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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. #31


    Why so late in establishing the medal?

    The historical significance of the visit is now clear, but why then did they not issue the medal more promptly? It was only established on 27th March 1909, almost 1.5 years after the Crown Prince visited Korea.

    The proposal to set up the medal was submitted by the Decorations Bureau on 16th June 1908 and this was given the green light by the Legislation Bureau on 6th July, which was not excessively late. This version of the draft of awarding rules, however, did not specifically anticipate giving the medal to Koreans, as it merely said it was “to be awarded to those involved in the Crown Prince’s Korea visit of October 1907”.

    Then things got somehow held up there for as long as half a year and a revised proposal was next tabled, on 19th January 1909, which now said the medal was “to be awarded to Korean and Japanese Royal family members as well as government officials of both nations of Souninkan rank and above, who were involved in the Crown Prince’s Korea visit of October 1907” That means ranks of Shinninkan, Chokuninkan and Souninkan got the medal, if they had been involved in the trip.

    And after another delay of over 2 months, that was what finally got endorsed by the Emperor on 27th March 1909. (The Petersen book has date as the 29th , which is incorrect)

    On the surface of what we just saw above, it may appear as if Japan was initially forgetting to give Korean counterparts due credit and caught the oversight midway and delayed things to rectify that, but fact was that the Koreans were by no means being neglected.

    Preparations for the departure of the Crown Prince on 10th October 1907 included taking along piles of various classes of Japanese Orders to present to the Koreans during his stay there.

    On 26th September 1907, the Prime Minister instructed the Decorations Bureau to supply some stock of orders to the Imperial Household Ministry for presentation to Korean royals and bureaucrats during the Korea trip. This was initially 54 orders, but 89 were added on the day before departure, and a further 5 orders were requested for urgent dispatch to Korea by telegram during the trip. So a total of 148 Orders were presented to the Koreans by the Crown Prince during his visit, which broke down as follows.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan   Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

  2. #32


    To give or not to give to the Koreans

    So they were fully cognizant of the need to show their respects to the Koreans, yet the proposal submitted by the Decorations Bureau on 16th June 1908 did not seem to anticipate giving these medals to the Koreans. But things changed in this respect by the revised proposal made on 19th January 1909.

    Why, and why all this delay?

    I truly feel that they were not planning to give the medal to Koreans in June 1908, as though Korea was a protectorate of Japan, it was not any Japanese possession, and giving this medal to Koreans could easily be interpreted as an arrogant and condescending gesture under those circumstances. Giving foreigners orders and giving them commemorative medals are totally different in nuance.

    As mentioned earlier, Japan fought the Sino-Japanese War to ensure Korean independence and having also cleared Korea of Russian intervention by winning the Russo-Japanese War, it wanted to keep Korea free of further foreign intervention by gaining the rights to be consulted by the Koreans on Korean international affairs. At that time, Japan was not intending to take over Korea.
    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 10:47 AM.

  3. #33


    Ito tries to return a debt in kind

    Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s ex-Prime Minister, who was now Japanese Resident-General of Korea, was a man, who respected international harmony and clashed with more aggressive elements within the Japanese government that thought Japan should take over Korea.

    Ito, instead, only wanted to ensure that Korea could become wealthy and strong enough to fend for itself at which time Japan would gladly step down as protector. One might say he was trying to return his debt to von Bismarck by extending the same kind of favor to the new nation of Korea.

    Korean modernization was even more challenging than the modernization of Japan, as the literacy rate was as low as only 6% of the population, whereas Japan already had an extremely high literacy rate in the world from the Samurai days, which one survey described as 60% of the population in Shiga (close to 90% of men and 40% of women). So a modern Korea needed to be built from ground up starting with elementary education.

    His speech of 14th April 1907, made to Japanese teachers being posted to Korea said, “We must teach the children with total sincerity and kindness, and there must be no discrepancy between what we preach and what we practice”, “Koreans have religious freedom and it is not your place to criticize them for what they believe.” “Japanese teachers should make use of their free time to learn the Korean language.”

