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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. #41


    The Enthronement Ceremony in Two Parts

    The public Enthronement Ceremony for Emperor Taisho, which was celebrated by the commemorative medal, only took place 3 years later, on 10th November 1915. It was initially planned to happen in October 1914, but had to be postponed when Empress Dowager Shoken, Emperor Meiji’s widow, passed away in April of that year at the age of 64.

    The enthronement of a new Emperor comes in three steps. Sennso, as we have seen, takes place privately within the same day upon death of the former Emperor. The public ceremony to follow is actually split into two rituals, 即位の礼 Sokui-no-Rei (the Enthronement) and 大嘗祭 Daijo-sai ( Great Thanksgiving Festival). These two public ceremonies together are called 御大礼 Go-Tairei, the Grand Ceremony, and this was what the medal celebrated. See here for more details on these ceremonies.

    For Emperor Taisho, the Enthronement Ceremony was held in Kyoto on the 10th of November 1915, and the Great Thanksgiving Festival followed on the 14th and 15th of the same month in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture. The thanksgiving festival involved harvesting of that year’s crop of rice and the Emperor eating it, so the two enthronement rituals get set up together in late autumn.

    For the ceremony, a new Takamikura (throne) was constructed. That was the reason why the Takamikura on the Constitution Medal looked different. Emperor Meiji’s Takamikura depicted in the Constitution Medal was actually a 帳台 Choudai, a tent-like structure, used as improvised replacement for a real Takamikura, which had previously been lost to a fire in 1854. Thus the newly made Takamikura for Emperor Taisho was the proper one in traditional design.

    April 1913, Medal Design Proposal kicked off

    The Decorations Bureau was asked in a memo dated 10th April 1913 to propose an idea for a medal to celebrate the Grand Enthronement and suggest who should qualify to receive the medal. This memo came with a tentative proposal from the Grand Ceremony Preparation Commission within the Imperial Household Ministry.

    The tentative proposal suggested the following.

    Name of Medal

    即位礼記念章 Enthronement Ceremony Commemorative Medal. So at this stage, the medal was only named after the second of the three rituals, whereas the final medal was named after the combo of the last two ceremonies.

    Anticipated Recipients
    1. Those invited to the Enthronement Ceremony or the Great Thanksgiving Festival
    2. Those involved in organizing the above events

    It further cautioned, “Where to draw the line for those involved still needs development. There is also the question whether women should be awarded the medal as well, and if yes, whether the ribbon should be bow-shaped.”

    Those only participating in the Sennso were not being considered at this stage.

    Medal Design
    They were suggesting a silver medal and it was to feature the newly constructed Takamikura and the date on the rear side was to be an October 1914 date.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  
    Last edited by nick komiya; 11-03-2017 at 10:48 AM.

  2. #42


    Dec. 1913, Counterproposal from the Decorations Bureau

    It was on 9th December 1913, 8 months later that a follow-up proposal for the medal was submitted to Prime Minister, Gonnohyoue Yamamoto in the name of Takashi Hara, who was serving as the Chief of the Grand Ceremony. This follow up plan was presumably based on a plan developed by the Decorations Bureau, which obviously found support from the officials responsible for organizing the Grand Ceremony.

    Article 3 of the draft edict detailed the range of people to be awarded the medal as follows.

    1. Those who took part in the Sennso Ceremony

    2. Those who took part in the Enthronement Ceremony

    3. Officials of Hanninkan rank and above, who were engaged in organizing the Grand Ceremony

    4. Other than the above, those who were adults in the royal family, those with aristocratic titles, Chokuninkan, Souninkan and equivalent ranks of officials, members of both houses of parliament, the Musk Chamber Council (senior officials and aristocrats who were major contributors to the Meiji Restoration used to assemble in the Musk Chamber at the Kyoto Imperial Palace every other day as board of advisors to the emperor, which became an honorary title.), Golden Pheasant Chamber members (They were former members of the Chamber of Elders, which was dissolved in 1890 when parliament was established. This was also a honorary title, junior to the Musk Chamber Council), those with Court Ranks of Junior 4th Rank and above, those possessing orders of 3rd class and above, foreigners employed, who were equivalent to Chokuninkan and Souninkan ranks, foreign residents possessing 3rd class and above orders, city and village mayors, police and honor guards who were part of the Grand Ceremony.

    It further gave a breakdown of the number of people anticipated to receive the medal in each of the categories mentioned above as follows.

