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The Emperor’s New Clothes (The Evolution of the Emperor's Uniforms and Swords 1872-1947)

Article about: The Emperor’s New Clothes Foreword and Warning This is a story of the evolution of uniforms worn by three generations of Japanese Emperors, Emperor Meiji, Taisho and Showa from 1872 until 19

  1. #11


    The 1919 Oct. Grand Marshal’s Sword for the Emperor

    Yoshihito’s reign was only a short 14 years and the latter 7 years of that reign was spent as an incapacitated invalid, who could hardly feed himself from 1919 onwards until his death on Christmas day 1926, so Prince Hirohito (later to become Emperor Showa) officially had to stand in for his father after he was appointed Regent in November of 1921.

    Therefore higher class order citations from this period have two names signed on them, namely signatures for Yoshihito as well as Hirohito, which many mistake for double signatures, but Yoshihito could not even sign his name any more, so Hirohito was signing both in his father’s name and his own name.

    His initial problem was meningitis, a problem shared by many of his 14 siblings of which only he and 4 girls survived childhood. This is often explained to be the result of lack of outside blood in the family with too much intermarriages within the imperial family, but doctors have attributed the disease instead to chronic lead poisoning caused by the white cosmetic facial foundation used by aristocratic women (as well as Geisha), which poisoned the fetus.

    With such an emperor on the throne, there was not going to be much drama involving the emperor’s uniform. The only major event in this regard was the establishment of a Grand Marshal’s Sword, unique to the Emperor.

    At this point, before the sword, I’ll need to say a few things about the Grand Marshal and Field Marshal titles, as confusingly, they were initially official ranks in the Japanese Army, but later weren’t ranks any more, huh??

    For a brief one year period, in the very early days of the Japanese Army, namely between 1872 and 1873, Field Marshal existed as a rank. On paper, there was also a rank above that, which was Grand Marshal, a post never taken by anyone before it, too, was abolished in 1873. However, in January 1898, Field Marshal became a membership title for Generals selected into the circle of military advisors for the Emperor, what one might call a Marshal’s Council. The title of Grand Marshal also made a comeback in the Imperial Constitution promulgated in February 1889, which assigned that title to the Emperor as Commander-in-Chief.

    Shown below are drawings of a May 1919 prototype of the sword introduced for wear by the Emperor on 18th October 1919. This version has as many as 10 Chrysanthemum Crests on the scabbard, but it was reduced to 7 on the final version, not to differ too greatly from the newly established Field Marshal Swords, which only had 5 chrysanthemums on the scabbard.

    The material was initially suggested as gold at the time of the May drawing, but when the Ministry of the Imperial Household requested the reduction of the crests, they also requested a material change to a silver alloy.

    The majority of sword fans seem to believe that the Samurai style Type 94 sword, introduced for the Emperor later, in 1934 was the Grand Marshal’s Sword, but this 1919 sword was the one and only Grand Marshal’s Sword and it continued to be the sword for dress uniforms until the end of WW2.

    This sword is a mystery to me, as although it existed clear as day and is documented as well as illustrated repeatedly until as late as 1942. No one seems to know about it. Neither Mr.Ohmura nor Wikipedia has it right and only show incorrect information. So far as I can see, it was simply erased from history. Where did it go? I have no clue. More on this in 1934.
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  2. #12


    1919 Oct. Naval Uniform Update

    On the same day as the introduction of the Marshal’s Sword, on 18th October 1919, the Emperor’s Navy stand-up collar uniform got collar tabs. The navy did this, because the black tape stripes and loop on the sleeve did not show up well enough against the dark blue uniform. A chrysanthemum was added to a set of Admiral’s tabs. It is interesting to note that the navy introduced collar rank tabs 19 years before the army did.
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  3. #13


    The 1924 Uniform Update

    On 18th April 1924, the Emperor’s Army Service Uniform underwent a minor update of acquiring pocket flaps. Also the color of army uniforms had switched since mid 1920 to a more olive shade from the reddish khaki that had been in use from the Russo-Japanese War, so this new color would have been reflected in the Emperor’s uniform at this time. This was to align the Emperor’s uniform to the army uniform changes announced on 26th September 1922. Overcoats and other accessories also underwent changes, but I will omit those to focus only on the main uniform.

