Nambu World: Good Luck Flags (Hinomaru Yosegaki)
Japanese soldiers often carried a couple of mementoes to bring them good luck. One was the famous senninbari, or gthousand stitch belth, covered in a separate section. The other, perhaps more common, was an autographed flag. These were called hinomaru yosegaki in Japanese. I have several of these flags. Here is a paragraph from page 261 of Mike Hewittfs book, Uniforms and Equipment of the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II that describes the practices associated with these flags:
gWhen new recruits or reservists were called to active duty almost invariably either their family members or company purchased a Japanese flag and had the recruitfs relatives or friends and co-workers sign their names and a good luck or patriotic message to the flag. Throughout the war the soldier carried these flags, close to the bodyh (there are related photos on pages 272-274 of this outstanding book, which is packed with amazing colour photos of artifacts as well as period photos in black and white of the items in use). There are also photos in the Nakata book Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms & Equipment, pages 216-217 (this book is in Japanese with an insert that translates the captions).
Here we will start off with a little primer on the different types of Japanese flags. Then we will show a couple of period photos of the flags in use and look in detail at my flags. Finally, I will suggest where you can get more detailed information on them.
There were three main types of flags seen in Japan during the war. The first was the national flag, which remains unchanged to this day. It consists of a simple red circle on a white background. The red circle represents the sun, which has particular significance to the Japanese since their creation myth maintains that they are descended from Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. These flags are called hinomaru in Japanese, which means "circular sun". American collectors have often less respectfully called them "meatball" flags, to distinguish them from the other types shown below. Here is a period plain, unadorned hinomaru flag. Note that I show the flag with the tabs for attaching it to a staff on the right, rather than the left as is common in North America. This is how flags are usually shown in Japanese military manuals and how they are usually oriented when decorated with signatures, as shown further below (though there are exceptions, as also shown below). Early flags tend to have tabs made of leather like this one, while later ones seem more likely to have tabs made of cheaper materials like cardboard. The flags themselves were usually made of either cotton or silk. Some may also be rayon, a silk-like synthetic that was widely used in Japan in that period, but I am not enough of a fabric expert to be able to distinguish between rayon and silk very well. The hinomaru is by far the most common type of flag that was decorated to make a good luck flag.
The second type of flag one often sees is the "rising sun" flag, with a red sun in the centre and 16 rays emanating from it. This was the Army flag. This one has the cheaper cardboard tabs on it. It is seldom seen nowadays due to its association with Japanese militarism. I have seen photos of a few good luck flags based on this style of flag, but I don't have one yet, as they seem to be much scarcer.
The last style of Japanese flag I will show here is the most misunderstood. It looks a lot like the Army flag below but has the sun offset towards the staff. This type of flag is often mistakenly called the "battle flag". It is actually the Navy flag, which the Japanese referred to in their manuals as the "battleship flag" (that's what the characters above the image below mean, gun-kan-ki, read right to left). This image is from a period Japanese training manual, Saishin kyōren kyōtei-zen, as I do not have one of these flags yet due to their relative scarcity. I have not seen even a photo of a good luck flag based on this flag, but that's not to say they don't exist. One reason collectors are often not aware that this is a Navy flag is that it is often seen waving over land forces. This is because the Navy also fought on land, particularly in southern China and in the South Pacific (and of course, the latter is the area where most of the engagements between US troops and Japanese forces occurred). This style of flag seems to be still used by the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces (Kaijo jieitai) as a naval ensign. I saw it flying from the masts of Japanese ships that participated in British ceremonies celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar a couple of years ago.
It should be noted that there were many other variants of the Rising Sun flag, such as special flags flown to designate an Admiral's ship, etc. There were also completely different flags that were used to designate different companies within a regiment, etc., but I doubt any of these were used for making good luck flags.
