. #29


    Catching up on Korean Affairs

    In 1907, the Korea that Crown Prince Yoshihito visited barely qualified to be a foreign country, as it was already a Japanese Protectorate and on the way to total assimilation in 3 years time, when travel to Korea would only come to count as a domestic hop within Japan.

    The last time I referred to Korea in this thread, they were still refusing to acknowledge the new Empire of Japan, sniggering at Japan’s desperate search for a path for survival in a world dominated by the West.

    So we skipped several chapters in the Korean history books and need to catch up, if we are to understand the circumstances that gave rise to this medal. The next medal in line is the Annexation of Korea to Japan Medal anyway, so we get two birds with one stone by exploring Japan-Korea relations in some depth here.

    In terms of medals, the gap we need to fill consists of three war medals issued between the 25th Silver Wedding Medal of 1894 and the 1909 Medal for the Japanese Crown Prince’s visit to Korea.

    They were the Sino-Japanese War Medal, the Boxer Rebellion War Medal and the Russo-Japanese War Medal. And all these wars impacted the fortunes of the Koreans in a huge way.

    Just as North Korea is now a launch pad of nuclear warheads aimed at Japan and the USA, Korea had always been a great source of concern for the survival of Japan.

    It had already served as launch pad for Kublai Khan’s Mongol invasions of Japan in the 13th Century, which pushed Japan to the brink of collapse, only to be saved by the “whim of God”, the legendary “Kamikaze (Typhoon)” that sunk the Mongolian fleet.

    And then in return, Japan itself had launched a reckless attack on Korea in the 16th Century and bungled it badly. So relations with Korea had long been stressed like a tightrope.

    The Shogunate was later able to recover a semblance of trading with Korea, a protectorate of China, while both countries kept themselves closed off to the western world.

    But when Japan’s sovereignty went back to the Emperor in the Meiji Restoration and Japan chose the path to modernize, Korea chose not to play along and refused to acknowledge the new government of Japan.

    The Koreans staunchly tried to maintain their national isolation and laughed at Japan for pathetically trying to copy the West. But this approach of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” and refusal to westernize against encroaching imperialistic Western ambitions, only set themselves up as prime prey for countries like Russia, which desperately wanted access to ports on Pacific shores, open all year round without freezing up.

    Japan felt that they could not afford to leave Korea defenseless against such Russian intentions, as if Korea fell to Russia, Japan would become Russia’s next target. At that time, Japan was hoping to work something out with China to jointly keep Korea independent.

    Thus the Japanese wanted to reopen dialogue with Korea and an incident in 1875 in which the Koreans opened fire on a Japanese ship, gave the Japanese an ideal excuse to get their foot in the door of the Koreans again, and by 1880, things recovered to a point of Japan opening its embassy there.

    By 1882, Korea had also signed trade treaties with the USA, UK and Germany, so it was resigned to belatedly follow a modernization path similar to what Japan took nearly 30 years earlier. Thus Korea was also put in a situation very familiar to Japan and many Koreans naturally tried to draw lessons from Japan’s experience as forerunner.

    But Korea was still a protectorate of China, and the Chinese did not welcome any Japanese influence in that region. Japan and China had already experienced disputes over Okinawans marooned in Taiwan and being massacred by Taiwanese natives, an incident which the Chinese refused to investigate, causing Japan to send troops to Taiwan (1874 War Medal).

    And to make matters even more complicated, some Koreans turned to Russia for support and meddling from Russia added to the tension. This is well represented in the 1887 caricature of Japan and China trying to outdo each other in trying to fish Korea out of the river, while Russia stood ready to snatch it away from both.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  
    Last edited by nick komiya; 10-28-2017 at 07:44 AM.

  10. #30


    Korean Sandwich; Your Choice of Sino-Japanese or Russo-Japanese Buns

    So when Korea called on China for help in suppressing a farmers’ uprising, Japan, too, sent troops to Korea, where Japan and China finally crashed against each other and the Sino-Japanese War broke out in July 1894.

    Japan’s rationale to fight this war was to protect the independence of Korea, so Koreans actually joined Japan in fighting the Chinese. And as Japan won the war against China, they had to release their grip on Korea, which from 1897 will call itself the Empire of Korea and its king, formerly subjugated to the emperor of China, now proclaimed himself Emperor of Korea.