    His speech in front of journalists from July 1907 in Seoul clearly stated his position as, “There is no need to annex Korea to Japan; Koreans need to govern themselves.”

    The Korean Emperor’s conspiracy to send the secret envoy to the Hague provoked action towards annexation of Korea in Japan, so as caution against such action, Ito said in another speech that annexation should be avoided, and Japan should treat Korea in the same manner as Wilhelm I of Prussia supported the State of Württemberg through education, etc to develop it into a full-fledged member of the German Federation. He was clearly seeing a German parallel in this issue over how to deal with Korea.

    However, this liberal attitude of Ito’s started to harden as he faced increased anti-Japanese, independence seeking, action in Korea such as the “Righteous Army” movement. So in April 1909, when the Prime Minister of Japan as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs hesitantly approached Ito about the inevitability of annexing Korea to Japan to bring it under control, he no longer put up resistance.

    Ito thus ended up giving up his attempt to help Korea find self-enlightenment and resigned from his post in Korea in June 1909 and was assassinated by a Korean nationalist soon after, in October of that year.

    This is the background behind the Japanese feet-dragging that delayed the establishment of the medal for the Crown Prince visit, and the clarified intention to award it also to the Koreans should be interpreted as a new resolve among the Japanese to pursue the annexation of Korea. It is even likely that the majority of the medals were given to Koreans as a gesture of treating them as subjects of the Empire of Japan to firm up the groundwork for the Japanese Annexation of Korea, coming next.
    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 06:12 AM.

  4. #34


    The Medal

    The Obverse side features crossed sprigs of sandalwood representing Korea with the chrysanthemum crest above it.

    The rear says 大日本国皇太子 Crown Prince of the Great Empire of Japan at the top and 渡韓記念章 Commemorative Medal for Korea Visit, vertically in the center and 明治四十年十月 40th Year of Meiji, October along the bottom.

    Though the Petersen book calls the medal, “Crown Prince’s Voyage to Korea Commemorative Medal”, there is actually no reference to a voyage in the Japanese, which would equally apply to a plane flight to Korea. The phrase 渡韓 pronounced Tokan merely means to cross to Korea, and a visit to the USA would be Tobei and visit to Europe is To-ou, whatever means of transport you choose, so “Crown Prince’s Trip/Visit to Korea Commemorative Medal” is a more accurate translation.

    This was the last medal, which had a version in gold for Japanese and Korean royal family members.

    The edict said it was to be worn on the left chest, but says nothing about a bow-ribbon version for women, so it seems unlikely that a female version ribbon existed for this medal.

    The case was virtually the same lacquered case from the Constitution Promulgation Medal, but with the white inlay switched to the red inlay used in the 25th Wedding Anniversary Medal Case. This became the last lacquered case to be used for a medal and henceforth light paulownia sandalwood or textured pasteboard became the standard case material for commemorative medals.

    War medals had already switched to the light wooden cases since the Boxer Rebellion War Medal, the Sino-Japanese War Medal being the only war medal to have a lacquered case, a case ending up a lot more expensive than expected, due to an unscrupulous lacquer-ware merchant low-balling the government into a contract and later claiming material unavailability, etc to delay delivery and raise prices, a bitter experience after which lacquered cases were reserved only for orders.

    However, the case for this medal must have become a matter of national pride vis-à-vis the Koreans to do in lacquer. In that view, it seems logical to use established components with more or less established costs by cannibalizing components from cases of the two previous medals.

    The previous two medals had the eyelet in the back sewn on, but from this medal they would fix the eyelet with prongs piercing the ribbon and crimped at the rear in stapler fashion.

    The only citation I have seen of this medal is dated 18th April 1909, which just appears to be the date on which they got around to filling out the particular citation.