As noted above, most good luck flags are based on the plain national flag, the hinomaru. Their first use was in sokokai, send-off ceremonies for Japanese men who were being called up. During these ceremonies, which often included a parade, the recruit would usually wear two sashes. One was a sash indicating he had been called up, often with his name and/or his city. The second usually shorter one was made by folding up his good luck flag and tying the ends together. Here is an image of two young Japanese recruits wearing such sashes. The sashes over their right shoulders (left side in the photo since they are facing the camera) have their names on them. The shorter sashes over their left shoulders (right side of the photo) are made from their flags. This image is from my personal collection (please note copyright notice at the bottom of the page). The sashes indicate the name of the man on the left was Mr. Takanashi, while the one on the right was Mr. Heihachiro Kinoshita. The original image is 72mm X 108mm plus a border.
Here is another image from my personal collection. In this one the soldier is wearing only one sash and it can be clearly seen that it is a folded-up good luck flag. The banners behind him indicate his name was Hiroshi Saito. For more on these banners, please see the section on them elsewhere on this site. The original of this image is 75mm X 110mm plus a border.
Good luck flags are a staple fixture in photos of Japanese soldiers after they entered the service as well. In this image from my personal collection a superior private (jotohei) poses to show off his equipment, including a Type 38 rifle, Type 30 bayonet, cold weather cap and gas mask bag on his chest. His flag is draped over the tree truck behind him and reveals his name: Yoshikazu Kojima. The turned down collar on his uniform indicates the photo was taken after 1938, when this style of uniform was introduced. The original image is 113mm X 78mm with no border.
Here is another photo from my personal collection. Sergeant Tsune Fukushima is posing with his flag. Across the top it has the very common slogan ki-bu-un-cho-kyu, "we pray you will always be lucky in war". A caption in the photo album containing this photo indicates Sgt. Fukushima was later killed in action in China. Note that his flag is a bit unusual in that it has the tabs at the left when it is oriented correctly (i.e. oriented so the writing can be read). The original image is 73mm X 98mm plus a border. It was very common for flag and banner poles to be painted alternately black and white as shown here.
Here is a group shot from my personal collection. The flag they are holding has the second most common slogan across the top, jin-chu-ho-koku, "loyalty and national service" (hokoku can also be translated as "patriotism", but there is a separate word for that, aikoku). Literally aikoku means "love of country" while hokoku means "repaying one's country" (i.e. by serving it).
In battle good luck flags were carried on the soldierfs person for luck. They could also come in handy to signal one's position to other units or friendly aircraft. These autographed flags were very popular souvenirs among US servicemen in the Pacific. One often sees group photos of them holding up such flags, often backwards or upside down because, of course, very few could read the Japanese writing. This photo was sent to me by the son of a US veteran who served in the Pacific just as the war was ending. The soldier on the right is PFC (later SFC) John J. Kierzkowski of the 25th gTropical Lightningh Division. In October, 1945 the First Battalion was posted to the Nishiyama Powder Factory and the Third to the Toriimatsu Small Arms Factory. The surnames of the other two soldiers are believed to be Beatrice (left) and Evans (centre). Toriimatsu was the location of a branch of Nagoya Arsenal that made the largest number of Type 14 pistols. The flag is upside down with the back facing the photographer, but the four large characters in the corners are legible: bu-un-cho-kyu, geternal good luck in warh, the most common Japanese slogan on good-luck items of all kinds. The two characters in the centre top of the flag in the photo (should be bottom centre of flag) are also legible. They say ichi-do, meaning roughly gfrom everyone ath, meaning the flag was probably prepared for the Japanese soldier by his colleagues at his workplace or school. This photo is shown courtesy of the Walter Kierzkowski collection.
