Need Help Translating Japanese Artifact
  • Hello, I have a small but beautiful brass buckle that was given to me a number of years ago. There is a dragon on the front with a small inscription, and a rather lengthy inscription on the back of the buckle in very small characters. I have tried over the years to have it transcribed without success thus far. One Japanese woman I met in a Japanese restaurant was able to decipher parts of it, and she did tell me that the inscription was from a Japanese alphabet that was no longer in use, and it reffered to a battle in a region that was no longer a region. This piece was given to me by a very dear friend whose father had given it to her, and she knew less about it than I have discovered. It is a small buckle, with a lot of mystery. I can't really explain why, but I have always felt it to be important that I learn the meaning of this buckle. My friend gifted it to me during a time of great personal upheaval, and for whatever reason, it was a great comfort.

    I took digital pictures of it, hoping to post the pictures here so that it could be seen, and perhaps translated. I feel confident someone here could help with this effort, and at least provide some info that may lead me further down the road in my quest. The problem is, I don't see a way to share the scans here. So for a start, is there a way to upload pictures of it to share with you all?

    Thanking you in advance for any assistance,


    Free and lets you upload pictures which you can then post the links to here.'

    I'd love to see the text but don't get your hopes up.. if it's written in manyougana, there's no way I can translate or even read it.
  • Oh this worked great! Thank You, it only took a moment, and the pictures are legible.

    Here is the link to the "front" of the buckle - see small inscription lower left:

    Here is the link to the longer inscription on the back - some of the characters are obscured by the makings of the buckle itself, but most is legible - if anyone can read what is visible, I will figure out a way to get the rest posted but this is a start. Here is the link to the main inscription on the back, again with some characters obscured by the latch device:

    All of this is very small, I zoomed in tight with a macro, but they are legible. Thank you so much for taking a look at this, maybe someone can read it.
  • Very very cool buckle! Unfortunately, it is indeed written in manyougana so I can't read it... heh, I can't even recognize some of the kanji because of how different they are written. At this rate, I think you'd have more luck asking a Chinese person to translate it ;)
  • Not sure what the kanji on the front is but here's a partial attempt at the back:

    第七回 (The Seventh)
    保険体?内 (Insurance???)
    熊本縣 (Kumamoto Prefecture)
    昭和十一年 (Showa 11, ie 1936)

    I'm not sure about the second line, but I'm pretty sure about all the other lines. I'm afraid I think it's probably far less romantic an inscription than the Japanese woman claimed it was (for whatever reason), no matter what the second line means.
  • Thinking about it, it might have been a problem of the Japanese woman not speaking English too well. The kanji for 'prefecture' is not used any more (a region that's no longer a region). As for the battle, I think the second line refers somehow to some kind of athletic contest.
  • I can't add much, but I will point out that in

    dai nana kai

    the kanji 回 (kai) means time (as in occasion), so it is referring to the seventh time.
    The buckle may have been given to participants in some (possibly annual) event, which was held for the seventh time in 1936.
  • Wow! Thank you everyone! I know a good deal more thanks to you all. Tobberoth, thanks to you, I now realise this is probably "manyogouna", which I had no clue what that was, and now know it is a linguistic "challenge" to say the least Lol... I read what you wrote, and so researched manyogouna. It is my understanding that it is Japanese words written in Chinese symbols? This goes a long way toward explaining why when I ask a Japanese person about it in the real world, they say it is "Chinese" but Chinese people say it is "Japanese". I confess, when I first got it years ago, my only resource was places like Japanese and Chinese restaraunts - thus, the woman who gave me the partial transcription I shared above. She worked in a Japanese restaraunt.

    Richard, much thanks for your transllation which gave quite a bit of info - reading what you were able to decipher convinced me that I need to find a way to share with you all the characters that are on the back of the buckle but obscured by the latch part. In the pictures I posted, you can just see pieces of the characters under the verticle bars. They may add much needed perspective to all of this. Unfortunately, as you can see, there is no way to take a picture of them.

    And Roro, please don't underestimate you valued contribution. Just "Seven" made little sense to me, but your added context helped a good deal insofar as "my" understanding.

    When I read all of what you all said, about this I took off on a mad dash for research on everything from what is a "Showa" to the Kamumoto prefecture :-). Also researched Japanese history for the year 1936. This was apparently the year a coup occured in Tokyo, and the military took over the government briefly. Also, this lead to the Japanese-Chinese war several months later, in 1937. Which got me wondering about Showa, 11.

