The Rising Sun Flag (旭日 旗, Kyokujitsu-ki) symbolizes the sun as the Japanese national flag does. This design has been widely used in Japan for a long time. The design of the Rising Sun Flag is seen in numerous scenes in daily life of Japan, such as in fishermen's banners hoisted to signify large catch of fish, flags to celebrate childbirth, and in flags for seasonal festivities.
It was originally used by feudal warlords in Japan during the Edo period (1603–1868 CE). On May 15, 1870, as a policy of the Meiji government, it was adopted as the war flag of the Imperial Japanese Army, and on October 7, 1889, it was adopted as the naval ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy. A modified flag is flown by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and a different version is flown by the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
History and design
The flag of Japan and the rising Sun had symbolic meaning since the early 7th century in the Asuka period (538–710 CE). The Japanese archipelago is east of the Asian mainland, and is thus where the Sun "rises". In 607 CE, 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.
The Japanese word for Japan is 日本, which is pronounced Nihon or Nippon and literally means "the origin of the sun". The character nichi (日) means "sun" or "day"; hon (本) means "base" or "origin". The compound therefore means "origin of the sun" and is the source of the popular Western epithet "Land of the Rising Sun". The red disc symbolizes the Sun and the red lines are light rays shining from the rising sun.
The design of the Rising Sun Flag (Asahi) has been widely used since ancient times, and a part of it was called "Hiashi" (日足, ひあし) and used as the samurai's crest ("Hiashimon", 日足紋). The flag was especially used by samurai in the Kyushu region. Examples include the "Twelve-day legs" (変わり十二日足) of the Ryūzōji clan (1186–1607 CE) in Hizen Province and the Kusano clan (草野氏) in Chikugo Province and the "eight-day legs" (八つ日足紋) of the Kikuchi clan (1070–1554 CE) in Higo Province. There is a theory that in many parts of the Kyushu region, Hizen and Higo are related to what was called "the country of Japan (Hi)".[注 1]
There have been many types of Asahi flags since ancient times, and the design in which light rays spread in all directions without clouds expresses Halle, and was a design that was used for emphasizing the goodness of the economy, festiveness, and the good economy at the time of Keiji etc. A well-known variant of the flag of the sun disc design is the sun disc with 16 red rays in a Siemens star formation. The Rising Sun Flag (旭日 旗, Kyokujitsu-ki) has been used as a traditional national symbol of Japan since at least the Edo period (1603 CE). It is featured in antique artwork such as ukiyo-e prints through history, such as the Lucky Gods' visit to Enoshima, ukiyo-e print by Utagawa Yoshiiku in 1869 and One Hundred Views of Osaka, Three Great Bridges, ukiyo-e print by Utagawa Kunikazu in 1854. The Fujiyama Tea Co. used it as a wooden box label of Japanese tea (green tea) for export in the Meiji period / Taisho period (1880s).
It was historically used by the daimyō (大名) and Japan's military, particularly the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy. The ensign, known in Japanese as the Jyūrokujō-Kyokujitsu-ki (十六条旭日旗), was first adopted as the war flag on May 15, 1870, and was used until the end of World War II in 1945. It was re-adopted on June 30, 1954, and is now used by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) use a variation of the Rising Sun Flag with red, white and gold colors.
The design is similar to the flag of Japan, which has a red circle in the center signifying the Sun. The difference compared to the flag of Japan is that the Rising Sun Flag has extra sun rays (16 for the ensign) exemplifying the name of Japan as "The Land of the Rising Sun". The Imperial Japanese Army first adopted the Rising Sun Flag in 1870. The Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy both had a version of the flag; the naval ensign was off-set, with the red sun closer to the lanyard side, while the army's version (which was part of the regimental colors) was centered. The flags were used until Japan's surrender in World War II during August 1945. After the establishment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces in 1954, the off-set Rising Sun Flag was re-adopted for the JMSDF and a new 8-rays Rising Sun Flag with a yellow border for the JGSDF and JSDF was approved by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP/GHQ). The flag with the off-set sun and 16 rays is the ensign of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, but it was modified with a different color red. The old flag is darker red (RGB #b12d3d) and the post-WW2 modified version is brighter red (RGB #bd0029).
The Imperial Japanese Army flag with symmetrical 16 rays and a 2:3 ratio was abolished. The Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Ground Self-Defense Force use a significantly different Rising Sun Flag with 8-rays and an 8:9 ratio. The edges of the rays are asymmetrical since they form angles 19, 21, 26 and 24 degrees. It also has indentations for the yellow (golden) irregular triangles along borders. The JSDF Rising Sun Flag was adopted by a law/order/decree published in the Official Gazette of June 30, 1954.
Regardless of the military flag, before the Meiji period, the design of Asahi was used for prayers, festivals, celebration events, reconstruction, logos of companies and products, big catch flags (Tairyō-bata), corporate and product logos and sports.
