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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. #81


    A Medal Marking a Dead End

    A New Medal for Total Mobilization

    Unlike European nations that had versions of war medals for noncombatants, Japan stretched the eligibility criteria for its war medals to include even civilian activities that “assisted” military action. Therefore, for instance, though doctors and nurses were not combatants, their contributions to the war effort made them eligible for the war medals. Thus civilians in and outside the war zone could also win war medals.

    However, the China Incident ended up effectively dragging the whole civilian population into the war effort by forcing a direct trade-off between production of military and civilian goods, because there weren’t enough raw materials to make both. Thus supply of steel, copper, zinc, lead, wool, cotton, rubber etc all got cut off from commercial production and channeled into military production instead.

    Having the civilian population deal with such material shortages was already one thing, but the concept of National Mobilization enacted as law in March 1938 encouraged further active contributions to military effort by civilians. For instance, having civilians invest money saved through commercial abstinence into war bonds, became important for the war effort, and by end of 1944, the amount of national debt became as much as 240% of Japan’s national income.

    Such extra involvement of civilians in the war effort deserved recognition, but they could not possibly be given war medals for those contributions, as that would not be fair to the soldiers who had to put their lives on the line to win theirs.
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    Last edited by nick komiya; 11-22-2017 at 09:37 AM.

  2. #82


    The Home Front Medal

    So it was that a “China Incident Home-front Service Medal 支那事変銃後奉公記章” was newly conceived, which later got its name shortened to “China Incident Commemorative Medal 支那事変記念章”

    This new Home Front medal was proposed by the Decorations Bureau on 6th July 1942. At that time, it was planned to be given out to as many as 4.7 million people, who did not qualify for the China Incident War Medal instituted in July 1939, yet who had direct involvement in the incident.

    The China Incident itself began on 7th July 1937, but as it dragged on longer than any other conflict had in the past, instead of waiting for it all to end, Japan decided to set an artificial midpoint to tally up the scores and award medals and orders for achievements up to that point to avoid dampening morale by delaying recognition too long.

    That artificial cutoff date was 29th April 1940, so the first wave of winners of China Incident War medals and orders were selected as of that date. Issue numbers for the China Incident War Medal alone went up to 3.4 million medals and there were Rising Suns and other orders to make in addition to those medals, so even as late as June 1941 (only posthumous awards had been made up to that date) they hadn’t even started to deliver all the medals and orders owed, but at least, on paper, all war merits up to 29th April 1940 had been accounted for and awards were pending.

    Then before they could set up a second wave awarding for the China Incident, that conflict in China ended up seamlessly merging into WW2 after Pearl Harbor. So the Japanese government made the decision in a Cabinet meeting on 11th December 1941 that “from 7th December 1941 the new phase of the continuing war was to be called the Greater East Asia War”.

    Therefore, recognition of actions related to the China Incident between 30th April 1940 and 6th December 1941 was still outstanding, when the Greater East Asia War broke out. However, organizing a second wave of medal and order presentations when they were still busy dealing with the first wave of presentations was too soon. So on 10th January 1942, they instead decided to postpone and merge that second wave of awarding into the medal and order awarding for the Greater East Asia War to come at some later date.

    Because Japan was already in the Greater East Asia War at the time the Home Front medal was proposed, there were those that questioned the need to newly issue an outdated medal named for the China Incident. As such, the following exchanges took place at the meeting of the Privy Council on Wednesday, 9th September 1942 from 10:30 AM, which discussed changes to the Golden Kite awarding regulations and this new home front medal as final screening before proceeding to get the Emperor’s signature on the edict.

    First, a Q&A exchange between Prime Minister Tojo and Moriyama, the Chief of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau.

    Moriyama: “Now that the China Incident is to be regarded as part of the Greater East Asia War, what meaning does it have to issue a China Incident Commemorative Medal at this time?”