    1. Adult members of the royal family----------------------------------------------------------------------29
    2. Chokuninkan--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------876
    3. Souninkan-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------25,077
    4. Souninkan equivalents-------------------------------------------------------------------------------2,600
    5. City Mayors-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------64
    6. Town Mayors------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1,228
    7. Village Headmen------------------------------------------------------------------------------------11,079
    8. Aristocrats-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------917
    9. House of Peers members-------------------------------------------------------------------------------370
    10. House of Representatives members------------------------------------------------------------------381
    11. Musk Chamber Council members------------------------------------------------------------------------8
    12. Golden Pheasant Chamber members------------------------------------------------------------------59
    13. Junior 4 and 3rd class order recipients and above, without official posts------------------------1,000
    14. Grand Ceremony Officials-----------------------------------------------------------------------------500
    15. Honor Guards and Police--------------------------------------------------------------------------10,000
    16. Foreign Employees with Chokunin or Souninkan privileges------------------------------------------60
    17. Foreigners with 3rd class and above orders residing in Japan---------------------------------------10
    18. Foreign envoys participating in the Grand Ceremony------------------------------------------------50
    19. National Guests of Honor with attendants---------------------------------------------------------a few
    20. Wives of those participating in the Grand Ceremonies-------------------------------------------1,000


    The description of the medal itself anticipated the possibility of silver and gold versions at this time, as it is described as a silver or gold medal, but the tentative phrasing suggested the Decoration Bureau was not sure whether gold versions for royal family members were required as in the past.

    Unlike the earlier proposal from the Ministry of the Imperial Household, the medal was to cover the entire process of succession and not only the Enthronement Ceremony. Therefore the name of the medal was changed to 大礼記念章 the Grand Ceremony Commemorative Medal from the earlier suggested 即位礼記念章 Enthronement Ceremony Commemorative Medal.

    The Decorations Bureau obviously hesitated to use a Takamikura design so soon after the constitution medal and searched for other symbolism representing the Grand ceremony.

    After studying the collection of the Imperial Tokyo Museum to locate depictions made of earlier Grand Ceremonies of various Emperors, they noticed that special streamers with the word 万歳 Banzai had traditionally been used to adorn the venues for the ceremonies. They saw the same streamer design repeatedly used in the ceremonies of 1747, 1763 and 1780.

    Thus “Banzai”, uttered as a cry of joy for the first time on Constitution Promulgation day had always been featured on banners on enthronement day to wish the new Emperor a long life and reign.

    The medal design featured two of these streamers on spears crossed under the usual chrysanthemum crest, and partly hidden behind the banners were branches of blooming cherry and Tachibana Orange also crossed. When Tachibana Orange and cherry were used as Imperial symbols, rules required the cherry to be to the left of the emperor and the Tachibana to the right, so on the medal, the branch on the right side of the chrysanthemum is the cherry as we face the mum, symbolizing the emperor.

    The proposal explained above was pretty much what finally came out as a medal, but as the Empress Dowager passed away in April 1914, the enthronement ceremony got postponed a whole year. Also that year, Japan happened to declare war on Germany on 23rd August, which got Japan into WWI. So they only got back to finalizing the edict draft in summer of 1915.

    The edict draft above was finally submitted to the Prime Minister by the Decorations Bureau for consideration by the Cabinet on 15th July 1915.

    By this time they had it narrowed down to a silver medal with no gold versions, but a golden chrysanthemum crest on the silver background was retained from the earlier proposal.

    Those to be awarded were now listed as follows.

    1. Those invited to the Sennso Ceremony

    2. Those invited to the Enthronement Ceremony and Great Thanksgiving Festival

    3. Those invited to banquets at the various locations

    4. Those involved in organizing and setting up the Grand Ceremonies

    Posthumous awarding was carried over from earlier proposals, but there was no stipulation of bow ribbons for female recipients, though the earlier proposal had raised the question.

    The list of people involved by category was repeated, but this time the total count was less at 45,241, which was due to eliminating the Musk and Golden Pheasant Chamber members as well as honor guards and police from the recipient list.

    The above was cleared by the cabinet and Legislation Bureau on 5th August, 1915 and was signed by the Emperor as Edict 154 on 12th August.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan   Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

    Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan   Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

  3. #43


    The People behind the Medal Design

    The master mold for the obverse side was made by Takao Ikeda, who also made the mold for the 25th silver wedding anniversary medal earlier. The mold for the rear side was attributed to Iwao Sato of the Korea Annexation Medal. ( I misread his name as Ban Sato in the Korea Annexation Medal article, but realized it is correctly Iwao Sato instead). Both were sculptors at the Japan Mint in Osaka, normally designing coins and both were graduates of the prestigious Tokyo School of Arts 東京美術学校, which will become a university later on.

