The national flag of Japan is a white rectangular flag with a large red disk (representing the sun) in the center. This flag is officially called Nisshōki(日章旗, "sun-mark flag") in Japanese, but is more commonly known as Hinomaru (日の丸, "circle of the sun").
The Nisshōki flag is designated as the national flag in 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 Era, 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 27th, 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 American occupation after World War II; these restrictions were later relaxed.
In early Japanese history, the Hinomaru motif was used on flags of daimyos and samurai. An old history Shoku Nihongi says that Emperor Mommu 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 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. To some Japanese, the flag represents Japan, and no other flag could take its place. However, the flag is not frequently displayed in Japan due to its association with ultranationalism. The use of the flag and the national anthem Kimigayo have been a contentious issue for Japan's public schools since the end of World War II (the Pacific War). Disputes about their use have led to protests and lawsuits. To Okinawans, the flag represents the events of World War II and the subsequent U.S. military presence there. For some nations that had 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. Despite the negative connotations, Western and Japanese sources claim the flag is a powerful and enduring symbol to the Japanese. 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.
Passed in 1870, the Prime Minister's Proclamation No. 57 had two provisions related to the national flag. The first provision specified who flew the flag and how it was flown; the second specified how the flag was made. The ratio was seven units length and ten units width (7:10). The red disc, which represents the sun, was calculated to be three-fifths of the total size of the hoist length. The law decreed the disc to be in the center, but it was usually placed one-hundredths (1/100) towards the hoist. On October 3 of the same year, regulations about the design of the merchant ensign and other naval flags were passed. For the merchant flag, the ratio was two units length and three units width (2:3). The size of the disc remained the same, however the sun disc was placed one-twentieth (1/20) towards the hoist.
When the Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem passed, the dimensions of the flag were slightly altered. 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.The background of the flag is white and the sun disc is red (紅色 beni iro), but the exact color shades were not defined in the 1999 law. The only hint given about the red color that it is a "deep" shade.
Issued by the Japan Defense Agency (now the Ministry of Defense) in 1973 (Showa 48), specifications list the red color of the flag as 5R 4/12 and the white as N9 in the Munsell color chart.The document was changed on March 21th, 2008 (Heisei 20) to match the flag's construction with current legislation and updated the Munsell colors. The document lists acrylic fiber and nylon as fibers that could be used in construction of flags used by the military. For acrylic, the red color is 5.7R 3.7/15.5 and white is N9.4; nylon has 6.2R 4/15.2 for red and N9.2 for white. In a document issued by the Official Development Assistance (ODA), the red color for the Hinomaru and the ODA logo is listed as DIC 156 and CMYK 0-100-90-0.During deliberations about theLaw Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem, there was a suggestion to either use a bright red (赤色 aka iro ) shade or from the color pool of the Japanese Industrial Standards.
When the Hinomaru was first introduced, the government required citizens to greet the emperor with the flag. There was some resentment among the Japanese over the flag, resulting in some protests. It took some time for the flag to gain acceptance among the people.
During World War II in Japanese culture, it was a popular custom for friends, classmates, and relatives of a deploying soldier to sign a Hinomaru and present it to him. The flag was also used as a good luck charm and a prayer to wish the soldier back safely from battle. One term for this kind of charm is Hinomaru Yosegaki (日の丸寄せ書き). One tradition is that any writing must not touch the sun disc. After battles, these flags were often captured or later found on deceased Japanese soldiers. While these flags became souvenirs, there has been a growing trend of sending the signed flags back to the descendants of the soldier.
The tradition for signing the Hinomaru as a good luck charm still continues, but in a limited fashion. The Hinomaru Yosegaki could be shown at sporting events to give support to the Japanese national team. Another example is the hachimaki headband, which was white in color and had the red sun in the middle. During World War II, the phrases "Certain Victory" (必勝 Hisshō) or "Seven Lives" was written on the hachimaki and worn by kamikaze pilots. This denoted that the pilot was willing to die for his country.
Before World War II, all homes were required to display Hinomaru on national holidays. Since the war, the display of the flag of Japan is mostly limited to buildings attached to national and local governments such as city halls; it is rarely seen at private homes or commercial buildings, but some people and companies have advocated displaying the flag on holidays. Although the government of Japan encourages citizens and residents to fly the Hinomaru during national holidays, they are not legally required to do so. Since the Emperor's 80th Birthday on December 23rd, 2002, the Kyushu Railway Company has displayed the Hinomaru at 330 stations.
Starting in 1995, the ODA has used the Hinomaru motif in their official logo. The design itself was not created by the government (the logo was chosen from 5,000 designs submitted by the public) but the government was trying increase the visualization of the Hinomaru through their aid packages and development programs. According to the ODA, the use of the flag is the most effective away to symbolize aid provided by the Japanese people.
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