    Tojo: “You are right that we have agreed to include the current China Incident campaign within the definition of the Greater East Asia War. However, the part of the campaign preceding the date of 7th December 1941 will still remain as “the China Incident” and it is for that timeframe that this medal is intended. It is therefore assumed that a separate medal with similar intentions will follow for the Greater East Asia War as well” (The Greater East Asia War Commemorative Medal/Home Front Medal).

    Asked why the China Incident Prize-Giving had been set up at such strange timing (29th April 1940), Seko the Governor of the Decorations Bureau---

    Seko: Holding a Ron-Kou-Kosho (Prize-giving) by splitting the campaign into sections was done with the intention of offering timely recognition of individual achievements for the sake of upholding morale.

    He was further asked whether the clause about “assisting the war effort” in the China Incident War Medal eligibility clause needed to be altered (trimmed back) as the result of adding a China Incident Commemorative Medal. To which Seko replied that no changes were necessary.

    Commissioner Izawa: Why not simply call the medal "The Greater East Asia War Commemorative Medal" and be done with it?

    Seko: That is because we already have the China Incident War Medal and we wish to properly wrap up all matters related to that stage of events under that name.

    The Privy Council members all stood up as their vote to pass the bills and the meeting was adjourned at 16:05.

    By this time, the name of the medal had been shortened from “China Incident Home-front Service Medal 支那事変銃後奉公記章” to “China Incident Commemorative Medal 支那事変記念章”, and the number of anticipated medals was also reduced from the initial 4.7 million down to 3.1 million by restricting the award criteria to those, who went beyond the call of normal duty to serve the war effort, which eliminated civilian officials merely involved in the China Incident War efforts in the course of their daily business routines.

    Though the words”銃後奉公 Home Front Service” had been eliminated, and ”記章 medal” was changed to”記念章 commemorative medal”, otherwise the purpose of the medal remained unchanged from the original proposal.

    Thus on 25th September 1942, the medal was finally approved as an edict by the Emperor.
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    Last edited by nick komiya; 11-22-2017 at 10:28 AM.

  3. #83


    Game Change

    But as the establishment of this medal came at a time when further awarding for the China Incident was already suspended, pending the award-giving for the Greater East Asia War, only the dead were issued the medals on a posthumous basis, as awarding of the dead was carried out regularly every few weeks apart as announcements in the local newspapers.

    While the awarding of both the China Incident War and Commemorative Medals for the living was put on hold in this manner, the Greater East Asia War Medal was further established to add to this traffic jam of pending medal awards.

    But the Greater East Asia Medal was not merely added to the end of the line consisting of those waiting for the two China Incident Medals, as they simultaneously issued edict revisions for the previous two medals to transform many of those pending medals into the new Greater East Asia War Medal.

    These amendments were made simultaneously with the introduction of the Greater East Asia War Medal on 20th June 1944. It said those who earned the right to the China Incident War Medal after 29th April 1940, and who further served to qualify also for the Greater East Asia War Medal would no longer get the China War Medal but the latter medal instead.

    And the amended edict for the China Incident Commemorative Medal also denied the China Incident Commemorative Medal to those whose contributions to the China Incident came after the date of April 29th 1940 and who further qualified for the Greater East Asia War Medal.

    This meant, for instance, that if you were a civilian in 1941 and your contributions to the China Incident qualified for a commemorative medal, if in the meanwhile you were drafted into the army, and engaged in the Greater East Asia War, you could no longer get the commemorative medal, but instead the Greater East Asia War Medal. As many civilians would have been drafted in the meanwhile, they could switch great numbers of the home front medal to the war medal.

    Only if you did not qualify for any of the war medals and your home front contributions were before Pearl Harbor, were you now owed the commemorative medal. Consequently, the large numbers originally anticipated in the June 1942 proposal would have been whittled down considerably by the presence of the Greater East Asia War Medal.

