WWII war flag with signatures: Looking for people they belong to


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
Hi Blog. A rather unusual request from overseas today. I received word from some Americans that have a Japanese World War II artifact they would like to repatriate. Here’s their communique, forwarded with permission, altered for privacy. Debito


Hello Mr. Arudou:
Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are friends of LA Times reporter Leslie Helm from the time we all lived in Yokohama, Japan.
He recommended you as a person who can help with a flag that belonged to a Japanese soldier who died in the Philippines during WW2.
Briefly, here is the story:
A colleague’s father died recently and among his belongings was a flag he had found in the battlefield in Luzon during WW2. We were asked to read the writing on the flag (attached herewith).
It belonged to a Japanese soldier named Niimi Atsuyuki. The signatures of many well-wishers are on the flag, among them the Chief of the Otaru Municipal Hospital at that time. Mr. Niimi was a staff member of this hospital when he was drafted and sent to the Philippines.

As I mentioned, the flag belongs to my colleague. When his father died, the flag was brought to their home for safe keeping. Julie and I were asked to translate the writing on the flag (with the help of Julie’s Japanese friends), during which time we had the honor of keeping the flag in my home for a few days. Julie’s Japanese friends knelt in front of the flag and prayed for the repose of the soldier, while I played a Japanese KOMORI UTA on my flute. The moment had a profound impact on all of us.
When I related this scene to my colleague and her boyfriend, they agreed with me that the right thing to do would be to return the flag to the soldier’s family.
We contacted kokusai-koryu@city.otaru.hokkaido.jp (a stab in the dark) where a very helpful staff member, Mr. Hoshina Eiji, researched and located two living descendants of the WW2 soldier: Mrs. XXXXX (wife of the soldier’s brother, now 84 years old, and XXXX-san’s daughter, Mrs. XXXX (niece of the soldier). Their address is [deleted].
The colleague will ultimately return the flag to the soldier’s family, but he also hopes that the publicity you create in Otaru may bring forward the descendants of the people whose well-wishes and signatures are on the flag. The colleague’s wish is to make an impact, in honor of the WW2 soldier, on the descendants of all the people who were in his brief life of only 22 years before he died.
Mr. Arudou, would you publicize this story in honor of two WW2 soldiers, one an American in whose safekeeping this flag survived all these years, and one a Japanese whose life and medical career were cut short?
Thank you in advance for your help. Julie and Tyler

15 comments on “WWII war flag with signatures: Looking for people they belong to

  • “The moment had a profound impact on all of us”

    I wonder if the impact would still have been so profound, or if the “honor” of keeping the flag in one’s home would have been the same, if it were a Nazi swastika flag.

  • Debito

    There is an association of the families of the Japanese war dead. They might have a database.

    IMO it may be the right thing to do to return it to the family, but afterword it should be kept in a museum or glass case in city hall. It could end up in some box, with no-one knowing its story and then chucked out in some move.

  • A number of American families have written my company, for some reason, asking how to get such memorabilia back to the descendants of the men who carried them into battle. I generally refer them to this website:


    If you can figure out the region where the soldier lived it’s of course possible to contact the local authorities, but privacy law has become stricter in recent years and in general those authorities won’t be able to put you directly in touch with the Japanese families who would want the items returned.

  • William Matheny says:

    A few years ago, people in my area (Aichi Prefecture) successfully forwarded a similar momento to family of the original owner. What probably helped the effort was the fact that the momento was brought to Japan by a public official (a Bay Area Police chief). That generated publicity at the outset and probably aided the networking necessary to locate a family.

  • I think the gesture says a lot about the spirit of the American GI’s and their progeny.

    Remember folks, this was a generation that was being shot at by the Japanese. Not just slights and snubs. Actual bullets, live munition.

    After the war, many of the GI’s became friends with the Japanese during the Occupation. They got to see the ordinary Japanese in a non-war context. As real people.

    It is in keeping with tradition that the descendents try to give the flag back to people possibly connected to it. It’s their property, not a war spoils.

    After all, the earlier generation of Americans gave the country back.

  • Neither flag is racist Carl, their meanings (the Swastika for good luck) and the Red Sun (well, Japan is the land of the rising sun after all) have been muddied by the actions of the bearers. Flags are merely flags and neither good nor evil.