    Ever since sending out its first crop of graduates from its 5-year course in 1893, many graduates of that school were employed by the government in minting coins, printing stamps and bills. Sato had graduated the school in 1901 and Ikeda was an earlier graduate. 

    Records clearly show that the design for the Showa Enthronement Medal of 1928 had been commissioned to the Tokyo School of Arts, and the Russo-Japanese War Medal design was also based on a design submitted by the school in December of 1905. So there was a clear tendency for the government to ask the school to design important medals. The school’s pedigree was certainly appreciated by officials in those days and was like an established brand that made acceptance by the government easier.

    Though no documents survive to directly link the Taisho Enthronement medal design to the school, there is evidence to suggest their involvement in this medal as well. The first point is the ground pine motif suggested on the ribbon of the first medal design. The second point is the unique design of the supporting frame adopted in the final design. Both of these features were seen in the 1905 design proposal the school made for the Russo-Japanese War Medal, but were not adopted by the Decorations Bureau. So It looks as though the school was trying to give these motifs a second chance.

    Though the gnarled branches and trunk of ancient pine trees have been widely recognized as symbols of longevity in Japan, Ground Pine was a somewhat obscure plant in Japanese mythology. It was used like a G-string bikini by a female dancer in an erotic dance she did to lure the sun goddess out of the cave she hid in. So it was a tantalizing accessory to a divine form of striptease. It is such a curved ball idea that I cannot help thinking it must have come from the same mind that entwined it around a navy anchor in the Russo-Japanese War Medal design.

    As to the second point, the supporting structure for the final enthronement medal is a significant departure from the simple suspension rings employed in all the 4 commemorative medals preceding it. Instead, it employs a D ring shape more common to the war medals, but without the bar. The original design proposal from the Tokyo School of Arts for the Russo-Japanese War Medal used that support structure to depict a Golden Kite diving toward its prey. This flamboyant design was dropped from the war medal, which decided to stick to the simpler traditional design. However, one can see a strong influence of that scrapped idea in the final design of the swiveled suspension used for the Taisho Enthronement Medal.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  
    Last edited by nick komiya; 11-03-2017 at 07:02 PM.

  4. #44


    3 years to get all the medals delivered

    The case was once again constructed of light paulownia sandalwood.

    On 2nd November, 1915 an increase of budget was requested for the production costs of the medal, due to a significant increase in the numbers to be issued. The budget addition requested was 75,000 Yen. The document does not mention the actual total, but the army memo mentioned later also gave honor guards for the ceremony the right to wear the medal, which had been denied in the earlier shown revised plan. The final quantity issued must have ended up being close to 3 times more than the initial estimate of 55,000 medals, reaching approximately 150,000 in the end. Also giving the medals to those invited to the banquets hosted by the local municipalities in honor of the newly enthroned Emperor must have caused this massive increase by lowering the threshold dramatically.

    The citations were all dated 10th November 1915 for the date of the Enthronement Ceremony. This meant that full titles with ranks as of that date needed to be collected and entered unto the citations.

    In view of the large numbers involved, this meant that the medals would in some cases take a very long time until they got delivered.

    Two days after the Enthronement Ceremony, on 12th November 1915, a memo was issued saying Ceremony Officials will receive the Enthronement Medal only when in Hanninkan rank and above. This was more in line with the initial plan proposed by the Imperial Household Ministry.

    In case of the army, memos dated 26th November 1915 said those qualified to receive the medal were to register for the medal, giving their status as of 10th November 1915. Two special notices were issued for different qualifying criteria to receive the medal.

    The royal family including the Korean royals got their medals in the first part of February 1916, which would be the earliest deliveries.

    On 4th March 1916, a question was raised whether the medal could be worn also on normal suits. Regulations issued by the Decorations Bureau in 1889 stated that one needed to be wearing a full dress uniform or tailcoat for wearing orders and war medals, but it did not mention commemorative medals, which brought up that question. So the earlier 1889 guidelines were amended, so that commemorative medals also required tailcoats or formal dress uniforms.

    Members of the Privy Council got their medals on 30th November 1916, which had citation numbers ranging from 31 to 2,192, so not many people seem to have received their medals within 1916.

    As a matter of fact, a memo from the Decorations Bureau dated 27th February 1919 stated that they would be wrapping up delivery of the medal as of 31st March 1919, and that those still missing their medals were to report so without delay. The army followed up by issuing a memo saying those who had not received their medals needed to report in by 25th March.

