Introducing Mr Kanao Ito

Last year I wanted to translate the Japanese characters on this flag from World War II. I had the flag briefly and made a point of photographing it.

Listen to my story Baby boomers and Japan if you’d like to learn of the flag’s fate.

There was no way I could understand what was written on the flag. I tried asking a Japanese academic friend who told me that it belonged to a specific person and that it was probably presented to him by his community when he left to fight in World War II.  He said that there were also some ancient characters that he couldn’t translate. I wasn’t certain whether he couldn’t or chose not to, but I didn’t press the matter.

When my book, Seen and unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific, was published I wanted to give more attention to the Japan Australia link in promotional materials.

Using Twitter

I worked a lot with Twitter and realised its power to connect people and build global networks.  Contrary to some representations of Twitter it isn’t merely the domain of trolls with immutable welded on political views or of thousands upon thousands of bogus accounts.  Certainly Twitter has these elements but it’s far more than that as a means of connecting and networking.

I drafted off what I believed was probably the soldiers name and posted a Tweet with my attempt at Japanese characters. It worked, soon I had the information I needed.

The soldiers name was Mr Kanao Ito. There was also what I thought might be a Buddhist mantra on the flag. Soon I had this confirmed as well. It was the Buddhist mantra, Nanmyohorengekyo, which means “glory to the Lotus Sutra”

Using Storify to present Tweets

To follow my process, read the summary of a Twitter conversation with Andrew Faith (@andrewfaith) and the most helpful 大久保 街亜 / Matia Okubo (@matiasauquebaux).

2 thoughts on “Introducing Mr Kanao Ito

    1. I’ve been writing a short story called Sergeant’s Progress about an Australian identity who spent time on the Kokoda Track and at Bona, on the north coast of New Guinea. So I’ve been reading Paul Ham’s book Kokoda again. It was a bloody theatre of war. I assume the flag was from New Guinea. It’s a little sad.

      Though I’ve not been to Japan, my son has and it’s one of those places on my ‘bucket list’.


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