    At this time, unfortunately I have no information on issue or production numbers, but judging by its rarity in Japan, this medal must have had the lowest issue numbers within Japan of the 3 medals so far. That this medal is more commonly found outside of Japan may indeed be true, because it seems to have been conceived more as a statement to the Koreans rather than a memento for the Japanese.
    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 06:34 AM.

  5. #35


    Of Prejudice and Pride

    I tried to write about Japan-Korea relations as faithful as possible to recorded facts, but it should be worthwhile to give you an anti-Japanese viewpoint on the issue, a newspaper article from the Korea Daily News, a newspaper founded by a British journalist, Ernest Thomas Bethell (1871-1909)

    As a British subject in Korea, he enjoyed extraterritorial immunity from persecution based on Korean laws, so the Japanese complained about his publication directly to the British.

    Shown also below is the British reply to the complaint lodged by the Japanese as answered by Sir Edward Grey, who was the British Foreign Secretary at the time. Note also that his letter referred to Korea as “Corea”.

    This spelling difference has become another anti-Japanese myth widely believed in Korea. It claims that it used to be Corea, but after Japan won the Sino-Japanese War, Japan came to resent “Corea” coming before Japan in alphabetical order in events like the Olympics and contrived to have the spelling changed to Korea, so they would only appear after Japan.

    But facts reveal that the USA had adopted the spelling of Korea already in 1884, long before Japan had won the Sino-Japanese War and even before the Olympic Games existed, which started in 1896.

    Anyway, Japanese and Korean relations have been plagued with barbed exchanges of prejudices like that ever since Japan beat China, Korea’s old master in the Sino-Japanese War.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan   Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

  6. #36


    Before moving to the next medal, here's a close look at the rear eyelet configuration that got changed from this Korean visit medal. The following compares the eyelet from the 25th Wedding Anniversary Medal with that of the next Annexation of Korea Medal.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

  7. #37


    The Medal that lives in Infamy for the Koreans

    The Annexation

    Japan’s Annexation of Korea officially took place through a treaty that took effect on 29th August 1910. With this treaty, the short-lived Greater Korean Empire 大韓帝国, established in October 1897 ceased to exist, making the Korean peninsula part of Japan until the end of WW2.

    The method taken to modernize and strengthen Korea thus took a different path from what Ito had initially hoped for, but what he wanted to achieve there did become reality. For instance, Ito’s emphasis on improving the education level took concrete form of increased number of elementary schools from what used to be only 100 schools before the annexation to 4,271 schools by 1943. The literacy rate of only 6% in 1910 also rose to 22% by 1943.

    This reinforcement of education was achieved by sending teachers from Japan, who taught in Japanese, so Koreans are still quite resentful about that, claiming the Japanese denied Koreans their own language, but the other face of this program that the Koreans tend to forget was that Korean language courses were officially added as compulsory courses to school curriculums for the first time in Korean history by these Japanese, NOT to deny them their native tongue.

    Compared to the modernization of Japan, which first had to start by the Japanese having to learn Dutch, French, German, Russian and English, they all got to learn both Japanese and Korean already in school, so they could read all the European and American books translated by then into Japanese.

    Though it was already before the annexation, my own great grandfather was there in Korea too, to build the Gyeongin Rail Line that connects Seoul and Incheon, using know-how he had gained from his studies in England and Germany.

    Also, like what happened in Japan more than 20 years earlier, social class segregation was abolished and those treated previously in Korea as sub-humans and denied family names were given family registers free of any class distinctions, allowed family names and were given equal access to public education.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan   Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

  8. #38


    The Medal

    The proposal to issue a medal commemorating this event was approved by the Prime Minister and passed onto the cabinet for study on 9th February 1912, further receiving an “all clear” from the Legislation Bureau on 15th March. This was issued as Edict 56, signed by Emperor Meiji on 28th March 1912, just 4 months before his death.

