SECOND TO LAST CHAPTER

My my. It sure has been awhile since I've posted on here (almost four months... I just counted on my fingers). Mostly because there hasn't been much going on on my end. The research team in Japan, on the other hand has been hard at work, even though the trail seemed to have gone cold awhile ago. But it's like OBON 2015 told me on multiple occasions: These guys won't stop; so don't lose hope. And they most certainly didn't stop, because tonight OBON 2015 informed me that they found Sukio's wife and his daughter. That's all the information I have to go off at the moment, but as more details emerge, I will be sure to post them. So thank you OBON 2015 and to all the members of your team for everything you have done! 

In the mean time, I have one other thing to share. I should have shared it a few weeks ago, but I have been busy and may or may not have procrastinated on top of that. At the beginning of August a reporter from The Tokyo Shimbun (a Japanese newspaper) interviewed me over the phone about Sukio's flag. Actually, it was his wife, because the man didn't speak English. Then, a few weeks later two wonderful reporters (Mr. Michio Yoshieda and Ms. Alexandra McCullough) from The Tokyo Shimbun's New York branch flew in and interviewed me at my apartment and took some photos of me with some of my military accoutrements. Shortly thereafter they ran the story below (on the right of the red line). 

You may be wondering why this newspaper interviewed me and ran this story. That's a good question. Each year, around the anniversary of the end of WW II in Japan, the newspaper features stories on the subject. It's much like how we run similar stories around the anniversaries of significant events in our country, commemorative and whatnot. But the stories also serve as a history lesson to educate the younger generations who might feel removed from the events due to the generational divides.

This year the newspaper was featuring stories of Americans who have returned the flags through OBON 2015 and those families that have received the flags. When the story ran, Sukio's family hadn't been found yet, but the newspaper thought my military service added an interesting angle on the story, which is why they interviewed me. I don't have an English transcript of the news article, but when I receive it, I will post it. 

In the mean time, thank you again to OBON 2015 and all of your team. My family can't thank you enough for all of your hard work. And for everyone else, I will be posting more as soon as details emerge. 

 

BACK FROM THE DEAD

My dad called me yesterday after he read the previous post. I didn’t answer the phone, but he left a message that said I had left him in suspense. He was calling because he didn’t want to wait for the next post and wanted the low-down straight from the tap. Or as he put it, “You’re the main man, and I got a connection. I was hoping you’d call me to let me know what’s going on.” I called him back and filled him in, but I suppose it’s time I told the rest of the world. 

As I said in the previous post, OBON 2015 traveled to Japan several weeks ago to return five flags. Mine was one of them. Since they haven’t been able to track any of Sukio’s family, it was returned to a shrine in Fukuoka. 

Around that same time OBON 2015’s associates in Japan obtained the alumni records from the school Sukio had attended and, according to their records, had graduated from. After searching for each student listed, they were able to contact more than sixty individuals, which seems like a remarkable number to me, seeing how several have passed away already.

They asked each of his former classmates anything they remembered about Sukio himself and the area where they think he may have lived. Except for one, all of the people they contacted didn’t remember all too much about Sukio. One person thought his family came from a specific village, but when they searched the village’s public records, nothing came up. 

Despite the numerous dead ends they’ve run into, they still had another some other leads they were pursuing. (Just a quick aside: It’s impressive at how relentless these people are in their search. I get the impression that they’re like the Hulk of detective work in that dead ends only appear to make them more determined.) One of these leads was at the veteran’s association. Their records don’t show that anyone named Sukio Ueda died during World War II. OBON 2015 said their records aren’t flawless, but they have proven to be very, very good in the past. So if the records are correct, then it appears he survived the war. 

It appears that after he returned from the war, he got married, had a daughter and resided in the North, near the straits of Shimonoseki. The Fukuoka people contacted officials in Kitakyushu to get some information about Sukio, but Japan has some pretty tough privacy laws and denied the request. 

