The Japanese Flag

Japanese Flag, designed by Unknown Artist (1870).

The Japanese Flag is yet another omnipresent design that reaches everyone's visual recognition across the world. Its design comes across as pretty minimal, featuring only a crimson disk that contrasts against a plain white background. Although its design is very simple, there is a much deeper and philosophical meaning behind it, that traces back in history as far as the time of AD 607.

The Japanese flag is commonly known as the Hinomaru, or ‘Sun Disc’. The connotations of this title is the rising sun on a field of white, which dates from the period of the Warring States during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This design was only adopted as Japan’s official flag in 1999.

An old version of the Japanese Flag , when it looked more like the sun.

To the people of Japan, the sun has countless historic (and) religious connotations. The conception of the rising sun symbolises the importance of the nation in terms of nature and the Gods. The central Shinto deity, Amaterasu Omikami, is a sun goddess, and Nippon (Japan’s name in Japanese) means ‘origin of the sun’, which only justifies furthermore where this famous flag design is originally coming from. Whilst many different myths exist that account for the symbolism of the sun disc, one of the earliest and most engraved references dates to AD 607. We find this is evident in a letter sent from Prince Shotoku to the Chinese Emperor Yang of Sui. The scribe begins, ‘from the Prince of The Rising Sun’.

The meticulous proportions in terms of design of the Hinomaru were only defined very recently, in the year of 1999. The vertical and horizontal ratios were set at 2:3, altering the dimensions originally set in the year of 1870 by the Meiji Government. The red disc was left in its same placement in the exact centre, with a diameter equal to three-fifths of the vertical measurement of the flag. This was a feature that was carried over from the 1870 proclamation. Although there were different wartime variants (with off-centre red discs or radiating rays) used exclusively for military purposes, these proportional relationships have undergone only minuscule changes since the nineteenth century.

To this day, the flag continues to carry negative connotations (for nations which are occupied by Imperial forces). As a matter of fact, until the year 1949, the Hinomaru was not allowed to be shown in public areas. Nowadays, anyone can display it without government permission, and Japan’s economic miracle during recent decades has managed to give the flag new fresh and positive associations. For such an ancient and historic design, the Hinomaru/Japanese flag seems surprisingly modern and is the perfect symbol for a high-tech, progressive and dynamic society.

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