Flag of Japan

Japan
Flag of Japan.svg
NameNisshōki[1] or Hinomaru[2]
Proportion2:3[1]
AdoptedFebruary 27, 1870 (as the civil ensign by Proclamation No. 57);
August 13, 1999 (as the national flag and slight modifications to the design of the flag)
DesignA red sun-disc centered on a white rectangular field.

The national flag of Japan is a rectangular white banner bearing a crimson-red disc at its center. This flag is officially called Nisshōki (日章旗, the "sun-mark flag"), but is more commonly known in Japan as Hinomaru (日の丸, the "circle of the sun"). It embodies the country's sobriquet: Land of the Rising Sun.

The me Nisshōki flag is designated as the national flag in the Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem, which was promulgated and became effective on August 13, 1999. Although no earlier legislation had specified a national flag, the sun-disc flag had already become the de facto national flag of Japan. Two proclamations issued in 1870 by the Daijō-kan, the governmental body of the early Meiji period, each had a provision for a design of the national flag. A sun-disc flag was adopted as the national flag for merchant ships under Proclamation No. 57 of Meiji 3 (issued on February 27, 1870),[3] and as the national flag used by the Navy under Proclamation No. 651 of Meiji 3 (issued on October 27, 1870).[4] Use of the Hinomaru was severely restricted during the early years of the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II; these restrictions were later relaxed.

The sun plays an important role in Japanese mythology and religion as the Emperor is said to be the direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the legitimacy of the ruling house rested on this divine appointment and descent from the chief deity of the predominant Shinto religion. The name of the country as well as the design of the flag reflect this central importance of the sun. The ancient history Shoku Nihongi says that Emperor Monmu used a flag representing the sun in his court in 701, and this is the first recorded use of a sun-motif flag in Japan. The oldest existing flag is preserved in Unpō-ji temple, Kōshū, Yamanashi, which is older than the 16th century, and an ancient legend says that the flag was given to the temple by Emperor Go-Reizei in the 11th century.[5][6][7] During the Meiji Restoration, both the sun disc and the Rising Sun Ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy became major symbols in the emerging Japanese Empire. Propaganda posters, textbooks, and films depicted the flag as a source of pride and patriotism. In Japanese homes, citizens were required to display the flag during national holidays, celebrations and other occasions as decreed by the government. Different tokens of devotion to Japan and its Emperor featuring the Hinomaru motif became popular among the public during the Second Sino-Japanese War and other conflicts. These tokens ranged from slogans written on the flag to clothing items and dishes that resembled the flag.

Public perception of the national flag varies. Historically, both Western and Japanese sources claimed the flag was a powerful and enduring symbol to the Japanese. Since the end of World War II (the Pacific War), the use of the flag and the national anthem Kimigayo has been a contentious issue for Japan's public schools. Disputes about their use have led to protests and lawsuits. The flag is not frequently displayed in Japan due to its association with ultranationalism. To some Okinawans, the flag represents the events of World War II and the subsequent U.S. military presence there. For some nations that have been occupied by Japan, the flag is a symbol of aggression and imperialism. The Hinomaru was used as a tool against occupied nations for purposes of intimidation, asserting Japan's dominance, or subjugation. Several military banners of Japan are based on the Hinomaru, including the sunrayed naval ensign. The Hinomaru also serves as a template for other Japanese flags in public and private use.

History

Before 1900

The fleet of Kuki Yoshitaka in 1593.
Flag of Japan (1870–1999).

