Carson City locals preserve historic Japanese war flag to return to family
Artifacts with valuable history can be found in the most distinctive places, such as Carson City’s vintage shop, Kaleidoscope, on South Carson Street.
David Shriver, shop owner and realtor at Coldwell Banker, is preserving a Japanese war flag with his friends and is on a mission to physically return it the owner’s family in Japan.
“My friend bought it at a garage sale and then sold it to us on consignment,” Shriver said. “The person she bought it from obtained it in San Diego.”
Nobody knows how or why it ended up in San Diego, but after thorough research and translations, Shriver found the flag belonged to a man named Tomekichi Nakayama. He was drafted in 1938 at 18 years old and served in the Battle of Okinawa, which lasted from April 1 to June 22, 1945.
The battle involved 287,000 U.S. troops and 130,000 Japanese soldiers. Many of the soldiers folded and carried these flags with them as a comforting keepsake, with messages written in ink from their loved ones.
Shriver’s friend, Sam Herceg, who’s also a member of the Carson City Host Lions Club, purchased the flag from him to research its history. Shriver’s Japanese real estate partner, Kimiko Kawada, also helped out with the investigation.
Herceg said his wife, Ayako, supported the research as she was born in a concentration camp in Arizona, and her parents were incarcerated.
The group discovered Nakayama died June 19, 1945, in Okinawa — three days before the surrender and two months before World War II ended. He was among the 2,000 Japanese soldiers who died that day.
But also on that day, the lieutenant general of the Japanese forces ordered his staff and troops to go over to guerrilla warfare; it’s unknown if Nakayama died during battle or committed suicide.
From there, Kawada, emailed newspapers in Japan to cover the story, which helped track down the soldier’s remaining family — a nephew.
The papers published Shriver’s discovery and a separate article interviewing Nakayama’s nephew, as part of remembering Victory Over Japan Day. The 71st anniversary was Aug. 15.
“I’m glad we found the flag,” he said. “Thousands of families don’t have anything about their relatives from that war. It’s an emotional experience.”
Many of those families of soldiers are on a desperate search to retrieve them. According to the Obon Society, the flags became souvenirs when the war ended and some made their way to America.
The Obon Society is a Japanese-American art history project dedicated to documenting, exhibiting and returning personal artifacts, such as the flags, to family members.
Although Herceg is currently holding onto the flag, he’s hoping to find a way to return it to the nephew sometime soon, and contact the Lions Club of Maebashi, Japan, where Nakayama’s assumed roots are from.
“It needs to go home,” Herceg said. “We could send the flag to the society but Dave and I want to do it ourselves. We want a relationship with the flag and who it belonged to.”
The flag contains so much meaning for a Japanese solider because family and friends sign the flag before they leave. Messages are written vertically on the edge of the circle design.
The official term is hinomaru yosegaki, which translates “to write sideways around the sun.”
“The flag has writing on it from his family before he was drafted to war,” Shriver said.
Based on the messages, Kawada said Nakayama was a popular guy. She said one of the messages were signed, “Good Luck Forever” from Nakayama’s boss at a plant in Maebashi. The plant no longer exists as it was destroyed in firebombing events of 1945.
“It’s so spiritual,” she said. “Maybe it was meant to be this way. He died at a young age and wanted to be found.”