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An Introduction to IJA dog tag specifications and regulations (1894-1945)
Old 08-16-2015, 08:33 AM   #1
Nick Komiya
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Default An Introduction to IJA dog tag specifications and regulations (1894-1945)

An Introduction to IJA dog tag specifications and regulations (1894-1945)

This is my latest long article for the forum. Please refrain from commenting until the whole work is uploaded. Association members are welcome to post photos of their tags for IDing here later in the thread. Other members without direct uploading rights are requested to open an independent thread instead of posting photos here, as I would not like to see this thread pock-marked with dead photo links later.

Ever since writing about army pay books, I have had the intention to cover the other item of personal identification, the dog tags. Three years ago, I even mentioned on the forum that one day I would write on that subject, so I owed forum members an article already for quite some time. However, the subject involved a lot of tedious directory compiling and that had discouraged me from taking up the challenge earlier. The directories are an integral part of the story, because to a non-Japanese person, tags are virtually double encrypted in how they are stamped. Firstly, it is stamped in Japanese and secondly, even the early tags employ abbreviated Japanese, akin to English acronyms, not to mention WW2 tags that use outright codes, numbers that cannot be deciphered without a code list. Unless I made a directory that decoded those Japanese acronyms into English, there was not much point in writing about the subject. But finally, I told myself that life was getting a too short to keep procrastinating about doing what must get done, so I gritted my teeth and dove into the Japanese National Archives. For the pre-1940 tags all the decoding directories that existed have been translated into English for your benefit.

For the post-1940 tags that employ unit designations expressed by 3 to 5 digit code numbers under a kanji character, (called Tsushogo codes, “Tsusho” means nickname and “go” means designation) creating a directory would have been an undertaking of phone book proportions. Instead, I chose to provide links to the various directories that already exist in Japanese, which were made by the Ministry of Welfare in the 40s and 60s to assist repatriation of ex-soldiers. Some of these lists have already been introduced on this forum and on others, but I also break some totally fresh ground here that many collectors should appreciate. Instead of just lists that run through the numbers, I will also introduce lists organized by theater of operations, compiled in the 60s, which should be more comprehensive and accurate than those made in haste in 1946. These “by theater” lists should be particularly helpful to collectors that specialize in a certain island campaign, etc and may be cross referenced against the “by number” list. Granted, it is still not in English, but I have done 80% of the decoding for you. Once you get the unit designation in Japanese, it is just a matter of straightforward translation.

In order to show how the real things were stamped, I borrowed numerous photos I found on this forum and added some others I found on the net. I would like to acknowledge here those whose forum photos I took the liberty of using. I thank in advance, Alex, Chris, David, Paul, Stu, helmhunter and kaigun air, and belatedly and humbly ask for your permission.

The Key Points, the 4W1H of ID tag regulations
IJA dog tags were first introduced on 22 June, 1894 by Army Ordinance No.63 as “Specifications and Issuing Procedures for ID tags”, immediately before the Sino-Japanese War, which broke out only a month later. At that time, this regulation discussed the following 9 aspects.

1. Who were to be issued tags for free
2. Who had to purchase their own tags
3. How the tags were to be worn
4. How to keep track of who got assigned which number
5. What to do with outdated tags improvised by units prior to the regulation
6. Specifications for the disc and cord
7. What information to be stamped and where
8. Who had to assign numbers to the tags
9. Which budget to use for preparing the tags

Of these attributes the first 7 changed over time, so I will show how each of these items evolved. However, before putting points 8 and 9 totally aside, let me simply say that it was the responsibility of the headquarters of each unit to assign numbers to their members. Later when replacement units supplied soldiers to field units, numbers given by the replacement units served as personal numbers and the designation of the replacement unit was inserted between the field unit designation and the personal numbers. Budget coverage ceased to be mentioned from the 1924 regulation change, but until that time, it was the army trust account that got charged for the cost.
For the other 7 points, let’s take a look at each and see how each point evolved over the years.

Item 1: Ranks subject to issue of ID tags

At time of introduction on June 22, 1894
“The purpose of an ID tag is to identify those soldiers and civilians serving the military upon death or injury, and is to be issued to master sergeants (特務曹長), NCOs and enlisted men upon mobilization by the unit they are attached to.” The general idea was that tags were issued only to individuals going to war ( homeland units were initially not given tags).

March 29, 1917
“Master sergeants (特務曹長)” earned the privilege to move out the barracks and ceased to be issued tags and were now required to purchase their own as per officers. This was considered a NCO rank at the time, but in 1932 they were switched to warrant officers and the rank was discontinued.

November 14, 1917
The garrison hospital for replacements of the Taiwan Garrison and Rusu Reserve units (Rusu units were skeleton units of approx. one third of full unit size left behind by divisions or regiments at home base after they vacate the base due to deployment overseas. They induct new recruits and train them as replacements for their parent unit in the field) were excluded from issuance. Civilians in army service, who could be issued tags, were limited to those equivalent to EM and NCOs. EM and NCOs as replacements were now issued tags.

April 12th, 1924
The above exclusions for replacements of the Taiwan Garrison and Rusu Reserve units were reversed, and now simply all NCOs and below were issued tags.

October 27, 1943
The final regulation said, “The purpose of an ID tag is to identify those soldiers and civilians serving the military upon death or injury, and are to be issued to officers and below upon mobilization. It is also to be issued to officers and below, who are assigned as replacements to a field unit”. From this time, even officers were now issued tags.

Item 2: Those who had to pay for their own tags

At time of introduction on June 22, 1894
Officers and their equivalents (相当官), warrant officers (准士官) and civilians in army service (軍属) shall provide ID tags at their personal expense. Paymasters and such did not hold officer ranks until 1932 and referred to as “officer equivalents”.

November 14, 1917 update
Civilians in service of the army equivalent to EM and NCOs were now issued tags.

October 27, 1943
Even officers were now issued dog tags, so private purchase of tags are no longer an issue from this point.

Officer tags were always engraved by chisel, as the huge range of kanji used in names made it totally impractical to prepare stamping dies.
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