Nambu World: Welcome Home/"Triumphant Return" (Gaisen) Items

    The characters above say shuku gaisen. Shuku (the top character) means "congratulations", and gaisen means "triumphant return". Gaisen was the term used to refer to the homecoming of victorious Japanese troops, and many different items were created to commemorate these homecomings. This page will present some of these items that are in my collection.

    First, here is a period photo from my collection showing an arch erected for a homecoming ceremony (please see copyright notice below). The characters on the sign above the passageway (just below the star) are shuku gaisen. The signs on the two sides are the location within the city. I think this photo was taken in Tokushima around 1932-33. It is not specifically labeled as such, but the album it came from belonged to a soldier from Tokushima and had photos from his participation in the First Shanghai Incident, which was in 1932. The original image is 105mm X 150mm (4-1/8" X 5-7/8") plus a 1.5mm border

    Next is a banner that would have been carried in a welcome home parade. In form it is very much like the banners used in send-off ceremonies, except that it says shuku gaisen at the top (the large characters in the lead photo on this page came from this banner). The soldier's name is down the middle: Maekawa koji-kun=Mr. Koji Maekawa. Along the left edge is the sponsor of the banner, kobe moto-machi roku-chome tomiya kofukuten hiroishi sue=Mr. Sue Hiroishi of the Tomiya Dry Goods Store, 6-chome, Moto-machi, Kobe (the last part is an address in downtown Kobe, one of Japan's main port cities). The right edge has the soldier's unit: Kita manshu hakken-gun, dai-kyu rentai, Dai ju-ichi chutai=North Manchuria Expeditionary Army, Ninth Regiment, 11th Company. According to the US Army's Handbook of Japanese Military Forces, October, 1944, the Ninth Regiment was based on Kyoto, not far from Kobe. This banner is made of silk or a similar material and is 42.5cm (16-3/4") wide and 140cm (55") long, not including the 7cm (2-3/4") fringe at the bottom.

The banner still has its original mounting hardware. Here is a close-up of the decoration at one end of the crossbar (the wooden bar is 55.5cm=21-3/4" wide).

    Now for something completely different: a cast iron tea kettle. This great artefact was kindly given to me by a generous Texan, Mr. Joe de Vicq. It weighs 2.152kg (4 pounds, 11.9 ounces), including the lid.

    Here is a close-up of the side that explains what it was for: the upper band of characters reads from right to left: Manshu jihen gaisen jotai, and the large characters in the centre read ki-nen. Together they mean "to commemorate your triumphant return and departure from the service". The bottom gives the date: Showa nana-nen=Showa 7, or 1932 AD.

    This side identifies the unit. From right to left: Konoe shicho-hei, Imperial Guards transport soldier. That usually meant pack horses in those days.

    Right by the spout is this group of very small, very blurry characters. The first two in the long column at the left are pretty much indistinguishable, but the last two seem to be do and sei. Sei means "made by" and do is the last part of the name of many shops. So I think that is probably the name of the maker. The two characters in the right column are both really blurry, too, but I think the last one might be -to as in Kyoto, and it would make sense that they would put the name of the city next to the maker's name.

   At the lower left of the wreath on this side is an area where there is some abrasion, perhaps from the removal of some rust.

   The bottom is plain with no markings.

  This shot from above shows the nice pattern around the edge of the lid.

    This next item was also a kind gift to my collection from the same benevolent Texan, Mr. Joe de Vicq. It is a silver box that commemorates the triumphant return from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. I am not sure what the purpose of the box was, though. It is about the size of a matchbox, 37mm wide by 62mm long and 15mm thick at the thickest point (roughly 1-1/2" by 2-7/16" by 9/16"), but it seems unlikely it would have held matches, since it is made of silver (see hallmark below), and the sulphur in matches would very quickly tarnish silver. Perhaps it was for snuff or some other tobacco product? I have also noticed that it is just about the right size to comfortably accommodate one of the larger, early variations of the membership badges of the teikoku zaigo gunjin kai, the Imperial Reservists' Association, which veterans would have normally joined upon their return from the war. The box weighs 39 grams including the cords (1.4 regular ounces--I don't have a troy scale). The cords are 17.5cm (6-3/4") long, not including the 4.5cm (1-3/4") tassels. That makes them just long enough to wrap around and tie loosely in front, though whether this was how they were intended to be used or not, I do not know.

