The heraldry of feudal Japan did not include orders of knighthood, or decorations for military and other service.
Modern Japan imitated these things from Europe in the year 1875. There are now six orders of knighthood, namely, the Order of the Chrysanthemum, the Order of the Paulownia, the Order of the Rising Sun, the Order of the Sacred Treasure, the Order of the Crown, and the order of the Golden Kite. The Order of the Crown is for ladies only. All the Orders are divided into various classes. The Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum is the highest honour which the Japanese Court can bestow. It is, therefore, rarely bestowed on any but royal personages. The Order of the Sacred Treasure is the distinction now most frequently conferred on foreign employés of the Government for long and meritorious service, the class given being usually the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth, according to circumstances-rarely the second. The holder of such a decoration, down to the third class inclusive, is, even though he be a civilian, granted a military funeral.
We next come to the War Medal, of which there is but one class, made of bronze obtained from captured guns. Conformably with the usage of European countries, it is given only for foreign service, not for service in civil war. Those who helped to put down the Satsuma rebellion did not gain it. After it rank the Civil Medals, distinguished by a red, a blue, and a green ribbon respectively. Then there is the Yellow Ribbon Medal, conferred on those who made proof of patriotism by subscribing to the Coast Defence Fund in 1887. It is divided into two classes, called respectively Gold and Silver. More recent still are the Commemorative Medal of 1889 distributed to those who were present at the proclamation of the Constitution on the 11th February of that year, and the medal struck in 1894 for those who assisted at the celebration of the Silver Wedding of Their Imperial Majesties. Of both these medals there are two classes, -gold for princes, silver for lesser folk.
The Order of the Kite, conferred for military merit only, is the newest of all the Japanese Decorations. It was established on the 11th February, 1890, in commemoration of Jimmu Tennō, the Romulus of Japan.