    The Emperor was already deathly ill, so this uniform update was likely to be only an update on paper. He passed away on 25th December 1926.
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  4. #14


    1927 Navy Dress Epaulet Update for Emperor Showa

    On 19th December 1927 the 26-year old Emperor Showa (Hirohito) got updated epaulets for his naval dress uniforms. This was also part of a general amendment of naval uniforms from the former 1914 regulation, in which the Emperor’s uniform got updated this time without any time lag, at the same time as the rest of the navy. Former epaulets indicated general rank by the wave-like device and the 3 cherry blossoms indicated Admiral, to which the chrysanthemum crest was added to indicate the Emperor. The new epaulets featured a large anchor and paulownia leaves and flowers on all officer ranks. All generals had 3 cherry blossoms and epaulets no longer distinguished between the 3 general ranks. Therefore the Emperor’s merely had the chrysanthemum added to the 3 cherry blossoms.
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  5. #15


    Emperor Showa, a Brief Resume

    He was born on 29th April 1901 and spent his early childhood amid reverberating “Banzai” calls from the Victory over Russia parades. By the way, Banzai, meaning “10 thousand years” for “long live the Emperor!” was a phrase coined at the time of the celebrations for the promulgation of the Meiji Imperial Constitution in 1889. At first, cries of “Houga, Houga”(Felicitations) were considered for the occasion of Emperor Meiji passing by in his carriage on his way to the capitol to announce the Constitution, but soon someone went pale when he realized that repeated calls of “Houga, Houga” would end up indistinguishable from “Ahouga, Ahouga” meaning “You Idiot, you Idiot!”, so “Banzai” was born, it is said.

    It was not only amid “Banzais” he grew up in, but Hirohito (whose childhood name was Michinomiya) also grew up among total strangers, wearing a girl’s dress. No kidding, all true!

    The tradition of the Imperial family was to send the baby out to a foster home at some farmer or some other commoner’s home. The current Prince is the first ever to be brought up entirely by his real family. In Hirohito’s case, he was sent to the home of a navy general when he was 70 days old and came back to his family when he reached 3, because the general died.

    Moreover, at the foster parents’ home, he was brought up as a girl, which is another traditional practice for the royal family as well as families of Shinto priests.

    Both of these practices stem from the very high mortality rate of children in those days. I already mentioned that of Emperor Meiji’s 15 children, 10 already perished in childhood. It was believed that children needed some good rough-and-tumble as well as strict discipline in infancy to grow up healthy, but life at the imperial palace would tend to be an overly protective one only to spoil the kid. The girl part was to “cheat the devil”, as girls were regarded as having a better chance of survival, which was also true for Emperor Taisho’s siblings.

    So here as proof, is Hirohito before he got to wear army and navy outfits.
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  6. #16


    In 1908, he started his schooling and Emperor Meiji appointed General Nogi of Russo-Japanese War fame to be his grandson’s school master.

    Nogi once asked him, “How, Sir, do you come to school?”, Hirohito replied,“On sunny days I walk, but on rainy days I come by carriage”. Nogi reprimanded him and said “You only need a coat to walk your way to school on rainy days”.

    He was also taught by Nogi that having holes or rips in his clothes was not acceptable, but there was nothing to be ashamed of wearing clothes with patched up holes. Hirohito was getting new clothes every time he bore a hole, because of his love of Sumo wrestling.

    These things he took really to heart and when the war ended and he realized that his civilian suit was more than 10 years old, because he had been wearing uniforms for the last 10 years, he refused to let them buy him a new suit, saying he could not do that while his people remained impoverished, so he patched up this suit and continued to wear it.

    He was deeply moved to recall that General Nogi came to visit him the day of Emperor Meiji’s State funeral to present to the boy his favorite book, which he had copied in his own hand. That was the last he saw of Nogi, as he and his wife followed the Emperor in death and took their own lives that day.

    Another tradition of the Imperial family, also stipulated by law was that boys needed to join the army and navy when they were 10 years old. So Hirohito made lieutenant of the Army & Navy on 9th September 1912. In Oct. 1916, he made Captain at the age of 15, got married at 22 and was a Colonel at 24. He was also standing in for his sick father as Regent since Nov. 1921 from age 20. And upon death of Emperor Taisho on Christmas 1926, he became Grand Marshal at age 25.
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  7. #17


    1930 Army Service Uniform Update

    10th September 1930 brought a minor revision to how the Emperor’s army jacket was cut. It now had a vertical seam in the back panel, which sounds quite trivial, but there was more to it than met the eye. This was to reflect changes made in the production methods for Army uniforms, introduced on 10th of April that year (the so-called Sho Go Type 昭五式 uniforms).