Now let's look at the flags in my own collection, starting with the one I showed above, which is repeated here. It is about 25h X 34h, or 64cm by 86cm, although it is hard to get an exact measurement due to the wrinkles. Consistent with having been carried in a soldierfs pocket for a long time, it has several small holes, especially along the top, lots of wrinkles and some stains (a couple could be blood stains and surround a hole that is the right size to be a bullet hole; look at the middle of the upper edge). The material is either silk or a similar synthetic like rayon and has reinforcements of a stiffer, brown material on the right corners with woven ties. These flags usually had a patriotic slogan of some kind written across the top and the soldierfs name written vertically along the right side. On this flag the four large characters across the top read from right to left: jinchu hokoku, which means gloyalty and national serviceh
The soldierfs name along the right side is rather uncommon. The first character (top right) is not part of the name itself, but rather gtameh, meaning gfor, on behalf ofh. The family name (written first, the next two characters along the right side) Kameuchi (the characters mean literally gturtleh and gwithinh). The given name (the next two characters) is probably Shinichi (most Japanese given names have several possible pronunciations). The last character on the bottom is kun, which means gMr.h when referring to a young man. The rest of the writing consists of the names of well-wishers.
In several spots there are mirror images of the writing from the ink weeping. In the upper right corner, for example, the faint writing is actually the mirror image of the writing on the opposite side, indicating the flag was folded right to left first. I bought this flag on eBay together with some Japanese currency. Both the flag and currency were reportedly gbrought back from Japan by a First Lieutenanth in the US Army. No more history was available, unfortunately.
The second flag I have is a little different. It is almost square (30.5h wide by 29.5h high, or 77cm X 75cm) and is made out of very thin cotton with real leather corner tabs. It has more slogans on it than names, and I got it because of one very unusual slogan. The main slogan across the top is read from right to left: shuku-nyu-tai, or gCongratulations on your enlistmenth. The big characters down the right side are read from top to bottom and say Sato Atsushi-kun, or gMr. Atsushi Satoh. The slogans radiate out from the central red circle like rays of the sun. A few have names indicating who added them, but most donft.
Herefs a close-up of the right side, showing the slogan that hooked me on getting this flag. To the left of Mr. Sato's name (the very large characters) is another slogan written top to bottom and signed by a Mr. Ishizo Sawaguchi. The slogan reads: ken-teki-his-satsu-bo-ga-kyo, or g[achieve] a state where upon seeing the enemy, without thinking you certainly kill himh. The Zen-like nature of this slogan captivated me.
This is a close-up of the bottom of the flag. At the far right of the photo is a slogan comprised of two characters, chu-koku, or gloyalty to the countryh, along with the family name of the person who wrote them: Yamada. Those two columns are written at an angle. The first more or less vertical column says tao-se bei-ei, or gdefeat England and Americah. Since Japan wasnft at war with these two countries until December, 1941, this flag probably dates to the 1942-1945 period. The name next to (to the left of) that slogan is Nishida. Working further to the left is a line that says tomo-ni hit-to, gtogether we will certainly be victorioush. It is signed by another man named Sato, probably his brother. The two big, darker characters more or less at 6 ofclock in relation to the red circle say yu-mo, valour, with a woman's name, Miyomatsu Sakamoto. The last line that is fully visible on the left is the very common slogan bu-un-cho-kyu-inori, gwe pray for eternal good fortune in warh. You can just see a bit of the top of the signature of a Mr.Sakamoto, probably Mrs. Sakamoto's husband.
Here is the third flag, which I bought in August, 2004, also because it had a slogan I was particularly interested in. It is about 40h (100cm) wide and 28h (69cm) high, seems to be made of silk and has leather tabs on the right corners. The stains do not look like blood: blood separates and usually has an outer, lighter ring around the dark area. This seems more like mud stains or something that has leached out of wood. The reason I wanted this one is that someone had sent me a scan of a photo of a Japanese soldier holding a flag with a a slogan on it that I hadnft seen before, and then right afterwards I saw this flag with the same slogan. It is at 3 ofclock and says shichi-sei-ho-koku, literally gseven lives--national serviceh. It is described in more detail in the close-up photo shown next after this one. Another interesting slogan is over in the lower left corner: koku-i sen-yo. It means genhance national prestigeh, and is also found repeated at about 5 ofclock. Up at the top, written right to left starting at the big tear, is the very common ki-bu-un-cho-kyu, gwe pray for eternal good luck in warh. About 4 ofclock is the same slogan repeated. Just a little counter-clockwise is another common slogan, jin-chu-ho-koku, gloyalty and national serviceh. One unusual thing abouit this flag is that I can't figure out the soldier's name. Usually this is prominent, but not on this one. One possibility is around 7 ofclock and is simply Tadashi-kun. This is unusual since Tadashi is a given name. Kun, meaning gMr.h when applied to a young man, can be applied to either a given name or surname, but Japanese are seldom called by their given names except by very close friends in informal situations. The same characters can also be pronounced chu-kun, meaning "loyalty to the ruler", which would also make sense in this context, so I am not sure what to think.
