Introduction by Paul D. Barclay, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, USA.
Yasukuni Shrine has been a site of international and domestic controversy since the 1980s, especially around the issue of its enshrinement of high-ranking Japanese officers from World War II. But Yasukuni’s role as a premier record-keeper of Japanese battlefield fatalities from wars dating back to 1862 indicates the shrine’s centrality to the history of Meiji- and Taishō era military history as well. The documents in this unit are examples of fatality lists from Spring and Fall Special Festival (臨時大祭) “mass enshrinements” (gōshi 合祀).
The conflicts that occasioned mass enshrinement documented in this source, from the spring Special Festival of 1915, were heterogeneous. The first group on the list perished in the Japanese-German War of 1914 (大正三年戦役). This war began and ended with formal diplomatic instruments and fits all legal and sociological definitions of “war.” Accordingly, it was labeled “sen’eki 戦役” on the Yasukuni list. The second group on the list perished as a result of the Taiwan Savage Brigand Punitive Campaign (大正二年同三年台湾蕃匪討伐). These battles were fought against Indigenous Peoples who were technically subjects of the Japanese empire in 1913 and 1914, and not citizens of a foreign nation. The Taiwan campaigns were not called “wars,” but instead “punitive campaigns (討伐).” The third set of mass enshrined fatalities died in the battles the preceded the Meiji Restoration. These enshrined fatalities are called “martyrs” (殉難者). Specifically, fatalities from the Terada Inn Incident of 4/23/1862 and the Forbidden Gate [Kinmon] Incident of 7/19/64 (old lunar calendar). These battles pitted Shogunate forces against so-called “men of high purpose (志士),” or imperial loyalists.
On official lists for mass enshrinement, soldiers were divided into battalions, and sailors into commensurate operational units. Within these units, fatalities were listed in descending order of military rank. Fatalities of the same rank were then sorted in descending order of court rank (位). The next sets of rankings, royal-order class (勲等) and battlefield-merit grade (功級) respectively, were also attached to some names, where applicable. If a soldier, sailor, policeman, or worker was born into the “shizoku (士族)” caste (former samurai of higher rank), this was also noted on the registers.
Of particular interest here is battlefield merit grade, which means the type of “Golden Kite” medal awarded posthumously to the deceased. The Golden Kite (金鵄章) award had seven different grades. The top grade brought with it a 1500-yen annual payment, while the seventh-grade earned only 150-yen per year. Enlisted men, the vast majority of combatants, were only eligible for the sixth- and seventh-grade medals. The other item of interest is court rank. These ranks were bestowed upon nobility, very wealthy individuals, and commissioned officers. They signified precedence at imperially-sanctioned events. Court ranks were eagerly sought by families and co-regionalists of deceased samurai from the Restoration wars especially, because the bestowal of court rank erased the stigma of “rebel” or “outlaw” status from the deceased. For example, Saigō Takamori, a leader of a massive rebellion in 1877, was pardoned and promoted to court rank of “Senior Third Grade (正三位)” in 1889.
In our 1915 list, none of the Restoration War martyrs received a court rank, battlefield merit badges, or any honors. These were mostly men from the domains that were blacklisted during the early Meiji Restoration because of their militant support of the Shogunate. Kuwana, Hikone and Aizu are chief examples. The men honored at the 1915 Special Festival were belatedly enshrined at Yasukuni, thanks to years of intense political lobbying by advocates from their respective regions.
How would you explain the disproportionate number of Golden Kite medals and other tokens of honor awarded for the German-Japanese War, compared to the Punitive Expedition Against the Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples, or the Restoration Wars of 1862 and 1864?
What can be inferred about social mobility and the status system of Taishō-era Japan from the concordance of hierarchy of military ranks, court ranks, and battlefield merit grades, as indicated on mass enshrinement lists?
[The original publication]: Kanpō no. 806, April 13, 1915, pages 266-274.
[The location of the material]:
Digitized and available at https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/2952913
Army and Navy Ministry Announcement from the Official Gazette
Imperial sanction has been granted to conduct a welcoming spirits ceremony (shōkonshiki) on April 27th of this year, followed by a Special Grand Rite on the 28th and 29th, at Yasukuni Shrine, to collectively enshrine the soldiers and auxiliaries who died in connection with the 1914 [German-Japanese] War, the soldiers and police who died in connection with the Taiwan Savage Brigand Punitive Campaign, and those martyred before the Restoration. Decreed by Minister of the Army Oka Ichinosuke and Minister of the Navy Yashiro Rokurō on April 13, 1915.
Army Ministry Announcement #5:
The following men who died in battle, or died later from battle wounds, in the 1914 War, will be mass enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine in April of this year. Decreed by Army Minister Oka Ichinosuke on April 13, 1915.
This list continues through the rest of page 266 through the top of page 269 in the source document.
Navy Ministry Announcement #6:
The persons named below died in battle, or died later from battle wounds (戦死及戦傷後死没したる), in the 1914 War. They will be specially mass enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine in April of this year. Decreed by Navy Minister Yashiro Rokurō, April 13, 1915.
Army Ministry and Navy Ministry Announcement:
The policemen (警察官) named below died in connection with the 1913-1914 Taiwan Savage Brigands Punitive Expedition. They will be specially mass enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine in April of this year. April 13, 1915. Decreed by Army Minister Oka Ichinosuke & Navy Minister Yashiro Rokurō.
Army Ministry and Navy Ministry Announcement:
The martyrs (殉難者) from 1862 and 1864 will be specially mass enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine in April of this year. Decreed by Army Minister Oka Ichinosuke on April 13, 1915. Decreed by Army Minister Oka Ichinosuke & Navy Minister Yashiro Rokurō.
(Translated by: Paul D. Barclay)
Barclay, Paul D. "Imperial Japan's Forever War, 1895-1945," The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 19, issue 18, no. 4 (Sep 2021).
Barclay, Paul D. Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border,” 1874-1945. Asia Pacific Modern 16. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2018. See pages 97-113 for background on punitive campaigns against Taiwan Indigenous Peoples.
Breen, John. Yasukuni, the War Dead and the Struggle for Japan’s Past. London: Hurst, 2007. For background on official commemoration of war fatalities in imperial Japan.
Hiraku, Shimoda. Lost and Found: Recovering Regional Identity in Imperial Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014. See Chapter 4 for the politics surrounding the denigration and rehabilitation of Aizu samurai in Japanese public commemoration.
Takenaka, Akiko. Yasukuni Shrine: History, Memory, and Japan’s Unending Postwar. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 2015. For background on official commemoration of war fatalities in imperial Japan.
Wert, Michael. Meiji Restoration Losers: Memory and Tokugawa Supporters in Modern Japan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013. See pages 86-99 for the movements to enshrine Aizu, Kuwana, and Hikone samurai at Yasukuni.
Zabecki, David T. “Qingdao, Siege of (August 23– November 7, 1914).” In Japan at War : An Encyclopedia, edited by Louis G. Perez. Westport, UNITED STATES: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/lafayettecol-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1122590 For the background of the German-Japanese War of 1914.