    I did manage to learn that it meant the eleventh year of Showa. Then I read that Showa began in 1926, so I wondered if the eleventh year would be 1937, rathere than 1936, which could connect the buckle to the Japanese-Chinese war of 1937. (Japan invaded China that year). But I think Richard has it right in saying that Showa 11 is 1936, not 1937. Because the years begin in January, so 11 years from January 1926 would indeed be January 1936. Nevertheless, this period was very militaristic from what I have read. The country was changing and continuous conflicts within, and with China caused considerable conflict - leading as I said, to outright war in 1937. Can you tell I'm a history buff? Thankfully in this instance. My natural inclination for history lead me to take what Richard said to the history books, and so I learned what I just shared.

    Richard, as you weren't sure about the second line, and "insurance" I downloaded a cool tool from Babylon which sort of helps, but for one as ignorant as I am of the language it can add a good deal of confusion to the mix as well. For that line of characters, it gave a similiar meaning, but also added words from "traditional chinese" such as:

    guard, protect, maintain, hold, keep, ensure, insure, guarantee, warrant, vouch, defend

    warranty, defence, defense, protection, guard, maintenance, insurance, guaranty

    Of course someone like me trying to use this cool little tool for this effort is sort of like a child trying to decipher a legal document :-). In other words, I'm not really able to do it. I'm still not even sure whether to go with Japanese meanings, Chinese, or both combined. So I'm not giving up on discovering this, mainly right now I wanted to extend a sincere "thank you" to you all for the help you have graciously provided. I'll try to find a way to share the characters that didn't show up in the pictures. I'm thinking maybe I can use carbon paper, and rub it over the whole thing, and the characters hidden by the latch may come through. Then I can take a picture of the carbon paper and post that as well.

    Folks, please don't think I'm nuts, but I really want the answers to this buckle :-).

    Meanwhile, many thanks and warm regards!

  • Update:

    Folks, I have to ask your patience. I managed to take some more pictures - I was able to shoot the characters that were not visible before on the right and left hand sides. If you all happen to catch this latest update, here are the links to the previously hidden characters.

    Left side characters that were obscured by hinge:

    Right Side Characters that were obscured by belt loop bar:

    These missing characters may shed some light and add some much needed understanding to this inscription as it didn't make a whole lot of sense without them. My apologies. I truly did not think I could shoot them with the camera. It took a lot of shots, most of which did not take, but I managed to get these.

    Thanks for your help, I truly appreciate it.
  • I now have:

    第七回 (The Seventh)
    健康保険体?内會 (Health Insurance????)
    熊本縣 (Kumamoto Prefecture)
    昭和十一年 (Showa 11, ie 1936)

    If I could work out what that missing character on the second line is, I'm sure it would shed a lot of light, but from the kanji that I'm pretty sure about, I still think it's probably commemorating some kind of sporting event (some kind of meeting or assembly at any rate).
  • Richard, thank you. Can I ask what alphabet you are using to translate this? Here is what I am wondering - hoping you can spare me from a foolish tangent. I've been researching the language changes in the 20th century. What I have learned is that the current Kanji came into use in 1946 (post World War II, and definately post Showa 11 (1936). So can we truly rely upon modern Kanji to translate this? I have yet to see modern Kanji that resembles the alphabet on the buckle. I'm in no way disputing what you are interpreting, you are far better at this than I. But I am wondering if we can truly rely on an alphabet put into use in 1946 to transcribe writing produced a decade prior? Frankly, I'm probably being foolish, but I still question.

    I want to thank you for your help with this. If nothing else, this "health insurance" buckle has taught me a great deal - perhaps in ways it wasn't even designed to teach :-).

    Curious on your thoughts though about the difference between the time of the modern Kanji alphabet usage (post 1946) and the time of this writing (circa 1930's). Can we rely on modern Kanji to transcribe accurately? I respect your obvious knowledge here, and truly appreciate your feedback.
  • What I know about the 1946 reforms (with help from Wikipedia) is as follows. Many kanji were either simplified or discouraged from being used altogether. Presumably this is why so many animals and plants are now written in katakana rather than kanji. However, many of them remained the same. There are a couple of kanji on the buckle that have been simplified: 縣 is now usually 県, and 會 is now usually 会. However, all the other kanji were the same in 1936 as they are now.

    What's different (and difficult) is the writing style which is highly stylised. If you think of old manuscripts with English writing, they're often a little difficult to read for English speakers. Even with modern fonts there are variations you have to get used to when learning Japanese.