I did some research and discovered that the slogan found at three o'clock and shown in the close-up below, rotated so it is in vertical reading format, is a historical reference to a famous samurai warrior, Masashige Kusunoki (1294-1336). He fought for Emperor Go-Daigo when the latter tried to reassert Imperial authority over the shogun's government. The legend goes that he had a great battle plan to vanquish the Emperor's enemies, but the Emperor insisted instead that he meet the enemy in a full head-on encounter. The epitome of loyalty, he obeyed the Emperor even when he received these misguided instructions. He and his men were surrounded and had to commit suicide. His dying words were reprtedly shichi-sei-ho-koku, loosely translated as "Would that I had seven lives to give to my country!". The signature running vertically alongside the slogan in smaller writing is the name of a police official, a Mr. Yoshiharu Hagiwara.
This flag is interesting because of the design stamped in the upper right corner. More on that with the close-up photo shown further below, but first the basics. The main slogan is along the right side, bu-un-cho-kyu, "eternal good luck in war". The next column, in larger characters, is the soldier's name, Mr. Kosaku Shimizu. Then there is another slogan in the column just to the left of the name: gi-yu-ho-ko, "heroism [literally 'loyalty and courage'] and public service". The rest is almost all names.
Now let's look at a close-up of that stamp. It consists of two parts, the picture of a mounted figure in black and a red name stamp. The name stamp has three columns, and is read top to bottom, moving right to left after each column is finished. Unfortunately, like most such stamps it is in a special script that is very hard to read. The first column (far right) says "Hachiman", who was the God of War in Shinto. The middle column says o-kami (great god, completing Hachiman's title). The far left column is mi-tama, meaning "spirit of a dead person" (mi is the honorific kanji usually pronounced o or go and tama is the kanji rei, the one that has the radical 167 "rain" on top). As for the mounted figure, at this point I am guessing that he could be Minamoto no Yoritomo, a 12th century (A.D.) historical figure whose family propagated the veneration of Hachiman. Or maybe it is Hachiman himself.
This flag also has an interesting shrine stamp, although it appears unfinished. The characters on the far left are the usual ki-bu-un-cho-kyu, "we pray that you will always be lucky in war". The second column of smaller black writing says "Minato Jinja", the name of a shrine that is often associated with the kamikaze pilots (called tokkotai, or "special attack forces" in Japanese). This shrine is in Kobe, roughly where the battle of Minatogawa was fought in 1336. This was the battle where the aforementioned Masashige Kusunoki committed suicide, and his spirit is the object of veneration at the shrine. The red stamp is shown in close-up below.
The lower part of this stamp, in the square box, just says Minato-gawa-jin-ja, Minatogawa Shrine. The two semi-circular designs above are the Imperial Chrysanthemum. The squiggly lines represent waves. The idea of chrysanthemum petals on the waves symbolized the cream of Japan's youth being scattered on the waves in the kamikaze attacks. The design and concept were often called kiku-sui (chrysanthemum-water).