    The Decoration Bureau confessed in a 1944 document that initially they only planned to amend the edict for the China Incident War Medal, but not for the Commemorative Medal. However, they belatedly realized that this would give rise to an imbalance. Those qualifying for the China Incident War Medal as well as the Greater East Asia Medal were not given a China war medal anymore, but if not amended, those who qualified for both the China commemorative medal as well as the Greater East Asia Medal could get both.

    Anyone, who had been owed a China Incident War or Commemorative Medal, who could now win the Greater East Asia War Medal, ended up getting those China medals cancelled and went on the waiting list for the Greater East Asia War Medal, instead. But that medal was never delivered.

    This may all sound like people were being cheated of the medals, but there was clear justice to it when viewed from the standpoint of a soldier who spent the entire war at the front lines. Giving both the commemorative medal and a war medal to those who had experienced both sides of the fence in the war would have made it look like he did more than the soldier who got only one war medal for slugging it out for the entire war in the combat zone, which was clearly wrong.
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  4. #84


    A Medal at a Dead End

    The final blow came on 29th March 1946, when it was decided to revoke the two China Incident Medals as well as the Greater East Asia War Medal, not to provoke the winning Allies. Thus the 3 medals were revoked and made void.

    The very few China Incident Commemorative Medals on the market today were therefore all posthumous awards given to civilians who never qualified for the China Incident War Medal or the Greater East Asia War Medal and yet made significant contributions to the China Incident war effort between 7th July 1937 and 6th December 1941. There would have been more of them if they had also gotten around to awarding them also to those that survived the war, but that never happened, because the medal itself got revoked.

    So though the medal had been mistakenly called the Medal for Chinese Collaborators for many years partly because of its scarcity in Japan, it was actually the Medal for Dead Civilian Contributors to the China Incident.

    The posthumous awards were all issued without cases or citations, which would have followed later when they could get around to it when the war ended, but never did. As we have already seen, cases and citations following after the medal at a later date was already an established practice in such cases.
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  5. #85


    Thank you for reading these long stories about the 12 commemorative medals of the Japanese Empire. I tried not to make it just a boring catalog of medals, but did my best to take you back into those times in history to let you come into touch with a bit of the Zeitgeist and humanity of the times.

    This series has finally reached a happy end. Thank you.

  6. #86


    Wonderful work, Nick! It is about time that someone put together the original documentation and told the whole story of these fascinating medals. Thank you so much for making the effort! Well done!

  7. #87


    I thought it might help to provide summarized information on quantities issued and minted when known or simply the highest serial number on a citation I found in a quick survey.

    Also, I would like to borrow this occasion to correct a comment made about the case for the Crown Prince Visit to Korea Medal.

    Though the exterior looked identical to the case of the Constitution Medal, it is actually larger and is not the same.
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  8. #88


    The evolution of medal production methods and the collaboration between the Japan Mint and private manufacturers

    In the story about the Showa Enthronement Grand Ceremony Commemorative Medal, I explained how the Japan Mint in Osaka took order and medal production away from the private sector after the Order-selling Scandal caused a public uproar in 1929.

    Also, in the story about the making of the Year 2600 medal, I explained in detail the production steps. But these fragments of information require a little more historical context, as they were only snapshots of the situation at those particular times.

    The Japan Mint and the Private Sector Job-split Arrangement

    The Japan mint in Osaka was actually involved in order and medal production from earlier days, as the mint had the large and powerful press machines needed for striking medals as well as orders.

    Well before the launch of the Rising Suns, the mint was already consulted back in 1873 whether they could handle order production, but they had to decline due to the enamel work, which they were not equipped to handle at that time. So the orders were given out to the Hirata family, who had been for generations, metalwork artisans for sword koshirae accessories and tobacco cases.

    However, because of the one-off nature of the Hirata families’ trade, the first few Rising Suns presented in late 1875 and early 1876 were all chiseled out from silver sheets by hand, only using a steel template as guide. There was no way they could crank out orders in any decent numbers in this primitive way.