Commercially the Rising Sun Flag is used on many products, designs, clothing, posters, beer cans (Asahi Breweries), newspapers (Asahi Shimbun), bands, manga, comics (e.g., Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan, June 2006), anime, movies, video games (e.g., E. Honda's stage of Street Fighter II), etc. The Rising Sun Flag appears on commercial product labels, such as on the cans of one variety of Asahi Breweries lager beer. The design is also incorporated into the logo of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Among fishermen, the tairyō-ki (大漁旗, "Good Catch Flag") represents their hope for a good catch of fish. Today it is used as a decorative flag on vessels as well as for festivals and events. The Rising Sun Flag is used at sporting events by the supporters of Japanese teams and individual athletes as well as by non-Japanese.
Since June 30, 1954, the Rising Sun Flag has been the war flag and naval ensign of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). JSDF Chief of Staff Katsutoshi Kawano said the Rising Sun Flag is the Maritime Self-Defense Force sailors' "pride". The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) use the Rising Sun Flag with eight red rays extending outward, called Hachijō-Kyokujitsuki (八条旭日旗). A gold border lies partially around the edge.
The flag is also used by non-Japanese, for example, in the emblems of some U.S. military units based in Japan, and by the American blues rock band Hot Tuna, on the cover of its album Live in Japan. It is used as an emblem of the United States Fleet Activities Sasebo, as a patch of the Strike Fighter Squadron 94, a mural at Misawa Air Base, the former insignia of Strike Fighter Squadron 192 and Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System with patches of the 14th Fighter Squadron. Some extreme right-wing groups display it at political protests.
As the flag was used by the Imperial Japanese military during Japan's actions during World War II, it is regarded as offensive by some in East Asia, particularly in South Korea (which was ruled by Japan) and China. This symbol is often associated with Japanese imperialism in the early 20th century in these two countries.
South Korea hosted an international fleet review at Jeju Island from October 10 to 14, 2018. South Korea requested all participating countries to display only their national flags and the South Korean flag on their vessels. Japan balked at the demand, with the then-Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, since replaced, claiming the display of the Rising Sun Flag should be mandatory under Japanese law. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha urged Japan to be more considerate about Japan's former rule of the Korean Peninsula and stated that her ministry will review "possible and appropriate options" before deciding to take stronger international actions when asked whether South Korea could raise the issue with the United Nations. Japan announced on October 5, 2018, that it will be withdrawing from the fleet review because it could not accept Seoul's request to remove the Rising Sun Flag. The Defense Minister notified the South Korean government of its decision. Both nations reiterated the need for continued defense cooperation. When the JMSDF was established in 1954, it adopted the Rising Sun Flag (Kyokujitsu-ki) as its ensign to show the nationality of its ships. It was approved by GHQ/SCAP. On September 28, 2018, an official of Japan's Ministry of Defense said that the South Korean navy's request lacks common sense and that they would not partake in a fleet review, since no country would follow such a request. On October 6, 2018, JSDF Chief of Staff Katsutoshi Kawano said the Rising Sun Flag is the Maritime Self-Defense Force sailors' "pride" and that the JMSDF would absolutely not go if they had to remove the flag.
Critic Katsumi Murotani, a correspondent of the Jiji Newsletter Seoul in the 1980s, stated that the Rising Sun Flag was not criticized until recently in South Korea. South Korea did not object to Japan's adoption of the Rising Sun Flag for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in 1952, nor to the entry into South Korean ports Japanese warships flying the flag on a warship at the 1998 and 2008 navy fleet review held in South Korea.
South Korean campaigns against the Rising Sun Flag began in 2011 when a South Korean footballer Ki Sung-yueng was accused of making a racist gesture, which he defended claiming he was annoyed at having seen a Rising Sun Flag in the stadium. In 2012, South Koreans who disapproved of the flag began to refer to it as a "war crime flag".
The Sankei Shimbun criticized South Korea's attitude toward the Rising Sun Flag, stating that even the United States, who was Japan's opponent during World War II, has not protested formally against the Rising Sun Flag. The president of the Sankei Shimbun Minagawa Hoshi said the corporate logo flag of the Rising Sun Flag design of the Asahi Shimbun, which is praised for being conscientious in South Korea, never had any such issues.
On August 19, 2019, the American model and singer Charlotte Kemp Muhl uploaded a photo wearing a T-shirt design with the Rising Sun Flag on Instagram. She was criticized for this by Korean Internet commenters, who compared the flag's symbolic significance to that of the German Nazi flag. Muhl responded that the flag "was first used by the Japanese during the Meiji era...before the Korean colonial rule," and therefore its usage should not necessarily be interpreted as indicating support of Imperial Japan or its rule over Korea. Sean Lennon, Muhl's romantic partner (and son of John Lennon), defended her use of the symbol, stating: “You have to be free to use symbolic things."