What is special about this next flag is not so much the design as the fact that I have many of this soldier's effects, including his service record book (guntai techo). That means I know a lot about him, and it is always a thrill to know the whole story behind an artifact. Unfortunately, in this case the story is tragic. His name was Corporal Yonejiro Ogita. Born in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, on July 1, 1916, Mr. Ogita was classified a B-2 Supplementary Reservist. He was studying to become a metal lathe operator at the Hikone Industrial School when he was called up in September, 1937. He was assigned to the 9th Division, 19th Regiment as a light machine gun operator and sent to Shanghai, China. He was killed in battle on September 18, 1938.His flag's major slogans include yamato damashii=hJapanese spirith across the top and ki-bu-un-cho-kyu=hwe pray for your eternal good luck in warh in the upper right corner. His name is in the lower right corner. Just to the left of his name it is signed gAll your friends at the Saga Prefecture Hikone Industrial Schoolh. Other slogans include
O-shussei o shashi=Thank you for going to the front. O-yuken o inoru=We pray for your sound health. Shisei hoko=Sincerity & public service. Fure juken=Brandish your bayonet. Cho-ningen no chikara=Superhuman power.
There is a bullet-shaped red stamp in the upper right corner. Unfortunately the ink has run a bit so it is too blurry for me to read
Of all the flags I have, this one is in the worst condition. It has stains of every type, considerable wear and is missing the tabs from the right corners. However, I got it cheap and I can't resist an artifact, so here it is. The slogan across the top should be recognizable to you now: bu-un-cho-kyu. The soldier's name, Kyuichi Shibata, is along the right edge.
These last flags are a bit different in that they are generally from groups to an individual, making me think they were something more formal than the earlier ones, sort of a "presentation flag". But who knows, all I know for sure is what is written on them.
The first of these flags has the usual ki-bu-un-cho-kyu across the top. Starting at the far right, here is what each column says:
Far right: ko-gun ban-zai=Long Live the Imperial Army
Second column: shuku sei-to hakken=Congratulations on being sent on a military expedition
Third column: Man-shu-koku sei-sei ?-? Manchukuo [Manchukuo was the puppet state Japan set up in Manchuria under Pu Yi. The rest is a place name, which I think may be Chahar, near the Mongolian border, but I haven't been able to completely confirm this due to changes in place names over time]
Fourth column: Hasu-mi bu-tai Furu-kawa tai=Hasumi Unit, Furukawa sub-unit [units were often named after the commander's family name like Hasumi or Furukawa]
Fifth column (just to the right of the red sun): riku-gun gun-cho Yama-da Go-ro-kun=Army Sergeant-Major Goro Yamada
Sixth column (just to the left of the red sun): jin-chu-ho-koku=Loyalty and National Service
Seventh column: Kon-oe ho-hei dai-ni ren-tai=Imperial Guards, Second Infantry Regiment
Eighth column: dai-san bu-tai=Third Unit
Ninth column (far left edge): ka-shi-kan-hei-ichi-do=From all the NCOs [non-commissioned officers, i.e. corporals, sergeants, etc.]
The slogan across the top of this one is messhi hoko (the first kanji on the right is metsu=perish). This combination means "selfless patriotic service" according to Nelson's character dictionary. The columns are as follows:
Far right column: Kon-oe ho-hei dai-san ren-tai=Imperial Guards, Third Infantry Regiment
Second column: Shuku-nyu-ei Yama-moto Kazu-o-kun=Congratulations on entering the service, Mr. Kazuo Yamamoto
Third column (just to the left of the red sun): To-kyo-fu Shimo Ta-ma-gun=Lower Tama County, Tokyo Metropolis
Fourth column: Ai-koku fu-jin-kai=Patriotic Women's Association [this dates the flag somewhat as this organization merged with another in early 1942]
Fifth column: O-me shi-bu-in ichi-do=From all the members of the Ome Branch [Ome would normally be ao-ume based on the kanji. It is now a city within Tokyo Metropolis; see pages 88-89 of Tokyo Metropolitan Atlas]
The slogan across the top reads from right to left: chu-kun ai-koku, "loyalty to the Emperor and patriotism". The columns, starting from the far right, are:
First column: Tsuchi-ura kai-gun ko-shu yo-ka ren-shu-sei=Tsuchiura Naval Preparatory Trainee, First Grade
Second column: shuku-nyu-dan Fuji-shima sa-ji-kun=Congratulations on entering the unit, Mr. Saji Fukushima.
