Japan’s Badge Phenomenon

I must confess to a certain nerdish habit when walking around central Tokyo — badge-spotting. Whether it be Japan’s many corporations and the uniform-like consistency in which employees pin the logos to their suits, or the guild-specific badges of many professionals, badges are everywhere. In particular, it’s fun to spot the legal/accounting/tax professionals, often based on a flower blossom motif. This post quickly summarizes the badges of such professionals that you are likely to see in any commercial district of Japan — if you pay close attention.

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The Administrative Scrivener badge has a cosmos flower with the archaic “行” character in the center; the Attorney badge has the scales of justice in the middle of a sunflower, the flower designed to represent justice; the Judicial Scrivener badge is a paulownia, and is silver, apparently specifically to be in second place to the golden badge of the attorney.

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The Tax Lawyer badge is a circle with a sakura cherry blossom in the top; the Patent Attorney badge is a chrysanthemum with an unknown symbol in the center; the Social Insurance and Labor Specialist badge is a chrysanthemum with sharp, not round, petals, with the roman letters “S.R.” for the romanization of the profession’s title, shakaihoken rodoushi,

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The Land Surveyor badge is a paulownia with the archaic “側” character in the center; the CPA (certified public accountant), despite being perhaps the toughest of all state exams together with the bar exam, nonetheless has an utterly cheesy badge that simply bears the roman letters of the English translation of the title; and the Marine Procedure Agent has a badge that is a chrysanthemum with a ship’s steering wheel in the center.

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The badge of a judge is not a flower but the Yata, a mythical mirror that is said to be part of the Imperial Regalia, with the character “裁” in the center; elected members of the Diet have a metal chrysanthemum badge pinned to a thick purple felt patch; and Diet Secretary badges are a wafer thin, red chrysanthemum.

Those of you wannabe lawyers and diet members out there who don’t want to go through the formalities of “passing the bar” or “being elected” are in luck — website PinJP sells replica badges that look just like the real thing. Just don’t actually engage in the act of immitating a lawyer or you’ll face jail time.

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12 thoughts on “Japan’s Badge Phenomenon”

  1. These badges are reminiscent of the crests of the old feudal warrior clans from Japanese history such as Tokugawa shogun triple hollyhock crest which comes from the hollyhock flower. My guess is these badges are descendent’s of these ancient clan crests.

  2. Good stuff! I noticed that PinJP also sells replica yakuza badges. Maybe you should do your next post on them 🙂
    BTW, Where’d you get the images?

  3. Man, that CPA badge looks so incredibly nerdy next to all the classical motifs. And yes, the concept and iconography of these badges is clearly derived from Japanese heraldry, in the same way that say, American police badges are ultimately descended from European heraldry. Very cool post though, I must admit I’d never noticed a single one of these badges before.

  4. The main character in the Nintendo DS game 逆転裁判 has an attorney badge like the one pictured. Up until now I thought it was something made up for the game.

  5. 逆転検事 has one too!
    Interestingly, even the pass that I use to get around Diet buildings has one. The pass is kind of like a credit card in a clear plastic shield, but there is a small badge attached to it via keychain. I don’t really understand why; if its to make it “official” then why bother having the pass in the first place?

  6. I really wonder what kind of people are buying the replica Yamaguchi-gumi badges that site is selling. Maybe just actual members that lose theirs but don’t want their brothers to know.

  7. Here’s a page where you can get your very own fake Diet member’s badge, if you want something that makes you look even more sinister and steeped in evil than a Yamaguchi-gumi one.

    The Wikipedia page on the things notes that Fukuda Takeo once forgot his badge and had to borrow one from another legislator standing nearby in order to enter the Diet chamber. This was when he was prime minister; you’d think his face would get him in.

  8. A dietmember was telling me that in order to get into the chamber, you needed a badge. When I asked him if I could just take his badge and enter, he said that I also needed to be a dietmember. I find it interesting that both conditions are necessary but not sufficient.

  9. The thing on the benrishi badge is another government paulownia motif. It’s sort of like a cross between the attorney and judicial scrivener badge.

  10. Thanks for such an insightful post. I had noticed these badges before, but had never put two and two together. Thank you very much!

  11. Amazingly, I found this while searching for images of an attorney’s badge after playing the entire Ace Attorney series, in an attempt to verify their existence. I thought for sure the badges were 100% fictional, and I am both surprised and delighted to learn that people in Japan actually wear them.

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