But like I said up above, the people searching are like the Hulk of detective work. They won’t give up until they’ve exhausted every single lead. Seeing how they’re a group of people comprised of family members of veterans, politicians, professors, retired military, priests and business leaders, they have a large collection of skill sets. And since OBON 2015 was present at the flag returning ceremony several weeks ago, they were able to personally alert the politicians of the search for Sukio. So now we have some political influence helping power the search. As of the writing of this post, a local chairman made a formal request for information about Sukio in the Kitakyushu area. We’re just waiting to see what they say. We just may have another shot at finding something out about him through their records. 

Who knows, maybe he’s still alive?

THREE CEREMONIES

If you ever had any doubts about the impact returning these flags has on people’s live, then watch the videos below. They’re of three different ceremonies documenting the return of three different flags. I don’t know about you, but my eyes definitely got a little watery while watching them. 

The man you see in this video was the younger brother (seven years younger and 86 now) of the fallen soldier. Even though 70 years have passed since he last saw his brother, it's clear from the video he him quite well.

The flag was returned on April 28th at Yasukuni Shrine. 

This flag belonged to the father of the older lady you see in the video. She’s 72 now. So she was probably pretty young when her father left for the war, which would explain why she has no memory of him. But as you can see, receiving this flag still had quite an effect on her. 

The flag was returned on April 29th at Okayama Gokoku Shrine.

Lastly, this flag was returned to the nephew of the soldier. He is now 72-years-old. Apparently there were five brothers, and the nephew was the son of the oldest brother. The one who died in the war was the third, or middle, brother. Some of the other brothers still survive, but the nephew was the only one who came to the returning ceremony. 

The flag was returned on April 30th at Yamanashi Gokoku Shrine.

After watching these videos, you're probably wondering what's going on with Sukio Ueda's flag. I have more information, but just haven't had the time to put it up. It should be up in a few days, and you definitely won't want to miss it. Things have taken a turn that I don't think anyone saw coming. 

A HEROIC EFFORT

Every time I visit my parents, there’s a 99% chance my mom will have the TV tuned to CSI or NCIS. Or is it Law & Order? I don’t know. All those shows are the same to me, and I find myself confusing them the way you would a set of twins you just met. So each time I always ask my mom, “Which one is this? CSI? Law & Order?” And each time the reply is the same, “It’s NCIS.” That’s what she says at least, but in her head I’m sure she appends “Don’t you ever listen? I’ve told you 58 times already. You’re just like your dad.” to the end of her answer. 

While I don’t really care for those shows, I have learned one thing from them: Rarely do you ever go with the very first theory you come up with when solving a murder. Or in my case, attempting to return a 60-year-old flag to a fallen soldier’s family with very little information to go on.

Initially, the scholars thought Sukio attended a northern school in the Fukuoka Prefecture, which is why he had so many signatures on the flag from students at that school. He also had a few signatures from students at the southern school, but not many. The reason is that he could have made connections to this school through the teacher that traveled between schools? Seems plausible, right? Well, it’s not actually the case. There was no traveling teacher. The signature they thought was from a traveling teacher actually belonged to the principal of the southern school, Mr. Seiji Harada, which is where Sukio graduated.  

Of course, none of this is new information, as I mentioned it the last post, but it has given rise to a new theory: Sukio attended the northern school where he had quite a few friends (hence their signatures on his flag) but had recently transferred to the southern school, which explains why so few students from that school signed his flag. Again, this is just a theory (albeit a solid one), as the scholars really have no clue why he has signatures from students at both schools. But if it’s true, why did he transfer schools? Was this something that happened all the time? Or was something else going on that we don’t know about? 

We do know that Sukio’s class had 109 students, but the class was divided into two sections. And they weren’t sure which section he was in, but there were 43 surviving students registered with the alumni department. After calling each one, only ONE (ONE!!!) remembered Sukio and suggested a town where he may have grown up. However, after searching the district’s citizen registry, they found that no Uedas lived there. 

With nothing but dead ends, the scholars have turned their attention back to the northern school and have been able to get lists of the students who attend the northern school during 1944, 1945 and 1946. Their hope is that they’re able to match some of the names on the flag to students at the northern school. If they do, they can track these people down and ask them where Sukio may have grown up. 