Third column: To-kyo fu-ritsu dai-ni chu-gak-ko=Tokyo Metropolitan Middle School
Fourth column (far left): kyo-shoku-in ichi-do=From all the teaching staff.
Across the top of this one is the slogan ichi-geki his-sho, "certain victory with one blow". Starting from the far right, the columns read:
First column: ki-bu-un-cho-kyu=We pray you will always be lucky in war.
Second column: riku-gun ho-hei chu-i=Army infantry first lieutenant
Third column (last one to the right of the red sun): shuku shus-sei Hashi-moto Take-zo-kun=Congratulations on being called up, Mr. Takezo Hashimoto.
Fourth column (first one to the left of the red sun): Sho-wa ju-kyu-nen san-gatsu=March, Showa 19 
Fifth column: Aza-bu ren-tai-ku=Azabu Regimental District
Sixth column: sho-ko-dan Hon-go-bu-dan-cho =Head of the Officer Corps, Hongo Chapter
Seventh column (last one along the far left edge): Nishi-ku-bo chu-sa=Lieutenant-Colonel Nishikubo
Finally, this one reads kyo-teki geki-metsu, "destroy the arrogant enemy", across the top. The Japanese often referred to the Chinese as "arrogant" during the war in China as, from the Japanese standpoint, the Chinese stubbornly refused to accept their proper place, i.e. subordination to Japan. Across the bottom is shichi-sei ho-koku, "seven lives for my country", explained in detail above. The columns are:
First column (far right): Yoko-su-ka dai-ni kai-gun heidan=Yokosuka Second Naval Group
Second column: shuku-nyu-ei Waka-sugi Fuku-ta-ro-kun=Congratulations on entering the service, Mr. Fukutaro Wakasugi
Third column (first one to the left of the red sun): To-kyo Asa-kusa-ku=Tokyo, Asakusa Ward
Fourth column: Ta-hara Sei-nen gak-ko=Tahara Youth School [youth schools were formed by merging vocational schools with drill centres in the late 1930s]
Fifth column (far left): shoku-in ichi-do=From all the staff.
To conclude, here is a very grotty flag that is about the size of a large hankie, 40cm X 40cm (16" X 16"). I include this because a number of people have sent me photos of these and asked me what they say. That is easy enough: the big characters in the lower part say hissho, "certain victory". The marks in the lower right corner are gibberish, as far as I can tell. I show this because the people who bought them thought they were good luck flags, and as far as I can tell they are just souvenir handkerchiefs of relatively recent manufacture that have been passed off on the unsuspecting as something historic. On a more general note, there are some good luck flags that have been reproduced as instructional aids for Japanese teachers doing classes on the war. I am no expert on detecting fakes, and I have not been able to inspect these repro flags; I have just seen them in the listings of Japanese on-line retailers like Raku-ten. However, some fakes are pretty obvious to anyone who can read Japanese: the characters bear only a passing resemblance to actual Japanese characters and look like they have been drawn with a wobbly magic marker; the lines are far too thin for the height of the characters. The flags that were made as instructional aids are probably a good deal better, since they are (presumably) based on actual flags. However, they are probably just silk-screened onto the surface of the fabric, while real ones would have been done with a brush and may have ink that has seeped through to the back. So far it has not been worthwhile spending a lot of time faking these flags in Japan, as they often sell for as little as 3,000 yen (around $30) in flea markets there. However, as prices escalate due to eBay sales (where they often go for $150 or more) it might become more worthwhile. More common perhaps than faking is misrepresentation. I have seen several flags on eBay that claim to have been signed by Admiral Yamamoto just because someone named Yamamoto signed them. I think the Admiral was probably too busy to go around signing a lot of flags, and Yamamoto is as common a family name in Japan as Smith or Jones in North America (though he also had a very unusual given name). Some flags were also reportedly faked by American troops during and after the war for trading to other GIs looking for souvenirs. I have not seen these, but I would be very surprised if anyone who was not raised writing kanji could do a job that would fool someone familiar with the script. Even after 25 years of on-and-off study of the language, my own kanji look distinctly child-like and would never be mistaken for the products of a mature Japanese hand (perhaps at best as those of a six year old child). Caveat emptor.
