The Protestant Missions — June 20, 2011 at 12:23 am

War with China, 1894 and the Red Cross Society!


Japanese Red Cross personnel giving medical attention to wounded Japanese and Russian soldiers near the Amur River during the Russo-Japanese War in April 1904.

During the war the city of Hiroshima was the military headquarters, and it also became the center for much Christian work among the soldiers that spent a longer or shorter time in the city on their way to or from the seat of war. The most favorable opportunity for work was among the sick and wounded soldiers in the hospitals. Missionaries joined with Japanese Christians in carrying books, papers, pictures, flowers, and other things to the patients, who were glad for anything that would relieve the monotony of the hours. Those in charge of the hospitals welcomed such ministrations and gave the missionary ladies freedom to visit all parts of the hospitals and to converse with the patients. Some of the hospitals were under the care of the Red Cross Society. This had become very popular in Japan. Most of the prominent citizens of the country were members, and a large force of nurses had received training under its auspices. Though not a Christian society, its symbol was significant of the fact that its principles of charity to be shown to friend and foe alike had come from the teaching of Him who had died upon the Cross.
Golden opportunity for spreading God’s love:
When it was remembered that not many years before the Japanese had trampled upon the cross as the sign of a hated religion, it was very suggestive to see it now becoming an honored symbol. In the long wards of the hospitals, the cross was everywhere to be seen, — on the sleeves of the surgeons, on the white caps of the nurses, on the clothes worn by the patients themselves. One of the missionary ladies said: “How could we keep from speaking of our Savior when the Cross was ever before our eyes? What better introduction to religious conversation could there be than to ask the sick soldier if he knew the original meaning of the symbol he was wearing on his arm? “Yet it was necessary to take care not to weary the patients nor to press the subject of Christianity unduly. The missionary ladies by their helpfulness and wisdom so commended themselves to the persons in charge that they were allowed to visit the wards at hours in which even relatives were denied admittance.

History of the Japanese Red Cross:

Japanese Red Cross personnel giving medical attention to wounded Japanese and Russian soldiers near the Amur River during the Russo-Japanese War in April 1904.

Count Sano Tsunetani founded the Philanthropic Society, a relief organization for the injured of the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877; a modified version of the Japanese flag was used by the organization until 1887.[1] Its name was changed to the Japanese Red Cross on 2 September 1887 following Japan’s admission to the ICRC. Later that year, the Society engaged in its first disaster relief after the eruption of Mount Bandai.

From the beginning, the Japanese royal family, especially Empress Shōken, provided active support for Red Cross activities. During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), the Japanese Red Cross played an outstanding role to rescue many Russian prisoners of war, gaining Japan a considerable amount of good public relations in the western press. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Japanese Red Cross collected $146,000 for the American relief effort, marking the first overseas operation by the Society.

During World War I, German prisoners of war, captured by the Imperial Japanese Army at their Chinese colony of Tsingtao, were treated fairly well with the help of the Red Cross. In 1934, the Japanese Red Cross society hosted the 15th International Conference of the Red Cross at Tokyo.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Japanese Red Cross played a vital role in assisting Japanese civilians and wounded soldiers. However, as the Imperial Japanese Army tended to ignore the Geneva Convention, government and military restrictions hampered the ability of the Japanese Red Cross to assist the hundreds of thousands of European military and civilians interned in prison camps in the Japanese-occupied areas of Southeast Asia.

After World War II, the Japanese Red Cross was reformed under American advisers. On 14 August 1952, it was given legal status as a special non-profit corporation.
for more on the first Sino-Japanese war see here


  1. I have in my possession a Japanese individual battle flag from an unknown theater. I would like to return it to Japan and hopefully have it reunited with the family of the fallen soldier. I will be traveling to Japan for the first time of my 72 years and could give it to you in person. The irony is I’m Japanese/American who’s father fought in the Pacific in the MIS. The person who gave this to me was Caucasian who’s uncle brought it back. At the very least perhaps you could provide me with organizations who could get the flag returned.

    • Thanks for your mail. Recently I saw on CNN a program about this very subject. If I remember it well, there is a organization in the US and here, in Japan, that helps to find the relevant families. I will look into it, because of the holiday season, it might take a little while. Perhaps you could access the CNN website and look for the info too. Best regards and a happy new year!

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