OBON 2015 told me that never before have so many people given so much effort to help. They even went on to call it a “heroic effort.” I didn’t understand what they meant by that until the end of their email where they said that 200 (200!!!) additional people are working together to help find Sukio’s family and won’t stop until this mission is accomplished. I was blown away when I read that. 

200 additional people… A heroic effort indeed.

GHOST GRADUATE

As you're well aware, posts have been tapering off lately, but that's how things go sometimes. There is no funding for these searches, as people at OBON 2015 and people in Japan are using their own resources to keep things moving along, and they're doing all of this extra work on top of their regular 9 - 5 jobs. Not only that, but sometimes the trails run cold for awhile and/or progress becomes painstakingly incremental. Lots of variables. Just last night OBON 2015 told me that on Friday they just confirmed they have positively identified a family they have been searching for since December 12, 2012. How crazy is that? However, their most recent update gives me hope that the search for Sukio's family won't take that long. 


YOUNG SOLDIER

It has been a few days since I’ve posted, and some people may be a tad curious as to what’s going on. Well, the short answer is not much on my end. However, I know that’s definitely not the case over at OBON 2015 headquarters and halfway around the world in Japan. I can only speculate that they’ve begun the tedious process of knocking on doors over there and searching through old school records (if they exist).

After OBON 2015 sent me the document below, I emailed them back. I wanted to know if it were possible that the school Sukio was attending could have been a university of some sort. I guess some part of me hoped that he had at least been out of high school. That he hadn’t been drafted at who knows what age.

The name of the school would have been Fukuoka-ken Enga Nogaku Gakkou, and it was, in fact, not a college or university. Here’s the breakdown of the school’s name in OBON 2015’s words: 

Fukuoka-ken = The location is in Fukuoka Prefecture

Enga = Some name, of a place or person or thing….but unknown to us.

Nogaku= the word "No" means "agriculture" the word "gaku" means study.

Gakkou = school

Since that time, the school has changed its name to Fukuoka-ken-ritsu Enga Koto Gakkou.

Fukuoka-ken Enga Nogaku Gakkou could have been a high school with an agriculture name because of its location. Like naming something ‘Sand Hills Resorts’ because the resort is smack dab in the middle of, well, hills and sand. It could have been a trade or technical high school, or a regular high school that heavily emphasized agriculture in order to prepare students to become future farmers. Whatever the school’s purpose, the point is Sukio probably didn’t get to finish whatever it was he was studying. 

MR. UEDA, THE GOOD SAMARATIN?

This morning I woke up to an email with some new information surrounding the yosegaki hinomaru. Lots of interesting information, which you can see for yourself in the photo below. But lots of room to speculate as well. Was the man carrying this flag a wonderful man with a big heart? Was this merely a movie/character reference that was popular at the time? Or was it something else? So many questions and clues, including the thought that a simple movie reference could be the clue to unlocking the date when Japan drafted Mr. Ueda/sent him to war.

In case you can't read the words on the image, here's what it says:

  1. This is the name of a famous actor named Kenichi Enomoto, but known as Enoken. (you can find a wiki- page on him.) He was very popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s as an entertainer. Probably some goofy kid wrote the name there which would be like a high schooler today in America signing a yearbook with the name “Tom Cruise” as a joke.

  2. Isshin Tasuke” is a fictional Japanese character that has appeared in novels and theater since the 16th century as the type of person who does good, thinks good and is honorable, although poor. He is what we call a “good samaritan.” He always tries to help. This actor, ENOKEN played this character in a film that was released in 1945. (perhaps we now have a date for this flag....all we need is a release date for the film.)

  3. It was assumed this was a schoolthe owner of flag attended, but our scholars think differently. There exists other school names on the flag that are incomplete, which probably indicate HIS school. More to come about this later.......
     

THE STORY OF TOMIO AIKAWA

It has been a few days since I've posted anything about the yosegaki hinomaru that belonged to Mr. Ueda. That's because I haven't really had anything new to share, seeing how the flag has been on a transcontinental journey for the past few days (although I just found out it safely arrived today). Last night OBON 2015 sent me an email to tell me about a different flag they reunited with the family of a man named Tomio Aikawa. Here's that story:

Hello Michael, 
While we await the arrival of your flag and preparations for the search to begin, I thought I would share with you a recent story of one flag. The history and identification of the people [are] as accurate as we can be, for now. We might gain more specific information during our next visit to Japan.

