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Flag of Japan

Flag of Japan NamesNisshōki (Sun Flag), Hinomaru (Sun Disc) UseCivil and state flagand ensign. Proportion 2:3 Adopted February 27, 1870(civil ensign)
August 13, 1999(national flag) Design A red disc on a white field. Designed by Nichiren(according to legend)[1]

The national flag of Japan is a white flag with a large red disc (representing the rising sun) in the center. The flag's official name in Japanese is Nisshōki (日章旗, "sun flag"?) but the flag is more commonly known as Hinomaru (日の丸, "sun disc"?). The Hinomaru was widely used on military banners in the Sengoku (Warring States) period of the 15th and 16th centuries. During the Meiji Restoration the flag was officially adopted for use as the civil ensign by Proclamation No. 57 on February 27, 1870 (27 January, Meiji 3 in the Japanese calendar). However, the flag was not adopted nationally until August 13, 1999, by the Law Concerning the National Flag and Anthem.

Along with the national anthem Kimi ga Yo, the Hinomaru is considered a controversial symbol of the militaristic past of the country. Use of the Hinomaru was also severely restricted during the early years of the American occupation of the country after World War II, although restrictions were later relaxed. Japanese law did not designate any particular flag as the national flag from 1885 until 1999, although the Hinomaru was legally the national flag for the brief period from 1870 until 1885. Despite this, several military banners of Japan are based on the design of the Hinomaru, including the sun-rayed Naval Ensign. The Hinomaru was used as a template to design other Japanese flags for public and private use.



Admiral Togoon the bridge of the Mikasa, before the Battle of Tsushimain 1905, with the Z flagflying 1930s photo of a military enrollment. The Hinomaru is displayed on the house and held by several children.
For a list of historical flags, see List of Japanese flags: Historical.

Before 1945

The exact origin of the Hinomaru is unknown. However, the sun historically had a religious connotation in Japan, and the notion of the rising sun had an important symbolic meaning.[2] For example, in 607, Prince Shotoku sent a letter that began with "from the prince of the rising sun" to Emperor Yang of Sui.[3] One legend related to the national flag is attributed to Buddhist priest Nichiren. During a Mongolian invasion into Japan during the 13th century, Nichiren gave a sun banner to the shogun to carry into battle.[1]

One of Japan's oldest known flags is housed at the Unpo-ji temple in Yamanashi Prefecture. A legend states that the flag was given by Emperor Reizei to Minamoto no Yoshimitsu and was treated as the family treasure by the Takeda clan. However, the historical accuracy of this account is questionable.[4] The earliest recorded Japanese flag in Japan occurred during the unification period. The flags belonged to each Daimyo and were used mostly for battles. Most of the designs of the flags were long banners and is usually charged with the mon of the Daimyo. Even members of the same family, such as a son, father and a brother, had different flags to carry to battle. The use of the flags were for identification and were carried by soldiers on their backs and also on their horses. Generals had their own flags, but most were square in shape.[5] The Hinomaru was legally the national flag from 1870 until 1885.[6] After the Meiji Restoration, the use of the Daimyo flags were discontinued and the flags of the modern Japanese state were used.[7] The Hinomaru was the de facto national flag, although there was no law to that effect.[8]

While not an official national flag, the Z signal flag played a major role in Japanese naval history. On May 27, 1905, Admiral Heihachiro Togo of the Mikasa was preparing to engage the Russian Baltic Fleet. Before the Battle of Tsushima began, Togo raised the Z flag on the Mikasa and engaged the Russian fleet, winning the battle for Japan. The raising of the flag said to the crew the following: "The fate of Imperial Japan hangs on this one battle; all hands will exert themselves and do their best." The Z flag was raised on the aircraft carrier Akagi on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941.[9]

Postwar period

The Hinomaru being lowered in Seoul, Korea on the day of the surrender, 9 September 1945.

The Hinomaru was the de facto albeit not de jure flag throughout World War II and the occupation period.[8] During the Occupation of Japan after World War II, permission from the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers was needed to fly the Hinomaru.[10][11] Sources differ on the degree to which the use of the Hinomaru flag was restricted, with some using the term "banned".[12] However, while the original restrictions were severe, they did not amount to an outright ban.[8]

In 1947, restrictions were lifted 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.[13] Those restrictions were further relaxed in 1948, when people were allowed to fly the flag on national holidays. The restrictions were abandoned in January 1949, and anyone could fly the Hinomaru at any time without permission.[14] As a result, schools and homes were encouraged to fly the Hinomaru until the early 1950s.[10]

After World War II, an ensign was used by Japanese civil ships of the U.S. Naval Shipping Control Authority for Japanese Merchant Marine.[15] Modified from the "E" signal code, the ensign was used from September 1945 until the American occupation of Japan ceased.[16] This was never used as a national flag for Japan during this time period.