    So it took them a full 3 years to finish issuing the medals from the Taisho Enthronement. Just as the issuing of one medal ceased, it was time to get busy with another, the victory medal for the allied nations of WWI.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan   Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

    Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  
    Last edited by nick komiya; 11-03-2017 at 09:49 PM.

  5. #45


    A Medal like a Japanese in Kilts

    The Medaille de la Victoire

    The next commemorative medal to be issued in Japan was the “Medaille de la Victoire”, the Allied Victory Medal for the First World War, established by edict 406 of 16th September 1920.

    I have already written exhaustively about this medal in the War Medals thread here, so let me just add here a short overview to bridge this thread’s context with the other thread by trying to describe the historical role this medal played within the Japanese medal lineup.

    I can only describe this medal with two Japanese proverbs “痛し痒し (Itashi Kayushi)” and “帯に短し襷に長し (Obini-Mijikashi Tasukini-Nagashi)” The first proverb literally means “It hurts and itches at the same time” and the second means “Too short for an Obi (waist belt for a Kimono), yet too long for a sash”.

    Japan had become the only country in Asia that was able to successfully modernize and prevent being colonized by the Imperialistic ambitions of the Western Nations. WWI was confirmation that it had now become one of the world powers and it had even become a permanent member along with the UK, France, Italy and Germany in the League of Nations that was born as a result of that conflict. Japan had come a long way already in the lifetime of Emperor Meiji and it now enjoyed the camaraderie of being able to share the Victory in WWI with an International medal.

    But frankly, the medal itself was something Japan would have done gladly without. Japan had already issued its own WWI War Medal by that time as Japan’s WWI was a short stint that virtually ended within 1914. In addition to that, it did not fit in with the medal and order culture Japan had created for its own.

    In Japan, War Medals were a “Been there done that souvenir”, you automatically got for being mobilized in a conflict. You got the medal as long as you did not commit any criminal offense that involved serious time in jail. In addition, instead of developing a noncombatant’s version of war medals like the Europeans did, Japan made do with one war medal, but included noncombatants like nurses, medics and journalists and even monks also as recipients.

    However, at the Peace Conference in Paris, the Victory Medal ended up being defined as something strictly for combatants and something you only got for putting your life on the line as a soldier and not only for being there to serve in the theater of war. So from the Japanese point of view it was not a full-fledged war medal and partly an Order, yet short of a Rising Sun or Sacred Treasure Order 8th class.

    It was a little of everything, yet not fully anything, which the Japanese express as being “Too short for an Obi yet too long for a sash”. It was a joy to be invited into the privileged group of nations, but having to issue a third medal for WWI was no joy, a kind of fix that “made it itch, but it hurt to have to scratch the spot”.
    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. #46


    I have stuck this thread for future easy reference.

    Thanks Nick.

    Cheers, Ade.
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  7. #47


    The Medal for the First Population Count in 1920

    Getting a count is what counts

    In the days of the Samurai, Japanís national wealth was measured in 石 Koku, which was supposedly the volume of rice grains that sustained one person for one year, which came to about 180 liters. This caused farmers to rank immediately below the Samurai ruling class as the only wealth producing class. Below them came the artisans that didnít produce real wealth, and last came the merchants, who were like parasites in this rice-based view of preindustrial society.

    Since the year 1,582, after Japan was unified by the War Lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi, land and harvest volume surveys were conducted regularly throughout Japan, so the wealth of a Samurai family was also measured in Koku, which also determined the number of warriors the clan could feed in its employ. And taxation was also proportional to the number of Koku produced in his domain.

    But the industrialization of the Meiji era debased rice harvest as a measure of national wealth, so a new yardstick became necessary for Japan.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

  8. #48


    Population Census

    Nowadays we have various statistical measures of national wealth like GDP and trade surplus/deficit, etc that world leaders get excited about, but back in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, population served as the rule of thumb for how many soldiers a nation could field in a conflict.

    The Americans had been conducting their national census every 10 years since 1790, as the US Constitution required state representation in Congress to be proportional to the population count gained through the census.

    Conducting such population counts became the norm in the 19th Century, and also in Japan, such statistics were taken for certain domains in the Meiji era, based on European methods; a typical case being the 1879 census in what is now Yamanashi Prefecture. This served as an experiment on how to conduct a census on a national scale, but it was not enough to inspire a nationwide survey just yet.

    But soon after the end of the Sino-Japanese War, in September 1895, the International Statistical Institute, an international group of statisticians from various nations called upon Japan to participate in the World Population survey of 1900, which finally gave such initiatives political backing.