As I write this, there is very little detailed, published information about good luck flags to guide collectors, just fragmentary references to the practice and a few pictures in books on Japanese military artifacts. For example, there are a couple of pictures on pages 216-217 of the Nakata book Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment (in Japanese, but with a brief English insert) and on pages 272-274 of the Mike Hewitt book (see also p. 245) Uniforms and Equipment of the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. Fortunately that should change soon. In May, 2008 Schiffer Publishing is scheduled to release Imperial Japanese Good Luck Flags and Thousand Stitch Belts by Dr. Mike Bortner, ISBN 978-0-7643-2927-2. The projected cost is US$79.95. Schiffer has done a lot of great books for collectors, including the Hewitt book referred to above. I have corresponded with Dr. Bortner, a US dentist, and he is a very knowledgeable collector with hundreds of these artifacts, so the book should represent a quantum leap in our knowledge of the field. You can find Schifferfs list of Whatfs New at: Schiffer Military: What'sNew. If you click at the top to get their full list and scroll down about three quarters of the way, you can see what the book will look like and what they have to say about it. Eventually they will certainly have a proper listing, and I will add a link to it as soon as I hear of it. Dr. Bortner will also have his own site at http://www.gethistorytoday.com. As I write this February 9, 2008 there is nothing there yet, but there should be soon.
With the above examples as a guide, you can probably identify the slogan on your flag if it is one of the common ones (e.g. bu-un cho-kyu or jin-chu ho-koku). If you want to go further and fully decipher good luck flags, then besides a good ability to read Japanese you also need to develop the skill of deciphering Japanese handwriting (a whole different thing than reading printed text) and become familiar with some pre-war characters that are no longer in general use. You will also need some books to help with the names, as Japanese names, especially given names, are notoriously hard to read because of their widely divergent possible pronunciations, among other things. For those willing to undertake this daunting challenge, here are some good books:
1.Japanese Names: A Comprehensive Index by Characters and Readings by P.G. O'Neill (ISBN 0-8348-0225-2, published by Weatherhill, New York & Tokyo). This one costs about 2,200 yen plus tax. It is intended for English speakers and so is as user friendly as it is possible to be for someone who is learning Japanese.
2. Namae juman: yomikata jiten, subtitled in English "Guide to Reading of Each 100,000 Japanese Forenames" [sic] (ISBN 4-8169-1751-9, published in 2002 by Nichigai Associates, Inc., Tokyo). This one covers given names and costs about 7,800 yen plus tax. It has far more names than the O'Neill book but is intended for a purely Japanese readership (yes, even they have troubles with names). The title page is the only thing in English, so your Japanese has to be pretty good to use this one.
3. Myoji hachiman: yomikata jiten, subtitled in English "Guide to Reading of Each 80,000 Japanese Family Names" [sic] (ISBN 4-8169-1478-1, published by Nichigai Associates, Inc., Tokyo). This one covers family names (surnames) and costs about 7,400 yen plus tax. It is the counterpart to the given name book listed above and the same caveats apply with respect to it.
4. A Reader of Handwritten Japanese by P.G. O'Neill. (ISBN 0-87011-698-3, published by Kodansha International, Tokyo, New York & San Francisco). This one is a good introduction to reading handwriting, though there is just no substitute for practice and more practice. It cost me 5,000 yen when I bought it many years ago.
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