The exact origin of the Hinomaru is unknown,[8] but the rising sun seems to have had some symbolic meaning since the early 7th century (the Japanese archipelago is east of the Asian mainland, and is thus where the sun "rises"). In 607, an official correspondence that began with "from the Emperor of the rising sun" was sent to Chinese Emperor Yang of Sui.[9] Japan is often referred to as "the land of the rising sun".[10] In the 12th-century work, The Tale of the Heike, it was written that different samurai carried drawings of the sun on their fans.[11] One legend related to the national flag is attributed to the Buddhist priest Nichiren. Supposedly, during a 13th-century Mongolian invasion of Japan, Nichiren gave a sun banner to the shōgun to carry into battle.[12] The sun is also closely related to the Imperial family, as legend states the imperial throne was descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu.[13][14]

One of Japan's oldest flags is housed at the Unpo-ji temple in Yamanashi Prefecture. Legend states it was given by Emperor Go-Reizei to Minamoto no Yoshimitsu and has been treated as a family treasure by the Takeda clan for the past 1,000 years,[15] and at least it is older than 16th century.

The earliest recorded flags in Japan date from the unification period in the late 16th century. The flags belonged to each daimyō and were used primarily in battle. Most of the flags were long banners usually charged with the mon (family crest) of the daimyō lord. Members of the same family, such as a son, father, and brother, had different flags to carry into battle. The flags served as identification, and were displayed by soldiers on their backs and horses. Generals also had their own flags, most of which differed from soldiers' flags due to their square shape.[16]

In 1854, during the Tokugawa shogunate, Japanese ships were ordered to hoist the Hinomaru to distinguish themselves from foreign ships.[11] Before then, different types of Hinomaru flags were used on vessels that were trading with the U.S. and Russia.[8] The Hinomaru was decreed the merchant flag of Japan in 1870 and was the legal national flag from 1870 to 1885, making it the first national flag Japan adopted.[17][18]

While the idea of national symbols was strange to the Japanese, the Meiji Government needed them to communicate with the outside world. This became especially important after the landing of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry in Yokohama Bay.[19] Further Meiji Government implementations gave more identifications to Japan, including the anthem Kimigayo and the imperial seal.[20] In 1885, all previous laws not published in the Official Gazette of Japan were abolished.[21] Because of this ruling by the new cabinet of Japan, the Hinomaru was the de facto national flag since no law was in place after the Meiji Restoration.[22]

Early conflicts and the Pacific War

A family gathers around a young boy in a military uniform, surrounded by banners and flags. Some of the children also hold flags.
1930s photo of a military enrollment. The Hinomaru is displayed on the house and held by several children.
Three children holding flags in front of a building and a rising sun
Propaganda poster promoting harmony among Japanese, Chinese, and Manchu. The caption in Chinese (read right to left) reads "With the cooperation of Japan, China, and Manchukuo, the world can be in peace".

The use of the national flag grew as Japan sought to develop an empire, and the Hinomaru was present at celebrations after victories in the First Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars. The flag was also used in war efforts throughout the country.[23] A Japanese propaganda film in 1934 portrayed foreign national flags as incomplete or defective with their designs, while the Japanese flag is perfect in all forms.[24] In 1937, a group of girls from Hiroshima Prefecture showed solidarity with Japanese soldiers fighting in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War, by eating "flag meals" that consisted of an umeboshi in the middle of a bed of rice. The Hinomaru bento became the main symbol of Japan's war mobilization and solidarity with her soldiers until the 1940s.[25]

Japan's early victories in the Sino-Japanese War resulted in the Hinomaru again being used for celebrations. It was seen in the hands of every Japanese during parades.[23]

Textbooks during this period also had the Hinomaru printed with various slogans expressing devotion to the Emperor and the country. Patriotism was taught as a virtue to Japanese children. Expressions of patriotism, such as displaying the flag or worshiping the Emperor daily, were all part of being a "good Japanese."[26]

The flag was a tool of Japanese imperialism in the occupied Southeast Asian areas during the Second World War: people had to use the flag,[27] and schoolchildren sang Kimigayo in morning flag raising ceremonies.[28] Local flags were allowed for some areas such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Manchukuo.[29][30][31] In Korea which was part of the Empire of Japan, the Hinomaru and other symbols were used to declare that the Koreans were subjects of the empire.[32]

To the Japanese, the Hinomaru was the "Rising Sun flag that would light the darkness of the entire world."[33] To Westerners, it was one of the Japanese military's most powerful symbols.[34]

U.S. occupation

Men in military dress watch a flag being lowered.
The Hinomaru is lowered in Seoul, Korea, on September 9, 1945, the day of the surrender.