The South Korean parliamentary committee for sports asked the organizers of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to ban the Rising Sun Flag. According to South Korean lawmaker An Min-suk, it could not be a peaceful Olympics with the flag in the stadium. The organizers refused to ban the flag from venues. In September 2019, the Chinese Civil Association for Claiming Compensation from Japan sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban the flag.[dead link] According to the Associated Press, the IOC confirmed the receipt of the letter and said in a statement "sports stadiums should be free of any political demonstration. When concerns arise at games time we look at them on a case by case basis."
The Japanese government's basic position on the Rising Sun Flag is that "Claims that the flag is an expression of political assertions or a symbol of militarism are absolutely false."
Examples of the Rising Sun design in use
One Hundred Views of Osaka, Three Great Bridges, ukiyo-e print by Utagawa Kunikazu, 1854. The composition of the morning sun rising behind the Nanhwa Three Bridge.
Tairyō-bata is a traditional Japanese fisherman's flag. Today it is used as a decorative flag on vessels and for festivals and events.
Flag of the Asahi Shimbun Company since 1889
Asahi Gold Beer
Asahi Beer poster. The Asahi logo is on the bottle label (in 2013, at a pub in Higashiosaka city).
Japan Self-Defense Forces
Viewing march by JGSDF regiment vehicle troops with the flag of the Japan Self-Defense Forces
Ground Self-Defense Force Utsunomiya gemstone site commemorative event with the Self-Defense Forces flag
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force members of the crew of JDS Kongō
United States military
Emblem of United States Fleet Activities Sasebo
Patch of Strike Fighter Squadron 94
Emblem of U.S. Army Aviation Battalion Japan
The mural painted on a wall at Misawa Air Base, Japan
Former insignia of Strike Fighter Squadron 192
Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System with patches of the 14th Fighter Squadron
Internationally, similar designs with the rays of the sun are frequently used as national flags and military flags. In the eastern countries, mainly in China and the Soviet Union, it was often used as a symbol of Marxist–Leninism and socialist ruralism in posters and the like.
It was established as the state flag in 1917.
People's Republic of China
A number of propaganda posters with the Asahi pattern centered on Mao Zedong were produced and published and advertised throughout the country. It is pointed out that Mao Zedong liked the Asahi pattern very much. In the People's Republic of China, the Asahi design has a long history of being actively used by the Communist Party of China, which makes some Chinese netizens cause the Chinese government to hardly mention the Asahi flag even in noise. During the Chinese watching ceremony, Japanese ships raised the Asahi flag, but participated without problems and the Chinese government welcomed them. The Korean Daily reported to Japan that China, which responded in pursuit of profit, was in contrast to Korea.
The flag of the Republic of North Macedonia has a design similar to that of the Asahi Flag. Originally, when it became independent from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, it used a design called the Vergina star for its flag, but this led to a controversy with the Hellenic Republic, which used this design for the flag of its Macedonia region. It was changed to the current national flag in 1995 (Heisei 7).
The state flag of Donetsk Oblast is a sunrise design similar to the Rising Sun Flag.
The ensign of the Belarusian Air Force has the Order of the Rising Sun pattern.
Flag of the Belarusian Air Force
Venezuela Lara (state) flag
Karen Liberation Army
Tibet and the Tibetan government in exile
The government of Tibet Ganden Phodrang enacted a national flag of Tibet in 1912. It is said that this was indirectly influenced by the "Asahi Sun Flag, the military flag of the Imperial Army", because a Japanese researcher and monk Aoki Bunkyo was involved in the design. ("Place a rising sun that reveals half of the Japanese flag", "This new flag sometimes looks like a Japanese flag in the wind, so it had to be revised further").） After the People's Republic of China's invasion of Tibet in 1949, China positioned Gandempotan as the local government of Tibet, which continued to use it as a flag of Tibet. In 1959, Ganden Potan, led by Dalai Lama XIV, escaped Tibet and the government was reorganized in India as the Tibetan government in exile. The Tibetan government has used the flag as its national flag to date.
The design was used for flags of the Soviet Air Forces, founded on December 20, 1917, in the Soviet Union and flags of the Georgian Republic established in 1921 in the Soviet Constituent Republic, etc.
Flag of the Soviet Air Force
Russian Air Force military flag. Design changes based on Soviet Air Force era flag.
Flag of Georgia. After independence from the Soviet Union, the flag was changed with a completely different design (Georgian flag).
Korea's emerging religions organization Unification movement (formerly: Unification Church) has incorporated Asahi in its logo since it was established in 1954. On May 1, 1994, it was changed to another logo with the name change to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
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In the picture above, the word "war crime flag" was first used in Korea in August 2012.
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- Note: in modern times, it is also used as a simple pattern, for example, Yurikamome Inc. (company), Hinode Station pattern.