Sunday, November 22, 2009

Inoue’s Flag

I really don't recall when I first started collecting militery items. Relics of past conflicts were all around me. The canteen I carried as a Boy Scout was marked 1918 and the canteen cup that came with it was marked 1945. Even some of our pack and cots were army surplus. I didn't think of them as artifacts until I was grown. While living in Houston I aquired a Japanese flag.

This flag was never intended to fly on a flag poll, it wouldn't have lasted a day in a good wind even when it was new. It also had writing all over it. I had seen flags like this in war time photos of Japanese soldiers cheering. Often they would tie them to their rifles.

I have no idea who to credit for this and the next photograph. If anyone knows, or if the owners object to the use, let me know.

I learned that these were flags given to a young man by friends and family prior to entering military service. Not unlike a high school yearbook, well wishers would write their names on the flag. Sometimes they would add words of encouragement. To my knowledge these flage were unique to enlisted men. If anyone knows different please let me know.

A great number of these flags were battle field “pick-ups” carried home by American GI’s after the war.

For years I have done history programs at schools, civic clubs and writer’s conferences. This flag was a useful prop when displaying and talking about Japanese equipment. It always bothered me that I couldn’t read what it said. Finding someone who could translate it proved elusive…until earlier this year.
Many of the folks Helene and I know from Brazos Writers are associated with A&M University in one manner of another. I asked some of them if they could put me in touch with someone who read Japanese.

One of our friends, Jean Marie, had a friend who had moved here from Japan. Jean Marie arranged a dinner party at her home where we could get together and let her friend (I will call her K as I have not ask if it’s alright to use her name) look at the flag. There were a number of folks in attendance who thought this sounded interesting.

I am put in mind of two sayings.
First - the more you learn, the more you find out you don’t know.
Second - be careful what you ask for.

When K first saw the flag she seemed to pale a bit, she knew exactly what it was. She asked where it came from. I couldn’t tell her beyond I got it in a trade from someone who bought it at a Gun Show. There was no way of telling where it was acquired.

“Most of the writing is names”, she said. “That isn’t uncommon.” Working clockwise she began to translate.

The large lettering across the top is a prayer. “Eternal Long Fortune Fight Prayer”, Good luck in the fight so to speak.

Part of this section contains another prayer. “I Pray That You Will Fight Bravely”.

One of these is the Soldiers last name – Inoue. I don’t think we ever found the first name.

Sasaki Kojiro wrote “Win by Death”Sasaki Kojiro wrote “Win by Death”

Neiko Masao wrote "In the final battle shoot Roosevelt".

I have to admit this one surprised me a bit, but it shouldn't have. How many times have we seen posters, post cards and war planes with despairing images and remarks about Hitler, Tojo and the epmeror? I know intellectually axis soldiers did the same thing but this was the first time I have encountered it.

This section reads "Shoot Americans and English" Understandable.

A girl named Keiko said "If you fall down 7 times you must get up 8 times

K was visibly disturbed. "What are you going to do with this," She asked?
I explained it had always been used in my history programs but this answer didn't please her. She insisted I didn't understand. To the Japanese this was like the soul of the soldier or the ashes of the deceased.

Now that I thought about it, I understood better than she thought. Countless Japanese Soldiers lay in mass graves. Others mangled or lost in the debris of the battle field were never buried at all. Every year bones are still being found in jungles and caves all over the Pacific. Thousands were never reported dead. Their records showed they were ordered to a ship or island. After that they ceased to exist. I know because there are still huge numbers of American MIA's from World War Two alone.
"This should be returned to his family," K insisted.

I know people who have returned Japanese Swords to the families in Japan. Robert Adams, the late science fiction writer who wrote the 'Horse Clan Novels' was one of them. I am not opposed to returning the flag but if I give it up I want it to go to Inoue's family. The problem is I have no idea how to locate them.

Any Suggestions?


  1. Art, that is a very touching post.

    Below is information that may help, courtesy of James Rummel over at

    The Japanese Consulate in Chicago has an office tasked with handling requests of this nature. The URL below will take you to a very brief, 2 page pdf file which explains the procedure.

  2. Thank you Zack, this is exactly what I'm looking for. I will have to pop over to helllinahandbasket and thank James as well.

  3. It is a very thoughtful thing you are doing, trying to return the flag to the family of the original owner.

  4. "Nanakorobi yaoki" (Fall down seven times, stand up eight) is a Japanese proverb that means "Never give up".

  5. Thank you denbeste. I thought it seemed fimular but wasn't sure. Like I said before, the more you learn the more you find out you don't know.
    Also thanks to James. I have downloaded the guidelines from the Japanese Consulate and will follow up.
    The flag is a fascinating icon to me but all I really need is photographs for my programs. If the man's family can be found the flag needs to go home.

  6. While it is certainly possible that the owner of that flag was some enthusiastic young man going to fight for his homeland; it is almost as likely that the owner may have participated enthusiastically in atrocities against Allied soldiers and non-Nipponese civilians. The rank and file in the Imperial Japanese Army showed few qualms about murder and torture of anyone who was not Japanese. Since the Japanese people have exhibited a great deal of denial and collective amnesia about what their nation did during the war that they started, I don't know whether I would consider returning a hard-won war trophy to them.

  7. Wade, I certainly understand your view, and in some ways agree with it, but look at it this way...

    You are fighting in some foreign place, and you've written what essentially becomes your final thoughts on... oh, lets say a scarf. In the next battle you're in, you're killed and your side is utterly defeated. Your family gets a "deeply regrets" letter, but nobody really knows what's happened to you.

    70 years later, some guy from the victorious side finds that scarf in an attic.

    Even though the person who found it is the descendent of someone who was your enemy, would you want him to return that scarf to your family? Or would you not care that your family had a chance to know what happened to you, but lost it because the grandson was feeling vindictive?

    Think about it.

  8. I have heard Wade's view point shared by a number of veterans from World War Two, not just the one's that fought the Japanese. There seem to be harder feelings toward the Japanese than the Germans and Italians but I reject the notion that racism is the cause. The Japanese culture is an enigma to most Americans, certainly this one.
    If one searches for saints on a battle field I fear their efforts would be in vain. Many Japanese feel we were the monsters, not a notion I support. Wade is correct that the history of the war taught in Japan has little in common with the history taught here.
    This flag is among thousands that were picked up and carried home by GI’s. Had that GI not done so it would have been destroyed by the elements or burned along with other debris by a clean up crew.
    I have at least one, possibly two ancestors that probably ended up in a mass Confederate grave at Gettysburg. The last information we have they were in units that took part in the battle. Afterward they ceased to exist. Taking a page from Wonderduck, it would have been nice if a letter, diary or Bible had been returned to the family.
    I will feel better if this flag goes home providing the family can be located, but that’s me. I cast no stones at those who chose to keep flags and swords. That’s one of the great things about being an American.

  9. Many things become part of our ongoing history, with opinions pro and con. The important thing is that we have the freedom to voice challenging ideas, and not have someone bury them (see my blog "Christmas Footprint" about my grandma living in east Germany in the 1950's - censorship of mail).

    History is indeed written (slanted) by the victor, and the trend toward political correctness is helping to bury history in it's true form. Let's stand up and promote real history, the points of view varied, warts and all.