We are not sure of the date when Tomio Aikawa was drafted into the Navy, but we guess it was sometime in 1943. Below you will see a photograph of him with two Yosegaki Hinomaru tied across his chest. Perhaps one hinomaru was from his family and the other may have been from workers at his place of employment. Or maybe one was from his family and the other from his wife and children. Some Japanese received two or three hinomarus. Behind him are two unknown gentlemen, however, next to him is his wife, Tomiko, dressed in a traditional kimono. She is resting her hands on the shoulders of their eldest son.

Image used with permission courtesy of  OBON 2015

Several months later his wife gave birth while Tomio was away in the service. This child was their second son. Tomio was given leave over New Years 1944. He returned home to see his family. On January 3rd, 1944 he was photographed holding in his arms his new born son, Hiroshi, who was only one month old. The eldest son is in the center of the photo; his wife, Tomiko, is behind him smiling. The other people are not known at this time.

Image used with permission courtesy of  OBON 2015

Six months later, on July 8th, 1944, Tomio was killed during the battle for Saipan.

Approximately sixty-seven years later a Japanese woman, Michiyo Ando, who teaches Flamenco dance in California, was visiting a friend. This woman's children were playing with a Yosegaki Hinomaru given to them by their grandfather. One child sat on it while the other pulled him across the floor like a sled. Michiyo Ando was horrified.

Image used with permission courtesy of Bridge USA

Michiyo told her friend it was a precious personal family item that belonged to someone. Her friend took it away from the children and gave it to her. Michiyo [then] contacted OBON 2015. 

Image used with permission courtesy of  OBON 2015

Image used with permission courtesy of  OBON 2015

OBON 2015's researchers and scholars studied the details and deciphered the names. Fortunately there were numerous clues that led to one specific family. Within ten days OBON 2015's researchers had found the family.

The soldier's wife, Tomiko, had passed away, as had the eldest son. However, that second son, Hiroshi, who had been photographed in his father's arms on January 3rd, 1944, was alive. He had turned 70 years old a short while before he was contacted by OBON 2015.

He was stunned.

Image used with permission courtesy of  OBON 2015

A simple return of Tomio's remaining item to the family occurred at a nearby shrine. Local priests conducted the appropriate ceremony.

Image used with permission courtesy of  OBON 2015

For the first time in his life, Hiroshi gazed at the hinomaru of the father he never knew. His wife, by his side, gazes at her father-in-law's only surviving possession.

Image used with permission courtesy of  OBON 2015

Image used with permission courtesy of  OBON 2015

Although torn by the California children's rough-house play, this precious remaining item of Hiroshi's father will be a lasting memory of the man who once held him in his arms many years before.

As you can see, these flags have real lives attached to them, lives that are no different from yours or mine. My only hope is that we're able to track down Mr. Ueda's family as easily as Mr. Aikawa's.

HELLO MR. UEDA

Until about sixth or seventh grade, I thought that my last name was unique. Or maybe it’s what I wanted to believe, that I was this unique person from a unique, tiny town in Southern Illinois. But, my naive, little world was shattered one day when I cracked open the phone book and found that a sizable portion of the page was dedicated to all the Williams’s around Lawrenceville. If there were this many Williams’s living in a town of forty-five hundred people, then imagine what that number is in bigger towns. So much for being unique. 

Turns out that the original owner of this flag also has quite a common last name as well. On Thursday I received an email from the Japanese consulate in Chicago. I was told that the soldier’s last name is Ueda and that he was possibly a graduate or student at the Tagawa Agricultural and Forestry school in Fukuoka Prefecture. 

Just those few details alone made things feel even more personal. Up to this point, it has been easy to merely say this is a flag of a fallen soldier, because my mind had nothing concrete to grasp onto. Without any information about this man, there was still a human disconnect. But knowing his name and what he was up to before getting drafted makes it feel personal. I can start to see the form of a real person emerging. It’s like watching an artist draw someone and seeing the lines on the paper finally come together to form the features of his subject. 

