What was Osaka Japan named for

The history of the Japanese flag

A flag represents everything that a nation stands for: ideals, culture, history and the people themselves. All these elements are united under one banner and form a national unit. As a country with a history as rich as the traditions it has carried on for centuries, Japan and the Japanese flag have a unique story to tell, from brilliant achievements to the darker chapters of their history. In this article, we take a deeper look at Japanese history itself and how that story shaped the iconic flag we know and love today.

The ancient and medieval beginnings

The Japanese flag that we all know today is commonly called the Hinomaru (日 の 丸, which literally means "sun circle") or with theirs official name Nisshōki (日 章 旗, "Flag of the Sun"). Its simple yet effective design makes it recognizable all over the world, the distinctive red circle in the middle of the white rectangle. Although we instantly associate this flag design with Japan, it will only officially used for around 150 years. To discover its origins, let's go back in history to see what shaped the modern Japanese flag and the country it represents.

Designs that vaguely resemble today's Japanese flag date back to the 8th centurywhen Emperor Monmu decorated his ceremonial hall with a redesigned flag. The design of the Nissho (日 章, "the flag with the golden sun"), which he created in 701 (first year of the Taihō era) for the New Year celebrations, is said to be the original Hinomaru (日 の 丸) represent. Even if it is unclear whether this flag was the inspiration for later or modern designs. A link between later interpretations of the Hinomaru and the mysterious Nissho is the symbol of the sunwhich has been anchored in Japanese mythology and religious practice since ancient times.

The next instance of a design similar to Hinomaru was based on a Theroie im Genpei-War (源 平 合 戦) discovered that raged between 1180 and 1185. This war marked the end of the Heian-Time (794-1185) and the end of the last phase of classical Japanese history. The era ended bloody when two opposing clans, the Taira and Minamoto clan, fought for control of Japan. The taira that during the Heian-The time dominated Japanese politics, waged war against the Minamoto under a red flag with gold and silver lunar circles. This flag, called Nishiki no Mihata (錦 の 御 旗 "honorable brocade flag"), was during the Heian-Time also the symbol of the imperial court. In contrast to the Taira and their flag, the Minamoto chose a pure white flag. The war eventually ended with the Minamoto taking control of Japan and that Kamakura shogunate founded. Later in history, subsequent shoguns used the flag of Genji, the leader of the Minamoto Shirachikamaru (白地 赤 丸, “red circle on white background”) as a symbol of national unity. This flag is a combination of the battle flags of the Minamoto and the Taira and is considered the origin of the HinomaruDesigns.

Later when Japan during the Warring States Period experienced a new wave of unrest (戦 国 時代, Sengoku Jidai, 1467-1615), the sun was reinterpreted as a symbol by the warring daimyo, the powerful feudal lords of the time. Some of them used that Hinomaru-Design as you Uma-jirushi (馬 印, horse badge), a giant flag that denotes the Daimyo or identified an equally important military person on the battlefield. In addition to red on white was that Hinomaru-Design also produced as a gold-on-blue variant, as can be seen on the far left in the picture below.

During the same period the fleet continued from Kuki Yoshitaka, a naval commander under Oda Nobunaga, the Hinomaru also for his warships a. The picture below shows Yoshitaka's fleet with the largest contemporary warship, the Atakebune (安 宅 船 / 阿 武 船) under the Hinomaru went into battle.

The Sengoku-Time ended with a united Japan and marked the Beginning of the new Edo-Time (江 戸 時代, Edo Jidai, 1603-1868). The Tokugawa shogunate reluctantly opened trade routes to a number of select nations including Holland, China, the United States, and Russia. To stand out from foreign ships, the Shogun commanded Japanese merchant ships that HinomaruSet flag. This was the first time the Hinomaru was officially used to represent Japan to the rest of the world.

The modern story

Although Japan during the Meiji restoration (明治 維新, Meiji ishin) was modernized, the idea of ​​a national flag still seemed rather alien to the Japanese. After all, for the first time in its history, Japan was a nation. And just like that Daimyo the Hinomaru already used to identify themselves on medieval battlefields, Japan now had to identify itself in the world as a new, rising power with its own flag. Since the Hinomaru in the late Edo-After being used on merchant ships, it had already gained international recognition. Furthermore, with her roots going deep into Japanese mythology and history, she decided Meiji-Government that that Hinomaru-Design would become Japan's official national flag - symbolizing the upcoming new era and a representation of what the country was built on. Next to the Hinomaru also became the national anthem Kimi ga yo (君 が 代) and the imperial seal become official symbols of the state. The flag was first hoisted on government buildings in 1870, while the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1873.

