Why Did The National Flag Of Japan Lose Its Rays?

Why Did Japan Change Its Flag?

Japan’s flag before the official change was technically not a national flag by policy or legality. It just happened to be a flag that was associated with the country.

This flag featured a white background with a large red circle that was somewhat off-center, with an array of red stripes coming out from the circle in all directions. 

This flag has been prominently featured in many forms of media that would depict many of the events that occurred during World War II, which was a disastrous time in Japanese history.

Many of the depictions would be from a Western standpoint, which highlighted the devastating amount of Japanese lives lost during the war. 

Throughout Japan’s history, Japan had numerous types of flags with different designs. None of them were considered official, but they were unofficially recognized to be a symbol of Japan.

The white flag with the red circle and sunshine rays is still seen as one of Japan’s flags, but there is a second flag that is formally seen as Japan’s national flag as of 1999. 

Why Did Japan Redesign Their Flag In 1999?

The reason the Japanese government enacted legislation to redesign an official flag and anthem was a very sad and unfortunate one. Since, up until 1999, there was no official flag or anthem, many would argue over what should or shouldn’t be considered the right flag or anthem to be used. 

This led to a school principal named Toshihiro Ishikawa becoming so despondent over dealing with the consistent stress of his school board and teachers fighting over which flag to hang that he took his own life.

In order to avoid further tragedy and discourse, the Japanese government decided to make a change. 

In 1999, Japan put forth the Act on National Flag and Anthem. This act instated not only a national anthem but a national flag as an official part of Japanese culture and tradition.

The redesigned flag not only pays homage to the importance of the sun in Japanese culture, but it also represents their very well-known moniker of being the “Land of the Rising Sun.”

The process of voting on the bill that would later become this act was not a seamless one, as there continued to be disagreements within the government on who should be allowed to voice their opinion and whether or not it was the right decision to make a policy change on this matter. 

The Japanese National Anthem 

The Japanese anthem was enacted into Japanese law at the same time the flag was. The anthem is known as Kimigayo, and has existed for a very long time before it was officially considered the anthem. In fact, it’s believed to be the oldest and the shortest national anthem of any country. 

Before the anthem was considered the anthem, the words were actually a Heian poem, or a waka. It has been put to music for some time, but the melody that exists today was officially instituted in 1880. 

What Are Japan’s Two Flags?

The current official flag of Japan is known as the Hinomaru. This flag has a white background, with a centered red circle in the middle.

The old flag called the Rising Sun Flag or kyokujitsu-ki, is also still acknowledged as a flag representative of Japan, even though it’s not considered official. 

The two flags have many similarities, both with a prominent red sun. One of them emits rays from the red circle, while the official flag doesn’t. Even though the flag doesn’t have rays anymore, the understanding of its symbolism is still well-known. 

The Rising Red Sun Flag 

The unofficial flag can be traced back to the Edo period of Japan, and its first known use was by feudal lords of Japan who were entering into battle.

It continued to be an important symbol in Japan for centuries afterward, also being adopted by the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy. 

The Rising Red Sun flag can still be seen all over Japan today. Not everyone in Japan has positive associations with this flag, but despite this, it’s still an icon of Japanese imperialism and the Japanese military.

It’s also commonly used amongst fishermen before they set out for a day of fishing as a type of good luck charm. 

This flag is also used as a symbol for numerous events and traditions in Japan and is even emblazoned on a headband worn by women while giving birth.

These headbands are called hachimaki, and will usually have phrases on them as well. Hachimaki are also sometimes worn by sports spectators, students, office workers, and tradespeople. 

What Does The Red Sun Mean In Japan?

The red sun, as well as the sun in general, has always been a very important symbol in Japanese culture. Its symbolic origins can be traced back centuries in association with the royal families of Japan.

The red sun would be seen for centuries as a symbol of Japan, often represented in art and literature, and hung through various parts of the country for numerous reasons. 

It has been a long-held belief that Japanese emperors were connected to Amaterasu, the sun goddess and one of the most revered deities in the Shinto faith.

The bloodline that continued to reign over Japan as emperors and empresses for multiple centuries would continue to be respected and revered due to their divine ancestry. 

Current Discourse Surrounding The Japanese Flag 

While Japan has accepted certain customs surrounding their country’s flag for many decades, there continue to be disagreements about some of them.

In particular, disagreements surrounding when and where the flag should be used is common, especially in Japanese schools.  

There have also been a lot of changes to old customs for many reasons. For example, many homes and businesses used to hang a flag outside of their homes, especially during holidays.

This used to actually be a requirement, but is no longer considered necessary, and, as such, most people choose not to do this anymore. 

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.