The Satsuma/Ryukyu medal is the oldest Japanese medal, and no doubt the rarest. It was created in
1866 by the Satsuma Domain for the 1867 Paris Exhibition. It was made to impress Japan's
European counterparts by giving a hint that Japan was modern. The design emulated the French
Legion of Honor medal.
One source I found said that this medal was awarded to Napoleon III and other dignitaries
(nationality unspecified). Another source was more specific, saying that Napoleon III and other
French officials received this award. Of course, the main Japanese delegate to this exhibition,
Tokugawa Akitake, also wore the medal. It is unclear if other Japanese delegates were given this
medal, but it seems as though they were not.
Peterson has a line drawing of the medal in his book. In addition, he claims that the medal was
destroyed by fire in WWII. However, he appears to be mistaken since sources in Japan have photos
of the only known example of this medal. The accompanying text in these books never refers to a fire
nor to the pictured medal being a replica, so I am assuming it is the original medal. It is housed in a
museum in Kagoshima, the Shoukoshuseikan, which is an old mansion of the Shimazu clan.
I have never seen the medal, so the pictures I am including here are from books.
The design has an enameled red star and in the middle of the star is the family crest of the Shimazu
clan. On the reverse are two rows of kanji that read 'Gift for Civilians and Military Men.' I have never
seen even a photo of the reverse, but that inscription was written in a Japanese book on medals.
Note that the line drawing in
Peterson is accurate except for
the suspension device.
Peterson's pictures shows a
blossom shape, but this photo
(and the two below) show a
From a book published by the Japanese Decorations Bureau, 2007
From two older books. Note the fold in the ribbon are exactly the same, so
this is the same photo printed in different books. The one on the left, though,
shows that this medal has a case that had a latch on the side. It appears
that the interior is fitted to the medal. No photos of the case lid, sorry to say.
I took a trip down to Kagoshima to the Shimazu Han museum and found this
Satsuma-Ryukyu Medal cell phone strap. (The piece of paper calls them netsuke.)
Very nice 24K gold-plated Satsuma-Ryukyu Medal keychain from the Shimazu
The design has an enamel red star and in the middle of the star is the family
crest of the Shimazu clan. The four characters surrounding the star say 'The
Country of Satsuma-Ryukyu.'
The reverse has the active volcano Sakura-jima, which is just across from the
museum. The reverse reads 'Japan Satsuma Government, made in 1867.' This
refers to the year the medal was issued.