Japanese Imperial Navy Watch Fob (Graduation Badge)

The Imperial Japanese Naval Academies commissioned a series of watch fobs to give to graduating cadets. These are prized for their rarity and their beautiful and interesting designs. Nicely designed badges and fobs were very popular in the late 1920s up to the 1940s in Japan, not only in the military but also in civilian life. Japanese middle and high schools often made badges for various tournaments as well. Companies, too joined in the badge-awarding fad.

The badge companies had a variety of wonderful badges available and though I do not know the exact prices at that time, I assume that the badges were an affordable choice for an award.

In the next few posts I’d like to show some Navy Academy watch fobs. One word of caution, though: these fobs often go for high prices in the antique market, and, as a result, a number of fakes have appeared. The worksmanship is usually inferior and the metal used is often aluminum, but some are quite detailed and are easy to mistake as original.

In addition, late-war fobs and badges were often made with aluminum, so determining a fake becomes a bit problematic.

Today I’ll introduce a torpedo firing academy badge.

japanese navy badge medal ww2

Let’s take a moment to look at the design, which contains quite a few elements. First is the hawk or kite, which appears on almost all of the Navy Academy fobs and on some others. From ancient times the hawk has been considered a bellicose bird and was adopted centuries ago as a military symbol. I think it has something to do with its aggressiveness, ferocity, and general perseverance. The striking pose of the bird is common.

Below the bird is a cherry blossom, symbol of Japan and often used on a variety of military and civilian items.

Then there are crossed torpedoes superimposed on an anchor. Crashing waves are near the bottom. And the two kanji on the birds wings read ‘Torpedo.’

The reverse of these badges most often have no design element, just an inscription:

japanese navy badge fob ww2

It says ‘[Imperial Year] 2600 [1940], Mine Skills, Torpedo Cadet, Graduation Commemorative, 67th Graduating Class.’

JAPANESE LANGUAGE LESSON!   A word on the kanji for ‘torpedo,’ for those with eagle eyes. The two kanji on the obverse are sakana & kaminari (read gyorai, 魚雷), literally ‘fish thunder.’ On the reverse, though, it is written with mizu & kaminari (read suirai, 水雷), literally ‘water thunder.’ This is no error. The full term for torpedo in Japanese is ‘Gyokei Suirai (魚形水雷),’ which is ‘fish-shaped water thunder.’ So the two kanji on the obverse are an abbreviation of the four-kanji compound. Suirai (水雷) is a broader term that encompassed three main weapons: a torpedo (gyorai 魚雷), a depth charge (bakurai 爆雷), and a naval mine (kirai 機雷 or its full term kikai suirai 機械水雷).


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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Although fakes abound in many areas, most Japanese medals have not been faked (with a few exceptions). And when they have been faked, they are usually very easy to spot.

    As for the difference between gyorai and suirai, I have made a few corrections in the post to clarify and correct my previous explanation. Thanks for the heads-up. Briefly, gyorai is a torpedo while suirai is a broader term that encompasses other underwater weapons.

    • Sorry, moritheil, I had a brain spasm and replaced your post with my reply to your post. Sheesh, that was rude of me! My apologies…

    • Is there anyone who can give me a realistic idea of market value of these items. I have 11 of them collected over the years.

  2. I am native Japanese, and am very interested in the badge above that I didn’t know til just now!

    Your explanation about the Japanese words is quite suitable, however a wrong letter is contained. Gyorai is right as moritheil wrote.

    • Right! Thank you. A typo that has been corrected… Cheers, Rich

  3. A long time ago I saw a submarine FOB like this. Do you have a photo (front and back of the submarine FOB?

  4. how much do these watch fobs go for? I have one that I found metal detecting in my yard 2 years ago. The previous owner was a retired US Marine who served in the WWII Pacific theater.

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