    However, this new Korea continued to suffer from internal strife and intrigue, seeing a tit for tat exchange of assassinations. Particularly destabilising was a serious rift within the Korean imperial family itself. Japan, supporting the side pushing for Korean modernization, ended up in conflict with the Korean Emperor, who ran to the Russians for help, and he actually ruled Korea out of the Russian embassy during 1896-97.

    Therefore though Japan freed Korea from China, Russia ended up swooping in to replace China, making things only more dangerous for Japan. The Russians even teamed up with France and Germany to bully Japan into giving up territory it had won in China in the war and swooped into those areas given up by Japan to set up their own outposts in China instead.

    Even after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Russia insisted on keeping its forces stationed in Manchuria, ready to cross into Korea any time.

    It was only as a result of losing the Russo-Japanese War that Russia finally lost its grip on Korea and Korea became a protectorate of Japan in terms of diplomacy with other nations from November 1905.

    This arrangement required Korea to consult Japan before signing any treaties with other nations. But the Korean Emperor secretly conspired to send an envoy to the Peace Conference in the Hague in March 1907 to lobby for recovery of Korea’s diplomacy from Japan. However, this was ignored by the world powers who had already acknowledged Japan’s right to steer Korea’s foreign affairs.

    This failure backfired on the Emperor and he was forced to abdicate by the Korean Parliament on 18th July 1907. As a result, domestic governing rights for Korea were also passed onto the Japanese Resident-General of Korea, a post Hirobumi Ito, former Prime Minister of Japan, had assumed since December 1905.

    It was upon Ito’s request that the Japanese Crown Prince Yoshihito , the future Emperor Taisho, travelled to Korea in October 1907. The Korean Emperor was made to abdicate only that July, so Ito must have felt the need to fill that void with an Imperial figurehead from Japan to ensure a smooth transition of sovereignty.

    A Trip to fill an Imperial Void

    The actual trip itinerary ran as shown below

    10th Oct.
    Departure from Imperial Palace at 10 AM to Shinbashi Station for train to Shizuoka. Overnight stay at imperial residence in Shizuoka.

    11th Oct.
    Departure from residence at 7:10, continuing by train to Maiko Station in Kobe. Overnight stay at Prince Arisugawa’s villa

    12th Oct.
    Departure from villa at 8:20, to continue by train to Ujina Station in Hiroshima, where he boarded battleship, “Katori” to overnight on ship.

    13th Oct.
    Fleet sailed from Ujina port. The fleet consisted of battleships Katori and Kashima, cruisers Tokiwa, Izumo, Asama and Iwate.

    16th Oct.
    Fleet arrived in port of Incheon with Crown Prince continuing to Seoul for an overnight stay at Ito’s residence.

    As I had already described the Japanese Imperial family as a “caged canary” I can only say it was even worse for the former Korean monarch, who had never even stepped outside of Seoul, which was partly due to his frail health.

    So in his telegram to Japan of 7th October, Ito had forewarned Japan that the retired Emperor will be waiting for Crown Prince Yoshihito at the Incheon rail station outside Seoul, which was already quite an adventure for the man. Instead, the 10-year old Korean Crown Prince will go out by boat to greet Yoshihito aboard battleship Katori at Incheon Harbor.

    However, Ito pointed out that he would not want to oblige the child to go out to greet the battleship, if seas were rough that day, as the little prince was expected to travel to Japan soon to be educated there, and he wanted to avoid “rocking the boat” by giving the child any premature fear of sea travel.

    17th -19th Oct.
    Stay in Seoul

    Prince Yoshihito found his counterpart, Crown Prince Uimin of Korea so adorable that he decided to start learning Korean. But the little Korean prince would already be on his way to Japan 2 months later to start his Japanese education.

    20th Oct.
    Departure from Seoul, and fleet departure from Incheon at noon

    22nd Oct.
    Arrival in Sasebo in the morning.

    After arriving back in Japan, he continued on a tour of Kyushu and Shikoku before returning to Tokyo on 14th November.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  
    Last edited by nick komiya; 10-28-2017 at 08:03 AM.

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