With the rise of Japanese nationalism, the Hinomaru also in terms of representation and meaning. After Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese and the first Sino-Japanese war, the flag was always present at war celebrations and events and contributed to a nationalist mood in the public. Textbooks displayed the flag along with patriotic slogans and taught children the virtues of being a "good Japanese". During the Second World War, the flag was used, in areas occupied by Japan such as Manchukoku and the Philippines, the symbol of imperialism. And while local flags were still allowed, during the morning ceremony school children had to sing the Japanese national anthem while a Japanese flag was hoisted.

After Japan's defeat in World War II and its subsequent occupation by US forces, strict rules were put in place for patriotic symbols like the Hinomaru applied. In order to hoist the flag, permission from the US Military Command first had to be given. With the entry into force of Japan's postwar constitution in 1947, several restrictions on the flag were lifted. Two years later, all restrictions were lifted and anyone could fly or show the flag without permission.

Because of Japan's role during World War II was the Hinomaru often associated with the country's militaristic past. For this reason, the public display of the flag has decreased since the end of the war, as Japan has since adopted a pacifist stance. When in 1999 the Law on the national flag and the national anthem was passed, the HinomaruFlag and Kimi ga yo (Japan's national anthem) reinstated as the official symbols of Japan. Previously, they were just de facto symbols that were not specified in legislation as the official state flag and national anthem.

The flag design

Earlier designs and interpretations of the flag always were inspired by the mythological roots of Japan - more precisely from the sun. She plays an essential role in the Shinto religion as the emperor is a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu should be. Japan's nickname, "Land of the Rising Sun", has also been in use since the 7th century. Hence, it is no surprise that the sun was chosen to grace the Japanese national flag that carries the Land of the rising sun represents perfectly.

The colors, shapes and proportions the Hinomaru are precisely specified. The "sun" in the middle has a color called Beni Iro (紅色), which is supposed to be reminiscent of a purple sunset that you can experience in Japan. The diameter of the sun is 3/5 of the total height of the flag and is exactly in the middle. The background is simple and yet pure white. The flag as a whole is reminiscent of the dominance of red and white in the Shinto shrines and exudes the same peaceful aura.

The flag of the rising sun

In addition to the Hinomaru is there another flag that is often associated with Japan, or rather its military history. The Flag of the rising sun (旭日 旗, Kyokujitsu-ki) has different meanings for different people, but is often the focus of Controversy. The flag is based on the same design as that Hinomaru with additional sun rays in the middle. Its origins can be traced back to feudal warlords who raised the flag during the Edo-Time used. After Meiji- She found a new purpose as a restoration official flag of war for the Japanese Imperial Army. Shortly afterwards it was also adopted as the naval flag for the imperial navy. Since the flag too luck represented, was and is to be seen on some commercial products, for example on the original logo of the Asahi-Newspaper. She will too today from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force usedalthough it has been slightly modified since World War II. An alternate version is also available by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces used.

Because of Japan's imperialist past the flag is considered offensive in East Asia, especially in South Korea and China. The flag is directly related to the occupation of the countries by Japan, as it was also used during that time.

The use of the flag nowadays

Nowadays the Hinomaru mainly during official ceremonies and on national holidays get discovered. Of course, it is also hoisted when guests of state from abroad, such as ministers and presidents, are welcomed. In everyday life, the flag is usually only hoisted in front of government buildings such as town halls or ministries. In contrast, they are rarely seen on private buildings, although some people and businesses like to fly the flag on holidays. As is common in many countries, in times of national mourning the flag is only raised at half mast (半 旗, Han-ki) set, as on the day the Showa-Kaiser died in 1989.

Rooted in legends and history, the Japanese flag has a design that reflects the spirit of Japan's origins and its future. It has a design that is immediately recognized all over the world and, despite its sometimes dark history, has become a symbol of peace.

Translation by Yvonne.