    This medal, too, was proposed only 1.5 years after the deed, but it is understandable that they only thought of celebrating the event after things had stabilized in Korea.

    Those who were to receive this medal were described in article 3 of the Edict as follows

    1. Those that were directly involved in the project to annex Korea and those who engaged in activities initiated to support this annexation.

    2. Officials and equivalent personnel stationed in Korea at the time of the annexation, and Korean officials and equivalent personnel within the Korean government at the time of annexation.

    3. Those who had previously contributed to Japan-Korea relations

    Note that unlike earlier medals, they do not deny the medals to officials of Hanninkan rank and below.

    This edict also mentioned for the first time that the medal would be presented to the bereaved family in case the intended recipient passed away before the awarding. Posthumous awarding was not anticipated in edicts for the earlier commemorative medals.

    The medal’s obverse looks very similar to the Crown Prince’s Visit Medal showing two flowering tree branches crossed under the chrysanthemum crest, but this time the right side branch is a paulownia tree representing Japan and the left side branch is a plum tree branch, representing Korea, both with flowers in bloom. A blooming cherry branch might be more typical for Japan, but cherry in bloom looks distinctly different from plums in bloom only in color, so it would have lacked contrast in this case.

    The paulownia leaf and flower crest design like those atop rising sun orders have come to represent the government of Japan, but paulownia depicted in natural form like on this medal is not actually a very familiar sight to a Japanese. So I wouldn’t be surprised if most Japanese mistook the plum as a cherry representing Japan and the paulownia as some Korean tree. But plum is the national flower of Korea, so the design seems to give right of way to the Korean symbol by compromising on clarity of Japanese symbolism.

    The reverse side gives the year on top as 明治四十三年 43rd Year of Meiji (1910) and 韓国併合 Korea Annexation 記念章 Commemorative Medal. The date is given at the bottom as 八月二十九日 August 29th.

    The medal was in brass and no longer in dual versions of gold and silver.

    The master mold for this medal is attributed to 佐藤磐 Ban Sato, who also designed the mold for the rear side of the Taisho Enthronement Medal coming next.

    Article 2 of the edict said to wear the medal on the left chest, but again there is no mention of bow ribbons for female awards,
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  
    Last edited by nick komiya; 10-29-2017 at 01:45 PM.

  9. #39


    Dating the Citations

    By this time, issuing of medals in large numbers was done by having the citations show the same nominal award date, regardless of when the citation was actually filled in.

    They realized this was necessary when they handled large numbers of Sino-Japanese war medals, as court rank, order class possessed, military rank, which all comprised one’s title to precede one’s name, could change by the date the citation was filled in, making it exhibit outdated information .

    So they asked for the full titles of recipients as of a certain date and used that date, not to cause outdated information to be entered onto the citations. The date used for the Annexation of Korea Medal was 1st August 1912, but unlike the previous 3 medals this has nothing to do with the actual date the medal was given to the recipient, which would be much later (Records show that serial numbers in the 37,400 range were only delivered to the recipients on 3rd May 1913).

    Emperor Meiji passed away 2 days earlier on 30th July 1912 (45th Year of Meiji), and that day already became the first day of the new era of Taisho; so 1st August was actually the 3rd day of the 1st Year of the new era of Taisho.

    This one-Emperor-one-Era system actually only began with Emperor Meiji.
    Before, era names could change several times within one Emperor’s reign, as they often changed era names after things like natural disasters, hoping to invite better fortune with a new era. Thus Emperor Meiji’s father, Emperor Kohmyo’s reign was divided into as many as 6 eras.

    The case for the annexation medal finally departed from the lacquered cases used for the previous 3 commemorative medals and used the light paulownia sandalwood also used for war medals.

