This Japanese Imperial decoration was created in 1875 to be conferred upon individuals who had rendered distinguished service to the nation and people of Japan. The medal shown here, the Imperial Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class, was awarded to Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow of Boston in 1909 by Mutsuhito, the Emperor of Japan. It constituted the highest Japanese distinction bestowed upon a civilian. While studying Buddhism in Japan between 1882 and 1889, William Sturgis Bigelow had observed the disrepair of many Buddhist temples and religious works of art. According to a testimonial presented by his friend Takenaka Saiken, "treasure pieces belonging to Horiuju and Todaiji of Nara . . . were restored to good condition through his generosity."
At the Massachusetts Historical Society the Order of the Rising Sun medal forms part of the numismatic collection—medals, coins, and paper currency. The medal rests in its original presentation box of black lacquer decorated with gold leaves and paulonia flowers (the blossoms of a Japanese ornamental tree). The badge itself depicts a radiant sun suspended from a paulonia leaf and blossom. In addition to the medal, the MHS holds William Sturgis Bigelow's personal papers including many letters from friends in Boston and Japan congratulating him when he received the decoration.
Detail views of the medal and box: