Yosegaki Hinomaru: The Good Luck Flag

Made of delicate fibers, folded, and carried in the pockets of soldiers, Japanese “good luck" flags, commonly known in Japan as yosegaki hinomaru, were parting gifts for soldiers deployed into battle. These flags are evidence of a long standing tradition among Japanese servicemen. The Japanese National Flag, commonly known in Japan as hinomaru, was used to facilitate these messages of prayers and well-wishes from loved ones, so that the soldier could endure the difficult times ahead; yosegaki, refers to the gathered writing, often inscribed in a pattern radiating from the center of the flag.  A yosegaki hinomaru experienced only a fraction of the harrowing perils of war experienced by the soldiers who carried them to the front lines. It is remarkable that these flags have survived to continue the story of the soldiers who brought them into battle.

 This "good luck" flag was found in recent years by the client amongst her grandfather's possessions, tucked away for decades in a scrapbook her grandmother made. He had served in the Navy during the final year of World War II, and during his enlistment was only permitted to disclose that he was stationed as part of the Pacific Ocean theater of the war. Her grandfather passed away before she was born, and decision to conserve and frame the flag was a personal one, with the hopes of using this relic as a teaching tool for her son. “My son, who is 8 years old, has always been incredibly interested in World War II.  When we discovered the flag, it was a way for him to connect with a part of his family history.”

Before stabilization, this "good luck" flag, or yosegaki hinomaru, shows the history of its age through discoloration of the fibers and heavy creases where it was folded for many years.

 The flag exhibited condition issues consistent with its age. Fibers had darkened and discolored over time, and there were strong crease lines where the flag had been folded for many years. Small spots and stains were present, but given its history, the flag was in sound condition.  As is the case with many textile pieces, conservation was tailored toward stabilization. "Usually these silk flags are very embrittled when they get to The Center. Conservation is challenging because multiple inks and dyes are not color-stable for water washing.  We often see the creases remain after treatment, however stabilization is most important in these cases," says The Center's Textile Conservator.  The flag was carefully surface cleaned using dry methods that would not disrupt any of the inks, but would help remove any dirt or soil on the surface that could further degrade the fibers over time.

Framed with acid-free, archival materials, this yosegaki hinomaru is now protected from dirt and grime, humidity and temperature fluctuations, and harmful UV rays.

 After considering different storage and display options, the client decided to frame the flag in order to display it safely in her home. In order to preserve the structural integrity of the fibers of the flag while mounting, the flag was meticulously stitched onto a sealed stretcher, wrapped with a neutral tone linen that was able to bear the weight of the flag. The mounted flag was then installed into a custom frame with acid-free archival framing materials, including UV protective acrylic glazing that will block harmful ultraviolet rays from sun bleaching the flag. Overall, the framing will help protect the flag from dirt and dust particles in the air, humidity and lessen temperature fluctuations, and harsh UV light.

Although the Allied soldiers commonly took these flags from wounded or fallen Japanese soldiers as mementos of the war, the client will never know the story behind how her grandfather came to possess this flag.  Her hope is that she and her son can continue this history lesson and work to identify the family of the soldier who carried this "good luck" flag, and in the meantime honor and protect the yosegaki hinomaru.