  • While I see what you say, Sioraf. I think that Carl is right.

    This would never have happened if it was a Nazi flag. I’m just not sure what we should make of the difference in attitude.

  • KyushuJoe says:

    Surely the point is that, while the Hinomaru was the flag of a whole nation, the Swastika was the symbol of just one group (the Nazi party). That’s what makes the difference.

  • “Flags are merely flags and neither good nor evil”

    Hardly. Flags are symbols of nations and, therefore, symbols of the political philosophy of those nations. Don’t believe me? Go ask a Chinese or Korean if the Japanese flag is “just a flag.” Or, for that matter, go ask an elderly Jew in Israel if the old Nazi flag is just a piece of cloth. Be it through the actions of the bearers or not, those symbols have become connected to particular historical actions and philosophies and, in some cases, atrocities, too.

    “the Swastika was the symbol of just one group (the Nazi party). That’s what makes the difference.”

    No cigar, buddy. The Swastika was Germany’s national symbol for ten years, printed on its passports, stamped on its official documents, and sewn to its flags. It was certainly much, much more than a mere political party’s logo.

    For what it’s worth, my family does have a Nazi flag, captured during wartime by my great-grandfather. We also have a German officer’s knife that was captured, as well. Needless to say, I would never think of inviting old ex-Nazis over to shout “seig heil” and “pray for the repose” of the souls of other dead Nazis while someone plays “Deustchland Uber Alles.” The brutality of the Japanese Army shocked even Nazis like John Rabe…I wonder why the Imperial Japanese Army flag doesn’t get as much scorn heaped on it as the Nazi flag does. It certainly deserves it.

    — Maybe it’s because its the Hinomaru, not the other “Rising Sun” flag (only used by the Asahi Shinbun and the Japanese Navy, er, SDF nowadays), and people are used to seeing the Hinomaru as a symbol of modern Japan? (The Hinomaru, by itself, is certainly controversial enough within Japan, of course.)

    I’m not taking a side here. I’m merely suggesting. Keep discussing. Sorry to interrupt.

  • “Maybe it’s because its the Hinomaru, not the other ‘Rising Sun’ flag and people are used to seeing the Hinomaru as a symbol of modern Japan?”

    Could be. But when watching archival footage from the war it certainly seems like both the Hino and the “sun rays” flag were used pretty much interchangeably. I’m sure there was probably some kind of military protocol about which could be used when and by whom, but that’s neither here nor there in relation to this topic.

    I do respect the person who got in touch with you and think his/her plan to send the flag back to Japan is rather admirable…I just think his/her seeming veneration of it is a bit off-putting, especially a flag from that particular army in that particular war.

  • James Bradley says:

    A soldier is a soldier is a soldier. No matter what nation. If he died honorably in war, then he is entiled respect. As a combat soldier, I believe returning a flag is an act of honor/respect … one soldier to another – no more!

  • Dan Boutwell says:

    I have a similar dilemma. I also have a flag with inscriptions that I want translated. My father, a Marine, captured the flag on Okinawa. I’m not sure how much respect he gave it–very little I suppose. He lost too many of his friends on that island to ever care about the soldier to whom it belonged. I have the luxury to be separated from that conflict by a generation. I want to know what the inscriptions say. What I will do with it is still uncertain. Right now I will treat it with reverance, but I will not display it. That particular flag lost its honor when the people it represents attacked my homeland and tried to kill my father. Such is the fate of the defeated.

    Any direction on getting it translated. My story of the flag is provided at the link below:


  • We should try to understand that those young soldiers were just obeying orders from a higher military and political leadership and hardly any of them by themselves had any personal hatred against america or the allies other than defending their own country, they were just soldiers, now, the wrong thing to do would be to pay any respect to those who brought Japan into the miseries of war, ironically, the descendants of those are still in power here in Japan and they very much still carry the ideals of the old imperialist elite.

  • “Such is the fate of the defeated.”
    Well, here’s your chance to change that fate.
    You appear to lack the will or the balls so to do.
    I doubt very much that any Japanese was specifically after your father.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>