The Hinomaru was the de facto flag of Japan throughout World War II and the occupation period.[22] During the occupation of Japan after World War II, permission from the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAPJ) was needed to fly the Hinomaru.[35][36] Sources differ on the degree to which the use of the Hinomaru flag was restricted; some use the term "banned;"[37][38] however, while the original restrictions were severe, they did not amount to an outright ban.[22]

After World War II, an ensign was used by Japanese civil ships of the United States Naval Shipping Control Authority for Japanese Merchant Marines.[39] Modified from the "E" signal code, the ensign was used from September 1945 until the U.S. occupation of Japan ceased.[40] U.S. ships operating in Japanese waters used a modified "O" signal flag as their ensign.[41]

On May 2, 1947, General Douglas MacArthur lifted the restrictions on displaying the Hinomaru in the grounds of the National Diet Building, on the Imperial Palace, on the Prime Minister's residence and on the Supreme Court building with the ratification of the new Constitution of Japan.[42][43] Those restrictions were further relaxed in 1948, when people were allowed to fly the flag on national holidays. In January 1949, the restrictions were abolished and anyone could fly the Hinomaru at any time without permission. As a result, schools and homes were encouraged to fly the Hinomaru until the early 1950s.[35]

Postwar to 1999

A group of men and women watching a flag being raised.
The Hinomaru being raised at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in 1956

Since World War II, Japan's flag has been criticized for its association with the country's militaristic past. Similar objections have also been raised to the current national anthem of Japan, Kimigayo.[15] The feelings about the Hinomaru and Kimigayo represented a general shift from a patriotic feeling about "Dai Nippon" – Great Japan – to the pacifist and anti-militarist "Nihon". Because of this ideological shift, the flag was used less often in Japan directly after the war even though restrictions were lifted by the SCAPJ in 1949.[36][44]

As Japan began to re-establish itself diplomatically, the Hinomaru was used as a political weapon overseas. In a visit by the Emperor Hirohito and the Empress Kōjun to the Netherlands, the Hinomaru was burned by Dutch citizens who demanded that either he be sent home to Japan or tried for the deaths of Dutch prisoners of war during the Second World War.[45] Domestically, the flag was not even used in protests against a new Status of Forces Agreement being negotiated between U.S. and Japan. The most common flag used by the trade unions and other protesters was the red flag of revolt.[46]

An issue with the Hinomaru and national anthem was raised once again when Tokyo hosted the 1964 Summer Olympic Games. Before the Olympic Games, the size of the sun disc of the national flag was changed partly because the sun disc was not considered striking when it was being flown with other national flags.[36] Tadamasa Fukiura, a color specialist, chose to set the sun disc at two thirds of the flag's length. Fukiura also chose the flag colors for the 1964 as well as the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.[47]

In 1989, the death of Emperor Hirohito once again raised moral issues about the national flag. Conservatives felt that if the flag could be used during the ceremonies without reopening old wounds, they might have a chance to propose that the Hinomaru become the national flag without being challenged about its meaning.[48] During an official six-day mourning period, flags were flown at half staff or draped in black bunting all across Japan.[49] Despite reports of protesters vandalizing the Hinomaru on the day of the Emperor's funeral,[50] schools' right to fly the Japanese flag at half-staff without reservations brought success to the conservatives.[48]

Since 1999

A page with Asian characters and a black-and-white version of the Japanese flag left above
The Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem as it appears in the Official Gazette on August 15, 1999

The Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem was passed in 1999, choosing both the Hinomaru and Kimigayo as Japan's national symbols. The passage of the law stemmed from a suicide of the principal of Sera High School [ja] in Sera, Hiroshima, Toshihiro Ishikawa, who could not resolve a dispute between his school board and his teachers over the use of the Hinomaru and Kimigayo.[51][52] The Act is one of the most controversial laws passed by the Diet since the 1992 "Law Concerning Cooperation for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and Other Operations", also known as the "International Peace Cooperation Law".[53]

Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) decided to draft legislation to make the Hinomaru and Kimigayo official symbols of Japan in 2000. His Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hiromu Nonaka, wanted the legislation to be completed by the 10th anniversary of Emperor Akihito's enthronement.[54] This is not the first time legislation was considered for establishing both symbols as official. In 1974, with the backdrop of the 1972 return of Okinawa to Japan and the 1973 oil crisis, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka hinted at a law being passed enshrining both symbols in the law of Japan.[55] In addition to instructing the schools to teach and play Kimigayo, Tanaka wanted students to raise the Hinomaru flag in a ceremony every morning, and to adopt a moral curriculum based on certain elements of the Imperial Rescript on Education pronounced by the Meiji Emperor in 1890.[56] Tanaka was unsuccessful in passing the law through the Diet that year.[57]

Main supporters of the bill were the LDP and the Komeito (CGP), while the opposition included the Social Democratic Party (SDPJ) and Communist Party (JCP), who cited the connotations both symbols had with the war era. The CPJ was further opposed for not allowing the issue to be decided by the public. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) could not develop party consensus on it. DPJ President and future prime minister Naoto Kan stated that the DPJ must support the bill because the party already recognized both symbols as the symbols of Japan.[58] Deputy Secretary General and future prime minister Yukio Hatoyama thought that this bill would cause further divisions among society and the public schools. Hatoyama voted for the bill while Kan voted against it.[54]

Before the vote, there were calls for the bills to be separated at the Diet. Waseda University professor Norihiro Kato stated that Kimigayo is a separate issue more complex than the Hinomaru flag.[59] Attempts to designate only the Hinomaru as the national flag by the DPJ and other parties during the vote of the bill were rejected by the Diet.[60] The House of Representatives passed the bill on July 22, 1999, by a 403 to 86 vote.[61] The legislation was sent to the House of Councilors on July 28 and was passed on August 9. It was enacted into law on August 13.[62]

On August 8, 2009, a photograph was taken at a DPJ rally for the House of Representatives election showing a banner that was hanging from a ceiling. The banner was made of two Hinomaru flags cut and sewn together to form the shape of the DPJ logo. This infuriated the LDP and Prime Minister Tarō Asō, saying this act was unforgivable. In response, DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama (who voted for the Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem)[54] said that the banner was not the Hinomaru and should not be regarded as such.[63]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Vlag van Japan
العربية: علم اليابان
azərbaycanca: Yaponiya bayrağı
Bân-lâm-gú: Ji̍t-pún kok-kî
беларуская: Сцяг Японіі
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Сьцяг Японіі
bosanski: Zastava Japana
brezhoneg: Banniel Japan
čeština: Japonská vlajka
Cymraeg: Baner Japan
Deutsch: Flagge Japans
Esperanto: Flago de Japanio
فارسی: پرچم ژاپن
français: Drapeau du Japon
한국어: 일본의 국기
hrvatski: Zastava Japana
বিষ্ণুপ্রিয়া মণিপুরী: জাপানর ফিরালহান
Bahasa Indonesia: Bendera Jepang
עברית: דגל יפן
latviešu: Japānas karogs
македонски: Знаме на Јапонија
Bahasa Melayu: Bendera Jepun
Nederlands: Vlag van Japan
日本語: 日本の国旗
norsk nynorsk: Det japanske flagget
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Yaponiya bayrogʻi
Plattdüütsch: Flagg vun Japan
português: Bandeira do Japão
русский: Флаг Японии
Simple English: Flag of Japan
slovenčina: Vlajka Japonska
српски / srpski: Застава Јапана
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Zastava Japana
svenska: Japans flagga
українська: Прапор Японії
Tiếng Việt: Quốc kỳ Nhật Bản
粵語: 日本旗
žemaitėška: Japuonėjės vieleva
中文: 日本国旗