It’s also personal, because like Mr. Ueda, I was at a similar point in my life when I left for Iraq. I had just graduated from college, but a few short months later, I was riding a bus to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma to start training for war. And several months after that, I was officially in the middle of that war. 

Mr. Ueda's first name may be lying somewhere around this part of the flag. 

Knowing Mr. Ueda’s name is certainly helpful, but since it’s one of the most common last names in Japan, it doesn’t make the search any easier. Although it is easier than not having a name at all. The man at the consulate told me that the soldier’s first name may be located somewhere near the four o’clock position on the flag, but he couldn’t make out the characters.

Before I mailed the flag to OBON 2015, I sent them some more pictures of the flag, and they emailed me the following:

It is a beautiful and complex hinomaru. Generally the penmanship of one person signing is respected by others. I don't recall ever seeing calligraphy on top of calligraphy like I see in this hinomaru. In some places I see three layers of writing!  This is unusual. Our researchers are going to really enjoy having this puzzle to study. It is a very difficult flag.

Typically we see the first and last name together, in the same penmanship. Then we see several similar names, representing maybe uncles or brothers. That does not exist here in the photographs you sent. We see the last name, but not the first……for sure. However, as the consulate suggested, it might be hidden somewhere.

If all goes well, OBON should receive the flag on Monday. So updates may start to get pretty interesting in the next few days. 

In the mean time, it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Ueda. 

 

 

FINDING JAMES

My family hasn't spoken with my great uncle's side of the family in quite awhile. I could be wrong on this, but the last time they all spoke might have been when my grandpa (my great uncle's brother) passed away in 2004. So it goes without saying that we're not super close. 

I never met my great uncle James, that I can remember at least. The only memory of him I have is going to the funeral home when he passed away in the late 80s, early 90s. 

But I need to find out as much information about him and his tour during WW II as possible. Not just because I'm curious and think this would be a great way to learn about some of my roots and connect with family, but the more information I can provide OBON 2015 about where my great uncle possibly picked up the flag would greatly help them in their search. 

The other day my mom gave me a phone number to reach out to my cousin Jim, James's son. So during a break at work one day I mustered up the courage and gave him a call. While the phone rang, I wondered what the hell I was going to say to him and hoped things wouldn't get awkward, as I'm not always the best conversationalist. My sister got the gift of gab gene, not me.

After a handful of rings, the phone picked up, and I was greeted with the sound of a fax machine. I had called a freaking fax machine!!! Obviously it didn't have any answers. So I hung up a little bummed, yet relieved at the same time. 

I also had the number to a military museum, so I gave them a call. Some older man picked up, and I told him my story and asked what would be the best way to find out about my great uncle. 

"Well, I'd start by doing an Internet search," he said. 

I don't know if I sounded like a third grader learning how to do research for the first time, if he simply thought I was a complete moron or if I was getting Punk'd, but his answer wasn't helpful. At the risk of getting another obvious answer, I asked a few more questions, and he pointed me to the National Archives in St. Louis. Okay, so maybe that answer was obvious, but the thought never crossed my mind.  Over the weekend I'm going to fill out the the Standard Form 180, which is the paperwork to request my great uncle's military records. It will be interesting to see what I can dig up. 

In the mean time, I'm going to try and call my cousin again. As I was writing this post, I was looking my cousin's number up online and comparing it to the one that I punched into my phone the other. Somewhere along the line two numbers got switched around. Which is a relief, because that would be weird having a fax machine for a cousin. 

 

 

I WAS WRONG

One of the great things about the Internet is that you can blast something out to cyberspace for virtually anyone in the world to look at. However, you can quickly make yourself look like an imbecile in the process.

Yesterday I received a message from a friend who said a coworker told her what Obon means. Up to this point I thought it meant August, and I even said that on this site’s about page. Well, it turns out I was completely off. Actually, I was way off. Saying Obon means August is about as right as saying potato means sports utility vehicle.