Japan's flag has been criticized for being associated with the militaristic past of Japan since the end of World War II. Similar objections have been raised to the current national anthem of Japan, Kimi ga Yo.[4] Along with the national flag, Kimi ga Yo was designated the national anthem in the Law Concerning the National Flag and Anthem in 1999. Schools have been the center of controversy over both the anthem and the national flag. The Tokyo Board of Education requires the use of both the anthem and flag at events under their jurisdiction. The order requires school teachers to respect both symbols or risk losing their jobs.[17][18] Some have protested that such rules violate the Japanese constitution, while the Board, for its part, has argued that since schools are government agencies, their employees have an obligation to teach their students how to be good Japanese citizens.[4] Teachers have gone as far to bring criminal complaints against Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and senior officials for ordering teachers to honor the Hinomaru and Kimi ga Yo. However, these charges were later dismissed.[19]


Construction sheet

Passed in 1870, the Prime Minister's Proclamation No. 57 had two provisions related to the national flag. The first provision dealt with who flew the flag and how it was flown, the second dealt with how the flag was made.[20] The ratio, according to the proclamation, is going to be seven units high and ten units wide (7:10). The red disc, which represents the sun, is calculated to be three-fifths of the total size of the hoist length. The disc is decreed to be in the center, but is usually placed one-hundredth (1/100) of the flag width towards the hoist.[21]

When the Law Concerning the National Flag and Anthem was passed on August 13, 1999, the dimensions of the flag were altered slightly. The overall ratio of the flag was changed to two units length by three units width (2:3). The red disc was shifted towards dead center, but the overall size of the disc stayed the same.[21] The background of the flag is white and the sun disc is red, but the exact color shades were not defined in the 1999 law.[21] However, the 2000 edition of Album des pavillons suggest the sun disc is Pantone 186; the white field is not mentioned.[22]

Present-day perception

Emperor Akihito prepares to greet the flag-waving crowd at the Imperial Palace on his birthday. Photo taken on December 23, 2004.

According to polls conduced by mainstream media, most Japanese people had perceived the flag of Japan as the national flag, even before it was officially designated as such in 1999.[23] Despite this, controversies surrounding the use of the flag in school events or media still remain. For example, liberal newspapers such as Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun often feature articles critical of the flag of Japan, reflecting their readerships' political spectrum.[24]

Negative perception towards the Hinomaru still exist in former colonies of Japan and Okinawa. In one notable example of this, on October 26, 1987, a supermarket owner burned the Hinomaru before the start of the national athletic competition.[25] In China and South Korea, both occupied by Japan during World War II, Japanese flags are burnt during protests against Japan's foreign policies or if a Japanese prime minister visits the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Japanese laws allow the burning of the Hinomaru, but foreign flags cannot be burned in Japan due to national laws.[26]

Use and customs

A bus displaying the flag of Japan

Since World War II, the display of the flag of Japan is mostly limited to buildings attached to national and local governments such as city halls, and it is rarely seen in private homes or commercial buildings.[27] On the other hand, some people or companies have advocated displaying the flag of Japan on holidays. For example, beginning on December 23, 2002 (The Emperor's Birthday), the Kyushu Railway Company has displayed Japan's flag on 330 manned stations.[28] Also, many bus companies have been operating buses with the flag attached on holidays, in part to inform passengers that it is a holiday. The Cabinet of the Prime Minister has the authority to place the flag at half-staff.[29]


The flag is flown from sunrise until sunset, although a business or school is permitted to fly the flag from opening to closing. When flying the Japanese flag with that of another country, the Japanese flag takes the position of honor and the flag of the guest country flies to its right at the same height. When more than one foreign flag is displayed, Japan's flag is arranged in the alphabet order prescribed by the United Nations. When the flag becomes unsuitable to use, it is preferred to burn the flag in private.[29]

The national flag dressed for mourning

There were two customs developed to designate mourning with the Hinomaru. One is to fly the flag at half-staff (半旗, Han-ki?), as in other countries. This happens, for example, in the case of the death of a head of state. The other custom is to use a mourning flag (弔旗, Chō-ki?). The custom dates back to the funeral of Emperor Meiji in 1912 when the government issued an ordinance stipulating how the national flag must be raised in the mourning of emperors of Japan.[30] It said that the sphere finial of the pole must be covered by black cloth and the black cloth that extends to the width of the fly of the flag must be placed above the flag. Since then, mourning flags have been used on the deaths of emperors or members of the royal family. Mourning flags have also been used on other occasions and sometimes such a use has been controversial. For instance, when former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto died in August 2006, the Japan Communist Party objected to the display of a mourning flag by the city of Uji, Kyoto, citing the objection to the flag from the brother of Hashimoto.[31]

The 1999 curriculum guideline issued by the Ministry of Education notes that "on entrance and graduation ceremonies, schools must raise the flag of Japan and instruct students to sing the "Kimi Ga Yo" (national anthem), given the significance of the flag and the song".[32] Also, the ministry's commentary on the 1999 curriculum guideline for elementary schools notes that "given the advance of internalization, along with fostering patriotism and awareness of being Japanese, it is important to nurture school children's respectful attitude toward the flag of Japan and Kimi Ga Yo as they grow up to be respected Japanese citizens in an internationalized society".[33]

Related flags


Flag of the Japan Self-Defense Forces(八条旭日旗) Naval Ensign(旭日旗)
For a list of military flags, see List of Japanese flags: Military. See also Rising Sun Flag.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force use a version of the sun disc design with eight red rays extending outward, called Hachijō-Kyokujitsuki (八条旭日旗). A gold border lies partially around the edge.[34]

A very well-known variant of the sun disc design is the sun disc with 16 red rays, which was also historically used by Japan's military, particularly the Imperial Japanese Navy. The ensign, known in Japanese as the Kyokujitsu-ki (旭日旗), was first adopted as the naval ensign on October 7, 1889, and was used until the end of World War II in 1945. It was re-adopted on June 30, 1954, and is now used again as the naval ensign of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.[35] In the surrounding Asian countries that were occupied by Japan, this flag still carries a negative connotation.[36] The JMSDF also employs the use of a masthead pennant. First adopted in 1914 and readopted in 1965, the masthead pennant contains a simplified version of the naval ensign at the hoist end, with the rest of the pennant colored white. The ratio of the pennant is between 1:40 and 1:90.[37]

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force, established independently in 1952, has only the plain sun disc as its emblem. This is the only branch of service whose emblem does not invoke the rayed Imperial Standard. However, the branch does have an ensign to fly on bases and during parades. The ensign was created in 1972, which was the third used by the JASDF since their creation. The ensign contains the emblem of the branch centered on a blue background.[38]


The Standard of the Japanese emperor
For a list of imperial flags, see List of Japanese flags: Imperial.

Starting in 1869, flags were created for the Japanese emperor (then Emperor Meiji), his wife (the empress), and for other members of the imperial family. At first, the emperor's flag was ornate, with a sun resting in the center of an artistic pattern. He had flags that were used on land, at sea, and when he was in a carriage. The imperial family were also granted flags to be used at sea and while on land (one for use on foot and a carriage flag). The carriage flags were a monocolored chrysanthemum, with 16 petals, placed in the center of a monocolored background.[39] These flags were discarded in 1889 when the emperor decided to use the chrysanthemum on a red background as his flag. With minor changes in the color shades and proportions, the flags adopted in 1889 are still being used by the imperial family.[40]

The current emperor's flag is a 16-petal chrysanthemum, colored in gold, centered on a red background with a 2:3 ratio. The empress uses the same flag, except the shape is that of a swallow tail. The crown prince and the crown princess use the same flags, except with a smaller chrysanthemum and a white border in the middle of the flags.[41]


The Japanese flag flying with the flags of Okinawa Prefecture and Urasoe City
For a list of prefectural flags, see List of Japanese flags: Prefectural.
For a list of municipal flags, see List of Japanese municipal flags.

Each of Japan's 47 prefectures has a flag resembling the national flag insofar as consisting of a symbol, called a mon, charged on a monocolored field. Some of the mon display the name of the prefecture in Japanese characters; others are stylized depictions of the location or another special feature of the prefecture. An example of a prefectural flag is that of Nagano. In the center of the white disc, the orange katakana character ナ (na) appears. One interpretation of the mon is that the na symbol represents a mountain and the white disc, a lake. The orange color evokes the sun while the white color represents the snow of the region.[42][43]

Municipalities can also adopt flags of their own. The designs of the city flags are similar to the prefectural flags: a mon on a monocolored background. An example is the flag of Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture. The main symbol, adopted in 1909, is composed of the katakana characters for hama (ハマ). The emblem is officially colored red and appears in the shape of a diamond.[44] The background color is white and the height of the emblem is 3/5ths of the height of the flag.[45]


Japanese Vexillological Association flag

Other than the flags used by the military, several other flag designs are inspired by the national flag. In 2000, a new organization was established in Japan to promote the study of flags (vexillology) inside the country. The organization, the Japanese Vexillological Association (Nihon Kishougaku Kyoukai), also sought a flag and symbol for its own use. Out of the 61 entries, a flag based on the Hinomaru was chosen. The main field of the flag shows the red sun disc resting in the upper portion, below which are interlocking ropes,[46] a motif used on the flag of the Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques.[47] The joined knots represent fellowship, and ropes are devices used to raise and lower flags.[48]

Another Japanese flag that influences other flag designs is the naval ensign. One such flag design is used by the Asahi Shimbun. At the bottom hoist of the flag, one quarter of the sun is displayed. The Japanese character 朝 colored white, covers most of the sun. The rays extending from the sun occur in a red and white order; culminating in 13 total stripes.[49] The flag is commonly seen at the national high school baseball tournament, as the Asahi Shimbun is a main sponsor of the tournament.

See also


  1. ^ a b Feldman, David (2004). Do Elephants Jump?. HarperCollins, pp. 151–155. ISBN 0060539135
  2. ^ Edgington, David William (2003-05-01). Japan at the Millennium: Joining Past and Future. Vancouver, British Columbia: UCB Press, pp. 123–124. ISBN 0774808993
  3. ^ Dyer, Henry (1909). Japan in World Politics: A Study in International Dynamics. London: Blackie & Son limited, p. 24. 
  4. ^ a b c Hungo, Jun. "Hinomaru, 'Kimigayo' express conflicts both past and future", The Japan Times, 2007-07-17. Retrieved on 2008-01-11
  5. ^ Turnbull, Stephen; Howard Gerrard (2001-03-25). Ashigaru 1467–1649. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1841761494
  6. ^ Cripps, D (1996). "Flags and Fanfares: The Hinomaru Flag and the Kimigayo Anthem", in Goodman, Roger & ian Neary (eds.): Case Studies on Human Rights in Japan. London: Routledge, pp. 77-78. ISBN 1873410352. OCLC 35294491. “In 1870 the [Hinomaru] was designated as the national flag by means of a 'declaration (fukoku) by the Council of State (Daijō-kan太政官). In 1871, however, the Council was reorganized and the legislative function entrusted to the Left Chamber (Sa-in). Finally in 1885 the Council was replaced by a modern cabinet, with the result that the Council's declarations were abolished.” 
  7. ^ Japan - Historic flags. Flags of the World (2007-02-16). Retrieved on 2008-01-11.
  8. ^ a b c Goodman, Roger; Kirsten Refsing (1992). Ideology and Practice in Modern Japan. London: Routledge, p. 33. ISBN 0415061024. “The [Hinomaru] was indispensable for seeing new recruits off to war. On the day the recruit was to leave... neighbors gathered in front of his house, where the Japanese flag was displayed... all shouted banzai for the send-off, waving smaller flags.” 
  9. ^ Japan - Z-Flag. Flags of the World (2006-11-25). Retrieved on 2008-01-11.
  10. ^ a b 国旗,国歌の由来等 (Japanese). Ministry of Education (1999-09-01). Retrieved on 2007-12-01.
  11. ^ Cripps (1996), p. 81: "...[before 1948] by notifying the occupation forces in an area, individuals could apply to raise the flag and, depending on the national holiday and region, the prefectural office could be given permission to raise the flag."
  12. ^ For example, Weisman 1990 and Dower 1999 (p. 226) refer to the rising sun flag as "banned", while Dower uses the term "illegal" on p. 336.
  13. ^ Shigeru Yoshida (1947-05-02). Letter from Shigeru Yoshida to General MacArthur (Japanese, English). National Diet Library. Retrieved on 2007-12-03.
  14. ^ Hood (2001), p. 70.
  15. ^ 吉田 藤人. 邦人船員消滅 (Japanese). Retrieved on 2007-12-02.
