EMPIRE OF JAPAN
 


 
FLAGS OF THE IMPERIAL JAPANESE ARMY  •  1870s-1945
 

In the mid-nineteenth century Japan was still a feudal state under the Tokugawa Shogunate. But change was in the air and in 1868 the Meiji Restoration, spearheaded by a group of reformers, wrested political power from the Shogunate and vested it in the young Emperor Meiji. The reformers' aim was to end Japan's long-standing isolation from the outside world and transform the country into a modern state. A key component of this reform program was the creation of a true national army, trained and equipped along European lines. Under the Shogunate each feudal domain had maintained its own military forces that in theory could be called upon by the Shogun when needed. Several of these domain armies were amalgamated to form an "Imperial Army" during the civil war that overthrew the Shogunate but clearly more needed to be done. In 1871, therefore, the new government founded the Imperial Guard, initially 6,000 men strong. The Guard was organized with nine infantry battalions, four cavalry squadrons and two artillery batteries, and its mission was the protection of the imperial government against revolts and uprisings. A military ministry was created at the same time—later to be split into separate army and navy ministries—and in 1871 conscription was introduced. But progress was slow and by 1875 the Army's strength stood at just 33,000 men--this in a nation of 35 million.

The Japanese relied on foreign military advisers to help them build a modern army. These were French at first but after that country's humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) the practical Japanese switched to German advisers. The Imperial Army General Staff, created in 1878, was modeled on Germany's Great General Staff (Großgeneralstab). In 1882 the Imperial Receipt to Soldiers and Sailors codified the military ethos and formalized the intimate relationship between Emperor and Army. By the 1890s the Imperial Japanese Army was the most modern military force in Asia though by European standards it remained deficient in cavalry and artillery. But it was quite good enough to give the Chinese a drubbing in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). The war ended China's dominion over Korea, which became an independent state, and established Japan as the dominant power in Asia. In 1904-05 The Imperial Japanese Army surprised the world by inflicting a series of humiliating defeats on Tsarist Russia in Manchuria. The Russo-Japanese War further enhanced the Army's prestige and political influence, setting the stage for decades of Japanese imperialist expansion in Asia and, ultimately, national disaster in World War II.

The Imperial Japanese Army's fanaticism and savagery during World War II shocked its opponents. In outward form the Army was a modern military organization, but the ancient warrior ethos of the samurai lived on. The Japanese soldier was enjoined to fight to the death, never surrendering, and was taught to be contemptuous of enemies who dishonored themselves by surrender.  In the Imperial Japanese Army "fight to the death was no mere form of words." In battle after battle Japanese soldiers did just that. On Iwo Jima the defenders were almost completely wiped out: of 21,000 men, only 216 were taken prisoner. The rest perished, either in battle or by their own hand. In China other conquered territories, prisoners of war and civilians were routinely subjected to wanton and often sadistic mistreatment. Japanese war crimes in China, Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere rivaled those of Germany in Russia, though they never received equivalent publicity.

With the war clearly lost by 1945, the Imperial Japanese Army prepared for a final fight to the death in the Japanese Home Islands. But the atomic bomb ended the war on quite different terms and despite the pleas of some fanatics the Army obeyed the order of Emperor Hirohito to lay down its arms. The unconditional surrender of Japan, formalized, 2 September 1945 was the Imperial Japanese Army's death warrant: Under Allied supervision it was demobilized and dissolved.
 



 

WAR FLAG   •  1870-1945 


 

ARMY NATIONAL FLAG  •  1870-79
 

 

INFANTRY REGIMENTAL COLORS  •  1874-1945
 

The war flag (military service flag) of the Imperial Japanese Army was adopted in 1870, nineteen years before the adoption of the better-known Rising Sun naval ensign. The principal difference between the war flag and the naval ensign was that the former displayed the sun centered, while the ensign displayed it offset toward the hoist. The Army National Flag was a variant of the war flag for use as regimental colors; it was replaced in 1879 by a new design with a narrow golden yellow border, purple fringe and a white panel at the lower hoist inscribed with the regimental designation. The initial issue provided colors for regular infantry regiments only. Cavalry regiments received no colors until 1896 and those intended for artillery regiments were never issued. In 1885 reserve infantry regiments also received colors, albeit with red instead of purple fringe, but these were withdrawn in 1917. Cavalry colors were smaller than those of the infantry and square. Dimensions were 2 feet 6 1/4 inches on the hoist by 3 feet on the fly for infantry and 2 feet 1 inch square for cavalry—plus fringe.

Colors were presented by the Emperor who himself inscribed the white panel with the regimental designation during the presentation ceremony. For that reason they were greatly revered. Battle damage and ordinary wear and tear were not repaired so that by World War II many colors had been reduced to tatters, nothing being left in some cases except the purple fringe. At the end of the war all regiments were ordered to burn their colors and only one complete example survives today, that of the 321st Infantry Regiment which is on display at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
 

BATTALIONS OF REGULAR INFANTRY REGIMENTS


1st BATTALION
 


2nd BATTALION
 


3rd BATTALION
 

BATTALIONS OF RESERVE INFANTRY REGIMENTS

1st BATTALION
 


2nd BATTALION
 


3rd BATTALION
 

OTHER INFANTRY BATTALIONS


INDEPENDENT INFANTRY BATTALION


INFANTRY TRAINING BATTALION

 

CEREMONIAL PENNANT OF THE IMPERIAL GUARD CAVALRY
 

Japanese infantry regiments were three battalions strong and each battalion had a designating flag. They were of the typical pattern for flags of this kind, with horizontal zig-zag stripes. The Japanese called these stripes "mountain-shaped lines" and they were probably intended to represent the mountainous terrain characteristic of Japan. There were two sets: one for battalions of regular infantry regiments and one for battalions of reserve infantry regiments. There were no such flags for cavalry regiments, however, since despite their designation these were battalion-sized units. Only the cavalry of the Imperial Guard had a distinguishing pennant in addition to its colors for use on occasions of ceremonythe "mountain-shaped lines" in va.

Infantry battalions with no regimental affiliation had designation flags based on that of the 1st battalion of a regular infantry regiment with appropriate inscriptions or a distinguishing badge. During World War II independent infantry battalions were mostly found in the independent mixed brigades raised for garrison and occupation duties. These brigades were organized with five independent infantry battalions, a small field artillery battalion and a small engineer battalion.
 

ARMY SERVICE FLAGS

ARMY ORDNANCE SERVICE
 


ARMY TRANSPORT VESSEL
 

Most of the  Army's service branches and agencies had distinctive flags, usually of simple design and most featuring the "mountain-shaped lines" in various colors and combinations.

 



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