Reuniting Good Luck Flags with Families

Hinomaru yosegaki (日の丸 寄せ書き, literally “sun-circle sideways-writing”) were “Good Luck Flags” carried by Japanese soldiers in World War II.  Given to him by a soldier’s close friends and family, these flags united the national (in the form of actual Japanese flags) with the intensely personal (in the form of handwritten messages from the gift givers).

A hinomaru yosegaki donated by the family of a US serviceman who captured it in the Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands.  (OBON 2015 flag 2014-1209.)
A hinomaru yosegaki donated by the family of a US serviceman who captured it in the Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands. (OBON 2015 donation 2014-1209.)

A non-profit named OBON 2015 based in Astoria, Oregon is working to repatriate these flags with their soldiers’ relatives in Japan.  (Obon is a Buddhist holiday in Japan for the veneration of one’s ancestors.)  From the OBON 2015 website:

OBON 2015 is a non-profit humanitarian effort that locates the personal property of fallen soldiers and then returns it to their families at no cost.

Instead of ‘pounding swords into plowshares’  OBON 2015 transforms ‘battlefield sourvenirs into family heirlooms’  to help encourage peace and reconciliation.

OBON 2015 is independent. We are not affiliated or supported by any political, religious or government organizations.

On March 23rd, OBON 2015 and veterans of Northwest National Guard units that served in WWII hosted a Returning Ceremony at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria.  OBON 2015 founders Rex and Keiko Ziak accepted the donated flags and promised to try to find recipients for them in Japan.  The Consul General of Japan to Portland, Hiroshi Furusawa, participated in the ceremonies.  (See Japanese flags begin journey home in The Daily Astorian, March 26, 2015.)

"Rex Ziak addresses the crowd during the OBON 2015 Returning Ceremony." Photo by Joshua Bessex of The Daily Astorian.
“[Co-founder] Rex Ziak addresses the crowd during the OBON 2015 Returning Ceremony.” Photo by Joshua Bessex of The Daily Astorian.
As a result of the OBON 2015 project vexillologists around the world now have access to a growing database of hinomaru yosegaki donations that the non-profit is making publicly available at obon2015.com/id.  The entries include quite detailed imagery:

Detail of donation 2014-1209.
Detail of donation 2014-1209.

Most of the donated flags are indeed hinomaru (the red circle national flag of Japan), though there has been at least one kyokujitsu-ki (the rayed rising sun war flag of Japan).

Detail of donation 2014-1111.
Detail of donation 2014-1111, a rising sun war flag.

It appears that for most and possibly all the donations, messages were written on the side of the flag with the hoist (attachment to a flag pole) on the right side.  This raises a vexillological puzzle: was this side considered the front (or “obverse”) of the Japanese flag?  (For most flags, the front is considered to be the side with the hoist on the left.)  Or was the back of the flag used on purpose, perhaps out of respect for the front?

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Author: SDM

Ethnography * Technology * Design

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