After reading my friend’s message, the first thing I did was promptly change the August-Obon reference. I honestly couldn’t tell you how I ended up thinking August was the definition for the Obon, nor does that even matter. What matters is that I found out the real meaning behind the word, and now I’m sharing it with you all.

Obon (or just Bon) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors and lasts for three days*. My friend said it’s on par with the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos, which makes complete sense now. In their very first email to me, OBON 2015 told me that family members can feel the spirit of their lost family member in the flag. And how could they not? These flags are, in a way, the remains and spirits of the solider.

Obon usually takes place in August, but that’s not always the case. The date depends on the region where it’s being celebrated, because each one bases it off a different calendar. Check out the video below. It’s the Bon Odori, a dance that welcomes the spirits of the dead. Like the date of the festival, the dances differ as well.

Feel free to call me out if any of what I have said is still wrong. But this time I blame Wikipedia though, as that’s where I found the majority of my information.

EMAIL UPDATES

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IN LIMBO

Click to enlarge

Right now I’m sort of in a holding pattern. I’m waiting on more information from OBON 2015 before I send the flag their way. But I also realized I’m sort of in limbo for other reasons. As you can see from the picture, OBON 2015 wants as much information about the flag as humanly possible. I’d love to go full-on novel in this section of the form, but I know absolutely nothing about it, other than what my dad has told me he knows, which isn’t a whole heck of a lot. 

I wanted to track down my great uncle’s story whenever I got around to it, you know as a ‘nice to have’ piece of information about my family. But knowing that finding out as many details as possible will help in the search, this task gets bumped up to priority number one. 

My friend is a genealogy guru, so he’s helping me track down details while I parallel his efforts by talking to my cousin about his dad. But I’ve never met the guy before, which makes me a little nervous. It’s not really the easiest conversation to start with someone you’ve never met. 

Anyway, I’ll post more when I find out, but before I go, I’ll end with something that popped into my mind. When he came back from the war, he had a lot of animosity toward the Japanese people. He was angry at them and wouldn’t have anything to do with them or anything remotely associated with them or their country. I know this was a common sentiment back then and that for the most part these feelings have pretty much died out. And as a war veteran myself, I get where he’s coming from.

During my tour in Iraq, I would see men, women and children, and my heart would go out to them. Most of them were like you and I, just trying to get by and do what’s best for their families. They were doctors, teachers, lawyers, bakers and pain-in-the-ass teenagers trying to figure out who they were and where they fit in on this planet. And despite the fact that their country was being torn apart all around them, they went on as best they could. But the moment you let your guard down, you could get yourself and your military brothers and sisters killed. And without knowing you’re doing it, you develop this “me or them” mentality.  But what other option do you have? 

And yes, I had those exact same thoughts and feelings that my great uncle had. And they’d only intensify when I saw a military vehicle that had just been blown to kingdom come by an IED, because I knew that some poor family’s life back home would no longer be the same. It would make me angry, even though that word doesn’t do justice to the feelings such a sight evokes.

So I completely understand how and why my uncle felt the way he did, and I don’t think he was a bad man for it. It’s what war does to a person. The best we can do is try to right whatever wrongs we can once everything is said and done and the dust has settled. 

INTENTIONS

Last night I spoke with Rex and Keiko, the husband-wife duo behind OBON 2015. Before I chatted with them I had no clue what to expect, because up to that point, information about who I was communicating with was pretty sparse. One of my friends even joked that maybe all this was some sort of elaborate sequel to the movie Catfish. 

I really had no clue who I would be speaking with. Rex & Keiko were all I had to go on. Were they two Americas with good intentions? Two people from Japan who barely spoke English? (I thought this because their Facebook page is written in Japanese.) Was it the KGB? NSA? No clue.

When the call came in last night, I found myself speaking with a calm and gentle man whose speech was relaxed, deliberate and very well-thought out. Turns out he’s American, and his wife, Keiko, is from Kyoto, Japan. We hadn’t been into the conversation more than a minute or two when he asked me what my intentions with the yosegaki hinomaru were. And not only did he want to know my intentions, he wanted detailed intentions.