    If you look at the top and bottom line of the characters on the buckle, and compare them with my top and bottom line, these are the easiest places to see similarities. Only 十一 is exactly the same though.
  • Posted By: Richard
    [p]I now have:[/p][p]第七回 (The Seventh)
    健康保険体?内會 (Health Insurance????)
    熊本縣 (Kumamoto Prefecture)
    昭和十一年 (Showa 11, ie 1936)[/p][p]If I could work out what that missing character on the second line is, I'm sure it would shed a lot of light, but from the kanji that I'm pretty sure about, I still think it's probably commemorating some kind of sporting event (some kind of meeting or assembly at any rate).[/p]

    That 内 might be 大, and if 會 is 会 as you said, that would make it 大会, convention; tournament; mass meeting; rally.
  • Posted By: Aodh
    Posted By: Richard
    [p]I now have:[/p][p]第七回 (The Seventh)
    健康保険体?内會 (Health Insurance????)
    熊本縣 (Kumamoto Prefecture)
    昭和十一年 (Showa 11, ie 1936)[/p][p]If I could work out what that missing character on the second line is, I'm sure it would shed a lot of light, but from the kanji that I'm pretty sure about, I still think it's probably commemorating some kind of sporting event (some kind of meeting or assembly at any rate).[/p]
    [p]That 内 might be 大, and if 會 is 会 as you said, that would make it 大会, convention; tournament; mass meeting; rally.[/p][/quote]

    I think you're probably right that the character is 大. I wasn't too confident about 内 anyway, and 大会/大會 would make a lot of sense.
  • Are you sure btw, Tobberoth, that you meant manyougana? Manyougana implies using the phonetic value of the kanji used, which does not seem the case here. In effect it just looks like seal script to me. And that has, to refer to a few posts above about the kanji reforms in Japan, nothing to do with the reform. This style is much older than those reforms, which does not mean it was made so long ago of course.

    I cannot remember having seen seal script in Japan though. I'd need to ask around, but my gut instinct says Chinese, whereas the dragon head seems more Japanese. I'll talk this over with some people I know.
  • Seems this has been answered in already.

    It's made to resemble seal script and reads:


    Edit: And yes, it would have been nice if the OP could've updated this thread with the results in order to save people wasting time and effort.
  • Hmm, I'd already rejected '育' for that missing character because they didn't look particularly similar. On the other hand, it is the most logical character to fill the gap, so I'm quite willing to accept that's what it is (I suppose if you knock the 月 part over on its side I can just about see it).
  • Cool!


    7th Health Insurance Track Meet
    Kumamoto Prefecture
    Showa period, year 11 (1937 A.D. I think)

    This is definitely NOT manyougana. It's seal script with old versions of the characters.
    I see seal script a lot in Japan on stamps for official documents. There is a glasses
    store in the town where I live that has its sign written in seal script. It's definitely out there.
    Sometimes you will see old versions of characters too, so I think we just have a combination
    of those two writing styles here.

    If it were really from the time manyougana was used, it would be a priceless Indiana Jones type artifact,
    but I doubt they knew about the modern Showa period (which started in 1926) back when manyougana was in use haha :-P
    (There were 2 Showa periods but the old Showa period only lasted like 5 years so there was no year 11)

    Wikipedia has a great article on manyougana:'yōgana

    Wiki has other articles about seal script, which apparently started in the 3rd century BC, so it's
    probable manyougana was written in seal script back in olden days in Japan. That wasn't the case here though.
  • Actually, Showa 11 is 1936. (Compare to Showa 64 being 1989, not 1990.) You tend to take the first year the nengou is declared, subtract 1, and then add the number of years in that nengou. So Showa 11 => 1926 - 1 + 11 = 1936.
  • Ohh i see. You're right. For paperwork purposes I just memorized that I was born in shouwa 56. I should've counted backwards from there. If I do that it's 1936.
    I just read the date as "starting in 1926" I didn't know (and still don't know hehe) what nengou is. I should do more reading. Thanks for letting me know.

    This was mostly just to support your question about this thing being manyougana or not. I was interested too 'cause I thought I remembered a
    different name (which turned out to be seal script) for that hard to read engraving/stamp stuff. Then I typed out 万葉仮名 and looked at the
    kanji and I was like, "yeah the whole system was like a big crappy mess of 10,000 leaves!" That name made more logical sense to me hahaha.
    And that led to an evening of reading wikipedia and other websites that wish they were wikipedia.

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