    Here is a close-up of the inscription. Below the cherry blossom, a common Japanese military symbol, the right column says sanju-nana-hachi nen sen-eki. The left column is riku-gun-gai-sen-ki-nen. Together it means, "Commemorating service in Meiji 37-38 and the triumphant return of the army". Meiji 37-38 corresponds to the years 1904-05 AD. In general, until the China Incident Japanese service medals and award certificates simply named the years of the conflict rather than attaching a specific name to each war, although of course in common parlance there was a name for each conflict (in this case, nichi-ro-sen-so).

    Here is an extreme close-up of the very tiny hallmark on the back (bottom) of the box. The upper, vertical cartouche is only 5mm long and 2mm wide, while the lower, horizontal cartouche is 3mm wide and 1.5mm high. The upper column says tama-ya-sei, "made by a jeweller". The bottom part reads right to left and says jun-gin, meaning "pure silver". What the Japanese definition of "pure" was, I do not know. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and was and is the standard in Western countries, so perhaps it was the same. The metal is fairly soft and quite heavy, which would be consistent with a high silver content. The bottom is tarnished but the top and insides are polished bright.

    This next item does not actually have the word gaisen on it, but the contents are what was commonly given to soldiers as a gift from the Emperor on their triumphant return from a campaign. I bought it at a small antique shop in Okinawa in 2006. The box itself is hand carved, as is evident from its skilful yet slightly skewed construction. The characters on the sliding top say shus-sei ki-nen, "in commemoration of active service". The design at the top is, of course, the chrysanthemum, the symbol of the Imperial family.

    The name on the back is Ishihara Isamu (family name=Ishihara). He was reportedly the great uncle of the shop owner and received the contents after serving at Nomonhan. Nomonhan was a 1939 border clash between the Japanese forces in the puppet state of Manchukuo (Manchuria) and Soviet forces. The much more heavily equipped Soviets mauled the Japanese forces, but it was over fairly quickly. They probably had triumphant return ceremonies to hide the fact the Japanese were beaten.

    Here is the real prize: the gift cigarettes the soldiers received from the Emperor, complete with the Imperial chrysanthemum. They are very old style cigarettes with tobacco only in the part below the kink you see in them (about 4.5cm, or 1-3/4"). The rest (the upper part in the photo, 3.5cm or 1-3/8") was a hollow cardboard tube as a sort of holder. The Russians called this style of cigarettes papirosy. They would have been given in a small white cardboard box with the characters onshi (Imperial Gift) on the top. I have a similar box, but it is post-war. I have seen original ones in the Navy Kamikaze museum in Kanoya, Japan.

    This sake bottle has the Japanese rayed Army flag on the right crossed with the Manchukuo national flag on the left (yellow with stripes in the upper quadrant). On the helmet in between them is a name in gold leaf: Sugawara.

    On the back is an inscription: gai-sen-tai-ei-ki-nen in the right column, and ho-san-[ju]-kyu in the left. It means "In commemoration of your triumphant return and departure from the service, 39th Infantry [Regiment]". That regiment was based in Himeji. The return from Manchuria really was triumphant as the Japanese had added to the Empire a huge territory of considerable economic importance.

    This sake cup is another Manchurian victory item. The gold leaf writing along the upper part of the photo is Man-shu-hak-ken-gai-sen-ki-nen, "In commemoration of your triumphant return from having been sent to Manchuria". The unit name is at the bottom: ho-ju-kyu, 19th Infantry Regiment, which was based in Nagano or Matsumoto according to the US Army Handbook on Japanese Military Forces, October, 1944. The map shows key cities in Manchuria, notably Mukden, which the Japanese called Hoten and is now the city of Shenyang, in the centre right and Port Arthur, which the Japanese called Ryojun, at the tip of the peninsula near the bottom of the map.

    This is what collectors call a "helmet cup", for the obvious reason that if you turn it upside down it is shaped like a helmet, complete with the Army star insignia. These cups typically had bases with military shapes like the airplane shown here, or a propeller, cherry blossom, etc.

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Last updated: February 29, 2008. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.

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