Flag of Japan
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), but is more commonly known in Japan as Hinomaru (日の丸). It embodies the country's sobriquet: Land of the Rising Sun.
The 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), and as the national flag used by the Navy under Proclamation No. 651 of Meiji 3 (issued on October 27, 1870). 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. 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 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.
The exact origin of the Hinomaru is unknown, 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. Japan is often referred to as "the land of the rising sun". In the 12th-century work, The Tale of the Heike, it was written that different samurai carried drawings of the sun on their fans. 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. The sun is also closely related to the Imperial family, as legend states the imperial throne was descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu.
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, 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.
In 1854, during the Tokugawa shogunate, Japanese ships were ordered to hoist the Hinomaru to distinguish themselves from foreign ships. Before then, different types of Hinomaru flags were used on vessels that were trading with the U.S. and Russia. 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.
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. Further Meiji Government implementations gave more identifications to Japan, including the anthem Kimigayo and the imperial seal. In 1885, all previous laws not published in the Official Gazette of Japan were abolished. 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.
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. 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. 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.