    So as of February 1877, pressing the Rising Suns using the machines used for coins was given to the Osaka Mint and these metal parts were supplied to the Hirata’s. This arrangement, however, was discontinued after the mint finished striking the 7,270th Rising Sun in 1880, as the private sector finally caught up with its own die striking setup.

    Thus between 1880 and 1929, when the Japan Mint took over, starting with the Sacred Treasures, production of Orders was strictly in private hands, although there was a brief discussion around the time of WW1 whether the mint could take over, which didn’t lead anywhere.

    On the other hand, regarding the medals, the mint was better equipped to produce them in quantities, so initially they were exclusively produced at the mint.

    Until after the Russo-Japanese War, making press dies for coinage and medals required exceptional skill, as a negative image had to be sculpted directly in the actual size of the coin or medal as a sink die. There were only a handful of master artisans who could do this, and replicating such sink dies for use in multiple press machines was therefore practically impossible.

    The Janvier Reduction Sink-Die Engraving Machine

    The technology that finally made replication possible for production of medals also outside the mint was acquired by the Osaka Mint in 1904 in the form of the Reduction Rotary Die Engraving Lathe developed by the Frenchman, Victor-Prosper-Francois Janvier. This was an improved version of a portrait lathe developed in Europe in the late 18th Century, which applied the pantograph principle to a lathe to have one stylus trace a rotating large low-relief model and have the lathe end cutting metal accordingly in reduced coin size, even as a negative sink die.

    So the medal minting process I detailed in post 74 related to the use of this machine. A clay sculpture was done first in 10 times the final size. A plaster cast was made of this, which got copper plated to create a scan-able template. In order for the Janvier machine to be able to smoothly trace the 3D profile during the rotating motion, the sculpted depth of the clay model could be no more than 4 mm from the highest point. Click here for a video demonstration of a Janvier lathe in the USA.

    If used successfully, the beauty of this method was that so long as you kept the copper-plated plaster mold, you could produce identical sink dies, so striking dies could be replicated or renewed as needed.

    The machine, however, was not easy to use, so for a full 6 years it lay idle after purchase and finally got employed for production from 1910, when some commemorative medallions were made, one of which celebrated the annexation of Korea.

    Therefore the first medal to employ this production method would have also been the Korean Annexation Commemorative Medal they produced in 1912.

    It was also thanks to this method that the First National Census and Korean National Census Medals could share identical obverse designs.

    However, replicating dies to farm production out to private companies did not seem to happen until the Showa Enthronement Scandal. One reason was that the mint had a rule of thumb of 50,000 pieces as a minimum production run. The next high number medal would have been the Taisho Enthronement Grand Ceremony Commemorative Medal, but the Osaka mint production figures I now located record production quantity as 214,006 pieces, which account for 100%, so no private contracts seem to have existed at least till 1916, when that medal was in production.

    At least, there is no doubt that the China Incident War Medal contracts were once again awarded to multiple private manufacturers all over Japan, some as far away as in Akita Prefecture in Northern Japan. Then finally on Empire's Day, 11th February 1943, order production of lower classes (without enamel work) of Rising Suns, Sacred Treasures and Golden Kites came back to the private sector.
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  9. #89


    Here are some tidbits to add to post 88 for the sake of historical accuracy.

    1. The Oversized Plated Plaster Scanning Template described for use on the Janvier machine, was in use from 1924 onwards, as that was when the Osaka Mint introduced the electroplating process directly on the plaster casting. So between 1910 and 1924, they used the plaster mold to make a bronze casting, which they used to scan on the reduction engraver. Electroplating allowed more precise work, as it did not involve heat shrinkage unavoidable with bronze casting.

    2. A memoir written by a private medal manufacturer in Tokyo confirms he also made the Year 2600 Medals before getting busy with the China Incident War Medal contract of 300,000 pcs in 1941. Also, the Tokyo Branch of the mint got involved in Order production from 1940, 3 years before they called in private sector support.
    Last edited by nick komiya; 01-20-2018 at 08:18 PM.

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