    The Petersen book made a huge mistake calling the China Incident Commemorative Medal a medal for "Chinese Collaborators", but this medal may indeed be seen as a medal of infamy in Korea, where talking about positive aspects of Japanese rule is still taboo, sometimes leading to arrests and even jail terms.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

  10. #40


    The Taisho Grand Ceremony (not Enthronement) Commemorative Medal

    Old Emperors don’t fade away, they just crumble

    The 59-year old Emperor Meiji was a diabetic and had not been feeling well that month of July, 1912. He then fell ill while attending a graduation ceremony at the Imperial University of Tokyo on the 11th. His condition quickly deteriorated from there and, as his personal physician thought things were getting critical, he called in two specialists on the 20th, who found the Emperor suffering from the last stage symptoms of uremia, which meant the kidneys were no longer functioning.

    By the 28th, he started to suffer seizures, so the doctors resorted to camphor and saline water injections to ease the suffering. His family was warned to stay close by to be ready to see him off.

    As a safeguard to keep maladies at bay, imperial court traditions allowed only the empress and her court lady access to the Emperor’s bedroom. The court physician was an exception and allowed in, but as it became necessary to call in trained nurses, who also due to court rules required to be holders of 5th class or higher orders, the deathbed of the Emperor needed to be set up in the living room in order to let medical and other personnel have access to the dying man.

    At around 22:30 of the 29th, family members on standby since the day before were all called in to surround the bed. The Empress, the Crown Prince and his wife as well as the other Princes heard him cough to clear his throat, but soon his breathing became shallow and the silence was overtaken by the sobbing of family members. Then Emperor Meiji appeared to want to say something. “What is it, my Dear?” replied the Empress, but no answer came as he seemed simply to fade into sleep.

    Actual death came at 22:43 of 29th July, but a quick discussion ensued, and it was decided to record the time of death as 2 hours later at 00:43 of the 30th.

    Imperial Succession Regulations required Crown Prince Yoshihito to perform a ritual called Sennso within the same day, but there was barely an hour left in that day, which was simply too short notice. That was why Emperor Meiji was required to live to see the new day, at least in spirit, if not in person.

    A special noun is used to refer to the death of an emperor, which is read Hohgyo 崩御 meaning “majestic crumbling” as if he were more rock than flesh. Actually, the Chinese Book of Rites where that word comes from provides 5 grades of death, depending on how noble one had been and Hohgyo was the superlative form applied only to an Emperor or Empress. For the rest of us, including the death of a salesman, the word for the 5th and lowest form of death on this imperial scale applies.

    The verb for an imperial death was also a euphemism reserved for an Emperor, a direct English translation being “to hide himself”, as if the sun had hidden behind clouds.

    The rite of Sennso 践祚 in ancient times was already the enthronement of a new emperor, but some emperors took the throne as a result of abdication of a former emperor, instead of inheritance through death, so this rite of succession evolved into a private hand-over ritual of the 3 items of imperial regalia, preceding the public enthronement, which would come later.

    The Sennso started with the Crown Prince inheriting two of the imperial regalia, the sword of “Kusanagi” and beads of jade, which were usually enshrined in a clay vault adjacent to the Emperor’s bedroom. These were placed on a desk in front of the Crown Prince by a chamberlain and the national and emperor’s seals were also deposited there by the Inner Minister. At the same time, another ritual took place in front of the third imperial regalia, the sacred mirror, to report the Sennso to the Sun Goddess.

    Through these rites, Crown Prince Yoshihito took possession of the three imperial regalia which made him the next Emperor of Japan.

    From that day, the 30th of July 1912, the name of the era would become Taisho, instead of Meiji.

    By the way, the Kusanagi sword existing today is a replacement, as the original perished at sea along with the 6-year old Emperor Antoku, when the Heike Clan were decimated by the Genji in the 1185 Battle of Dan-no-Ura.

    Emperor Meiji’s State Funeral would later take place on 13th September 1912 and next day he was entombed in a mound in Kyoto, according to his wishes.
    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; 11-03-2017 at 10:44 AM.

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