  16. ^ Japan - Postwar ensigns. Flags of the World (2007-05-12). Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  17. ^ McCurry, Justin. "A touchy subject", Guardian Unlimited, The Guardian, 2006-06-05. Retrieved on 2008-01-14
  18. ^ Asahi Shimbun (2006-03-15). Tokyo: Students must sing 'Kimigayo'. Retrieved on 2006-07-29.
  19. ^ Ishihara's Hinomaru order called legit. The Japan Times (2006-01-05). Retrieved on 2007-12-04.
  20. ^ National Flag and Anthem (PDF). Web Japan. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2000). Retrieved on 2008-03-11.
  21. ^ a b c 国旗及び国歌に関する法律 (Japanese). Government of Japan (1999-08-13). Retrieved on 2008-01-17.
  22. ^ du Payrat, Armand (2000-11-08). Album des pavillons nationaux et des marques distinctives. France: Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine. ISBN 2-11-088247-6
  23. ^ 無題ドキュメント-国旗・国歌法制化について (Japanese). Asahi Research. TV Asahi (1999-07-18). Retrieved on 2008-03-11.
  24. ^ テレビニュースの多様化により、異なる番組の固定視聴者間に生じる意見の差 (PDF) (Japanese). Hoso Bunka Foundation (2002).
  25. ^ Wundunn, Sheryl. "Yomitan Journal: A Pacifist Landlord Makes War on Okinawa Bases", The New York Times, 1995-11-11. Retrieved on 2008-03-11
  26. ^ Protection of Australian Flags (Desecration of the Flag) Bill 2003. House of Representatives of Australia (2003-08-18). Retrieved on 2008-03-11.
  27. ^ 君が代と日の丸を今一度見直そう (Japanese). Commentary. National Confectionery Industry Association (2004-09-15). Retrieved on 2008-03-11.
  28. ^ JR九州、日の丸を掲揚へ 有人330駅、祝日に (Japanese). 47news (2002-11-26).
  29. ^ a b Flag Protocol (Japanese). Sargo Flag Company. Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
  30. ^ 天皇陛下崩御に際しての弔意奉表について (Japanese). Ministry of Education (1987-01-07). Retrieved on 2008-02-16. “大喪中国旗ヲ掲揚スルトキハ竿球ハ黒布ヲ以テ之ヲ蔽ヒ且旗竿ノ上部ニ黒布ヲ附スヘシ其ノ図式左ノ如シ”.
  31. ^ Joint funeral of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto Statement Regarding Half-staffing Wishes (Japanese). Communist Party of Japan (2006-08-07). Retrieved on 2008-03-11.
  32. ^ 1 学習指導要領における国旗,国歌の取扱い (Japanese). Minister of Education (1999). “入学式や卒業式などにおいては、その意義を踏まえ、国旗を掲揚するとともに、国歌を斉唱するよう指導するものとする。”
  33. ^ 小学校学習指導要領解説社会編,音楽編,特別活動編 (Japanese). Minister of Education (1999).
  34. ^ 自衛隊法施行令 (Japanese). Government of Japan (1954-06-30). Retrieved on 2008-01-25.
  35. ^ Japanese military flags - Naval Ensign. Flags of the World (2007-03-24). Retrieved on 2008-01-11.
  36. ^ 国际, 在线. "赵薇欲代言抗日网游洗刷"军旗装事件"之辱(图)", Xinhua, 2006-08-11. Retrieved on 2008-01-25. (Chinese) 
  37. ^ Japanese military flags – Masthead Pennant. Flags of the World (2007-03-24). Retrieved on 2008-01-25.
  38. ^ Air Self Defense Force (Japan). Flags of the World (2007-02-10). Retrieved on 2008-01-25.
  39. ^ Imperial flags, 1870-1875 (Japan). Flags of the World (2006-12-23). Retrieved on 2008-01-17.
  40. ^ Flags of the Imperial Japanese Family (1899). Flags of the World (2007-02-16). Retrieved on 2008-01-17.
  41. ^ 皇室儀制令 (Japanese). Retrieved on 2007-12-02.
  42. ^ Nagano (Japan). Flags of the World (2007-02-10). Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
  43. ^ 長野県の県章 - 県旗 (Japanese). Government of Nagano Prefecture (2006). Retrieved on 2007-12-02.
  44. ^ 横浜市き章 (Japanese). City of Yokohama (2006). Retrieved on 2007-12-02.
  45. ^ Yokohama si (Kanagawa prefecture Japan). Flags of the World (2006-08-12). Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
  46. ^ Japanese Vexillological Association. Flags of the World (2007-02-10). Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  47. ^ Constitution of the Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques (PDF). Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques (2007). Retrieved on 2008-01-11.
  48. ^ FIAV - Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques. Flags of the World (2007-08-25). Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
  49. ^ Image of the Asahi Shimbun flag. Sankei Digital. Retrieved on 2007-12-02.

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