    From this 1930 series, the army switched its clothing sizes to metric from the traditional measurements based on Sun (3.03 cm). The back-seam was the result of allowing the two back panels to be cut out of smaller sheets of fabric, instead of a large sheet needed for a one-piece back. This reduced production wastage. Also, while the previous uniforms had full lining inside, this was reduced to approx. 70% of the inner surface.
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  8. #18


    1934 New Sword for Hirohito

    On the 14th of February 1934, the Emperor’s Army Sabre from the Emperor’s 1913 uniform was switched to the “Type 94” Samurai style army sword introduced for army officers on the same day.
    Mr. Ohmura, who many seem to regard as an authority on military swords confuses this sword with the Grand (Great) Marshal’s Sword on his site, but this was not a “Grand Marshal’s Sword”. This was only for wear when the dress code called for a field uniform. The 1919 Grand Marshal’s Sword was the sword to go with the full dress tunics until the end of WW2.

    Mr. Ohmura shows on his site the government gazette of 15th February 1934 as backup material, but obviously did not know how to interpret the legalese the army uses. Indeed the gazette does start out by naming the Grand Marshal’s Sword, but that is because the 1913 regulation it was seeking to amend had designated the sabre as dress sword, and this 1934 regulation amendment now gave that role to the Grand Marshal’s Sword before going on to discuss the Type 94.

    It follows with the introduction and specs of the Type 94, which is unceremoniously described only as “Sword”. It goes on to say that the informal dress and field uniform regulations are now assigning this sword to be worn with the khaki uniform. Once again Mr. Ohmura’s lack of familiarity with Army practice led to a similar mistake he made with the so-called Type 3 sword.

    The Army had 3 grades of dress uniform and two grades of service uniform in its dress regulations. The third grade of dress was informal dress or walking out dress actually in the khaki tunic, so only the top two categories required the frock style dress tunic, and the rest was in the khaki jacket.

    Oddly, when the Grand Marshal’s sword got introduced in 1919, they did not assign the sword to any grade of dress. So it was not defined with what uniform one could wear it. So when the Type 94 sword came up and discontinued the sabre, all dresses that required the sabre had to be updated.

    So they first decided to fill the now vacant dress sword slots with the Grand Marshal’s Sword, and the Type 94 was for walking out and below.

    The Grand Marshal’s Sword was only mentioned in the above context and had nothing to do with the drawing of the Type 94 that followed. I am sorry to say this, but misreading something as basic as this is extremely shoddy work for a researcher, a real embarrassment. Unfortunately anything turned out by people of this caliber becomes suspect in its entirety.

    Of course any sword of the Emperor’s is a Grand Marshal’s Sword, so I cannot fault him linguistically, just that correct words still can say totally wrong things.
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  9. #19


    1938 Type 98 Army Uniform for the Emperor

    31st May 1938 was the introduction date of His Majesty’s version of the Type 98 uniform. As was already suggested in the 1897 improvement report, the shoulder was not an ideal location for indicating rank, so color tabs were now adopted as the main rank insignia.

    Shoulder straps were normally not worn any more, but when the jacket needed to serve as informal dress uniform, epaulets in the same design as the full dress uniform tunics, but slightly smaller, could be put on.

    As the 1930 uniform change mainly addressed streamlining of production, the army had been waiting for the right opportunity to realize their vision of a uniform with more functionality in combat. However, the outbreak of the Manchurian Incident in 1931, followed by the Shanghai Incident the following year shifted priority to weapons production, so it was no time to tinker with uniforms.

    But once the conflict escalated into a full blown clash with China at the Marco Polo Bridge in 1937, all uniform inventories disappeared quickly from depots in Japan. Facing the need to restock, the army decided to take this chance to introduce some improvements.

    The tightness around the neck of the earlier standup collar uniforms was addressed by adopting a fold-down type collar, which if necessary could be worn open. The collar closure for officer uniforms could employ one or two hooks depending on the person’s build and taste, although other ranks all got one hook for production reasons.

    Another improvement was to allow more bagginess under the armpits through gussets to make it easier to raise the arm for firing the rifle.

    Officer swords also had the suspension points reduced to one, so the same change was made to the emperor’s sword as well. This “Type 98 sword” simply replaced his “Type 94” sword, and was worn with the service uniform, including informal dress, but for official dress opportunities, requiring the dress tunic, the 1919 Grand Marshal’s Sword was worn.

    Full dress uniforms for officers used to have embroidery in silver and gold, but they were all done now in gold only. It was also from this change that branch colors were expressed by an inverted “W” emblem on the right chest.
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  10. #20


    1943 Navy Insignia Revisions

    Minor changes to the Emperor’s Navy Uniform Insignia were introduced on 5th February 1943.
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