    As a result, a bill to conduct a national survey was passed in parliament in 1896, which further led to the 1902 promulgation of laws on actually conducting these surveys.

    Abortive attempts for a National Census

    The first National Census was thus planned for 1905, but ended up being postponed on account of the Russo-Japanese War. The next census planned for 1915 also got aborted because of WWI. So the third try of 1920 became the first National Census to be actually carried out.

    Ever since this 1920 survey, Japan has conducted its National Census survey, every 5 years, on 1st October.

    Appointing Census Takers

    Preceding that census, Edict 358 issued on 25th September 1918 laid down Execution Regulations for the National Census.

    Article 13 thereof said, “National Census Surveyors are to be appointed by the cabinet based on nominations from prefectural governors. National Census Surveyors are to be an honorary position”

    Article 14 said further, “National Census Surveyors shall be issued an insignia to be separately specified, which is to be worn by the surveyor during his duty.”

    Thus it was regarded as a great honor to be selected as a census taker in one’s region, and the list of surveyors virtually came to be considered a “Who’s Who” listing of the country gentry, so there were even those, who donated money to be nominated by the governor.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  
    Last edited by nick komiya; 11-05-2017 at 04:43 PM.

  9. #49


    Census Takerís ID Badge

    The ID badge for the 1920 Census, as required in Article 14 above, was announced on 9th July 1920. After use as an ID badge during the survey, the surveyors were allowed to keep the badge. Later on, those people would naturally receive also the commemorative medal. But the medal was only issued for the first census of 1920, whereas many of those surveyors also served in the same capacity for later census surveys. So these badges from later surveys often are found together with the commemorative medal.

    Therefore it should be useful to show all the pre-1945 surveyor badge designs here as well. 1945 was also to be a census year, but due to the surrender, that yearís census was postponed and done instead in 1947. So badges for 1920, 1925, 1930, 1935 and 1940 are shown in the illustration below. These were like lapel badges done in small coin size, actually by the Japan mint, not involving the Decorations Bureau responsible only for medals and orders. They were to be worn on the left chest fixed with a safety pin through the ring.

    The census was carried out even for remote parts of the country such as Taiwan, Okinawa and Sakhalin, but Korea was not quite ready to have a census taken yet, so they focused on promulgating the necessary laws to make that happen at a later date and Korea was excluded from the 1920 survey.

    This first census determined Japanís total population then to be 55,963,053. This has become 127,094,745 in the census of 2015 but is on a yearly decline due to chronic low birth rates.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan   Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

  10. #50


    Proposal for a Commemorative Medal is tabled

    On 24th May 1921, the memo from the Decorations Bureau addressed to the Prime Minister lauded the first National Census conducted the previous year on 1st October as a monumental feat that deserved to be celebrated by a medal.

    The attached edict draft said in article 3 that the medal was to be awarded to the following personnel.

    1. Those directly involved in the execution of the first national census.
    2. Those who were engaged in programs initiated to support the census.

    The obverse side of the medal was to feature a robed provincial governor 国司 from the days of the Taika Reform 大化改新 of 646, holding a scroll, representing the national family register first launched in that ancient Reform, a system which continues to this day.

    In Japan, a copy of this family register entry shows one’s parents and their birth and death dates, address, one’s date of marriage, name of spouse and names of offspring with dates of birth. Official business with the state that generally requires a birth certificate or a marriage certificate in the USA are all conducted in Japan by submitting a copy of one’s family register, which is the most basic form of state record for a Japanese national.

    Thus it was Japan’s method of accounting for its citizens, and the birth of that system in the mid 7th Century was indeed a monumental event comparable to the first national census of 1920.

    This was nothing imported from Europe in the process of modernization, but Germany has a similar system called the Familienbuch.

    In the earlier post about the annexation of Korea, when I referred to the Japanese giving the subhuman class of Korea an identity, what I meant was to get them onto this family register system. Not being registered, meant not being human, thus one was treated like an animal in society without being able to claim a family name.

    The rear design suggested in the May 1921 proposal said on the top 大正九年, 9th Year of Taisho (1920). Then two lines in the middle said, 国勢調査 National Census Survey and 記念章 Commemorative Medal. At the bottom came the date of 十月一日 1st October.

    On 8th June 1921, the proposal got endorsed by the cabinet as well as the Legislation Bureau and signed by Emperor Taisho as Edict 272 on 16th June 1921.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Commemorative Medals of the Empire of Japan  

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