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Across quite a few Japanese works, I have noticed black ribbons/bows hung over a deceased person's portrait (shown in the photo below). But why are they there? What do they symbolise? Are they commonplace? Are they exclusive to just one region of Japan? And are they exclusive to Japan in general, or can they be seen in other countries? What is this practice called? From when do they originate?

(Spoilers for the very first death of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. This was the best example of these ribbons I could find as to only include minor spoilers. If anybody has a better picture, please comment it below.)

The image is a screenshot from the first chapter of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. It shows a framed portrait of the deceased Sayaka Maizono, with a red 'x' covering her face, and a black ribbon tied in to a bow at the top.

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The portraits are called iei, 遺影. The black (and white) ribbons are badges of mourning called moshou, 喪章. They are typically worn along the chest (or as a band around the arm) to express mourning of the deceased. They are typically removed from the portrait after the funeral.

The tradition likely originated from around the Meiji era, particularly during the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars. Soldiers prepared photographs before going to war as they expected to die. If they did die, their fellow comrades took off their mourning badges at the funeral, and hung them on the portrait as a farewell to the deceased.

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  • It also serves as a useful warning to an onlooker to be tactful when asking questions about the person depicted.
    – Mary
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 1:34
  • Just wanted to let you know as it stands "If they were to die at their funerals," means the person whose photo is kept dies at their own funerals. You missed a comma after die. Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 13:37

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