December 04, 2014

Imamatsuribe no Yosofu

An old high school classmate contacted me on Facebook and wondered if could read what was written on this flag. The father of a family friend had brought it home at the end of WWII (click to enlarge).

The characters across the top are straightforward: 「武運長久」 "May the fortunes of war favor you forever." (The left-to-right switch for reading horizontally-written characters came right after the war.)

The characters radiating out from the "Rising Sun" (Hi-no-maru) in three concentric bands are the signed names of the soldiers in the company.

I couldn't make out what was written at the top right in old cursive script (read vertically top-to-bottom, right-to-left). So I asked a Japanese friend.

It's a poem credited to an 8th century frontier guardsman by the name of "Imamatsuribe no Yosofu," written while he was serving in a remote garrison on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan.

The poem is found in the Man'yoshu, the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, dating to 759 AD. Thanks to Google Books, I found several reference translations, which I've edited a bit.


From this day onward
without any homeward thoughts
I set forth as a lowly shield
of his Imperial Majesty.

A terrifically poignant word of parting, especially considering that most of them would never come home again.

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