The Evolution of the Japanese Imperial Army Backpacks (1874-1945)

The Evolution of the Japanese Imperial Army Backpacks (1874-1945)

This article is being re-uploaded, as it was inadvertently erased during recent recovery work from bugs in the forum.


Somehow I always held back a bit from military backpacks, compared to other smaller items of the soldier’s gear. I suppose, to a large extent, it was because they were so obviously “organic”, the fur covered flaps reminding me of a stuffed animal. That imagination puts me off, along with the collector nightmares of possible insect infestations, defoliating hair and dust accumulation that come with that territory, making them rather unwieldy as a collection piece. They were called an Affe (Ape) in German military slang, and they indeed literally become real “monkeys on one’s back” to collectors, who are neurotic about “artifact preservation”.

It was a bother for the IJA itself for the same reasons, but they simply couldn’t overcome the rain-proofing problem for a long time without using animal fur.

So the collector side of me had seen backpacks as a necessary evil, and frankly I have been putting this subject off. But undeniably packs did represent the soldier’s household possessions and means of sustenance in the field, so my field gear evolution series cannot possibly scoot around the topic anymore.

Part 1: Evolution of the IJA enlisted men’s backpack


French military advisor’s like Albert Charles du Bousquet (1837-1882) were already in Japan from the last days of the Shogunate, so French style fur-covered packs were used from the inception of the IJA, but it is only from 1874 that archive documents start to discuss them.

Back then, the army did not yet have a central depot for equipment, but each Regional Army Garrison (Chindai) was responsible for procuring its own equipment and uniforms from local sources based on a sample provided by HQ in Tokyo. So there seem to be no technical illustrations of this first model IJA pack.

The reason these packs start to come up for discussions from 1874 has to do with the fact that continued self-sustenance in the field became a practical need from the 1874 War that sent IJA troops to Taiwan.

As a matter of fact, the IJA had regarded backpacks as something to issue only at times when the army needed to go out on long campaigns, basically the same way we pull suitcases out of closets for trips abroad. Thus though they already existed, the practice was that they were not actually being issued to soldiers during peacetime.

Anyway, with Taiwan in mind, they had to decide what to pack and what to leave to the transport troops. Thus listings like the one shown below dated 7th October 1874 started to appear during the Taiwan campaign defining what and how much in weight needed to be carried by individual soldiers in and on their backpacks at that time. An Infantry NCO needed to carry 13.34 kgs on his back while an enlisted man carried 13.14 kgs. These personal load studies were done for all branches and for various field situation scenarios, depending on how much of the load could be delegated to transport troops. Based on these parameters, they grasped how much marching mileage to expect per day, etc.

Already in these early days, the army was seeking alternatives other than fur for rain-proofing solutions and had been issuing lacquered leather and rubberized versions, since September 1874, on a trial basis, in addition to the standard fur-covered packs. However, this trial obviously failed and fur will continue to be used until the 1930s.

Click to enlarge the picture


Comments are closed.