Intentions is such a heavy word. It turns a casual sentence into one with huge significance. Take the following question for example: “What are you going to do with that spoon?” Retrofit it with ‘intentions,’ and you can feel the pronounced transformation: “What are your intentions with that spoon?” If that word has that much power over a question about an eating utensil, imagine how things change when you’re talking about returning a flag to the family of a fallen soldier. 

So when Rex asked me what my intentions were I became a little nervous, intimidated even, wondering if my answer would be satisfactory. But rather than try to feed him some words I thought he’d want to hear I just decided to be as candid with him as he was with me. It’s better to be honest and find out if we’re aligned in our goals as quickly as possible than waste each other’s time. In a nutshell, I told him I wanted to return the flag to the family. And preferably do it in person. 

I must have passed the test, because Rex began telling me more about OBON 2015’s mission. Take a listen to what he had to say. 

The level of candor and sincerity in Rex’s voice was overwhelmingly reassuring. It was the type of authenticity you wish everyone in this world would speak with, and it made me feel even better about this whole process. But then Rex said something that made me question everything. He said they’d only work with me if they had the flag in their possession. Hearing that made me skeptical, and it was the one condition my dad said he wouldn’t compromise on, understandably so. The Internet can be like a dark alley in the worst part of town, because you never know who or what you’ll run into the moment you let your guard down. But that skepticism is a two-way street, which is why Rex and his team have this policy in place. He makes a pretty solid case in this next clip.

The more he talked with such unapologetic authenticity, the more my apprehension melted away. I was still curious, though, and admittedly, maybe a bit wary. Forty minutes into the conversation, and I still didn’t really know who I was talking with. What was their story? Who were they? What did they get out of this? And most importantly, what proof did they have that I wasn’t going to get scammed? Turns out they had plenty of reason behind their actions and some reputable proof. As you listen to Rex and Keiko (who comes in during the last part of this clip) explain why they’re doing what they are, you’ll hear Rex mention a letter he emailed me while we’re talking.You can see it below the audio clip of their story.

Embassy Letter.jpg

After the conversation, I had no doubt in my mind that Rex and Keiko were who they said they were. I just had one problem: This was going to be a tough sell to my dad. So I emailed everything to my parents, closed my laptop and then watched an episode of Archer on Netflix before going to bed. When I woke up this morning I had a text from my mom that said, “Go ahead and do whatever needs to be done to get the flag returned to the family.”

That was certainly easier than I had anticipated! I remembered them both being much harder to persuade during my high school and college years. 

Now I’m just waiting to hear back from Rex and Keiko with further instructions. In the mean time, I’ll leave you with one last little, big thing Rex said. I think it’s something we all feel no matter who we are or where we live. 

EBAY

I was talking with my dad on the phone this morning about my upcoming conversation with Obon 2015. He was mainly just wanting to make sure I wasn't getting scammed and sending the flag off to someone who's going to split and run the moment it arrives. 

He also told me that he's found these flags all over online. He said people are selling them for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars on eBay. So I did some searching myself and found a handful of search results pretty easily. Turns out they're quite prevalent. 

Both of these flags were from the same seller. Maybe he's a collector trying to turn a quick buck? I don't know. There's nothing wrong with trying to make money, as we all have bills to pay. But these flags are more than just flags. More than 1.3 million Japanese soldiers are still missing from World War II. In many cases, these flags are all these soldiers's families have left of their loved ones. So in a sense, they're not flag. They're the remains of the soldiers themselves.

OBON 2015 told me that whenever the family members of the soldiers receive these flags they can feel the spirit of the their lost family member within the flag. I'm sure it's on par with what we feel when going through a deceased loved one's belongings and reminiscing. But to be robbed of that experience would be painful, especially if you saw the only remaining connection you had to that loved one being sold for a quick buck. 

I'm not condemning the people on eBay for doing this. They probably don't know the significance behind these flags. But I'm hope that by sharing my journey of returning this flag a few other people will learn the significance behind the yosegaki hinomaru. And if they have one in their possession, I hope they will choose to reunite it with the soldier's family.