The national flag of Japan includes a simple red circle on a field of white. The red circle represents the sun, illustrating Japan’s nickname, “Land of the Rising Sun.” The Japanese flag is commonly known as Nisshoki or Hinomaru by the Japanese, the former of which translates to “flag of the sun” and the latter meaning “ball of sun.”
Japan’s flag wasn’t always a red circle against a white background. The flag went through many transformations throughout the island nation’s long history, with the current flag having been officially established as the country’s national flag on August 13, 1999.
Read on to learn more about the Japanese flag, its history, and its symbolism.
6 Facts about the Japanese Flags
1. The sun is deeply rooted in Japanese mythology
Much of Japan’s folklore revolves around the sun, with the Emperor believed to be the descendent of Amaterasu – the Shinto goddess of the sun.
While Shinto has thousands of deities, none was as celebrated and more important than Amaterasu. Japanese’s imperial line claims to be directly descended from this goddess and solidifies the importance of the sun in Japanese religion and culture.
2. The Japanese flag was first used in official government capacity in 1870
While the Japanese flag we know today was first used as a civil ensign for the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1870, it wasn’t officially adopted as the country’s national flag until August 13, 1999.
3. The flag has two names
While the official name of the Japanese flag is Nisshoki – meaning “flag of the sun” – it is more commonly referred to as Hinomaru, which translates to “ball of the sun” or “circle of the sun.” Both names hearken to Japan’s nickname – “Land of the Rising Sun” – which has been used for more than 1200 years.
4. The current flag represented the Genji clan
During the 12th century, the Genpei War occurred in Japan, with fighting happening between the Taira and Genji clans. The Taira clan’s flag depicted a gold sun against a field of white, while the Genji clan’s flag was the iconic red circle on a white background.
The Genji clan won the war and therefore became Japan’s rulers, elevating their flag to a national status.
5. The oldest surviving Japanese flag is in the Unpo-ji Temple
The oldest known Japanese flag dates back to the 16th century, but it is believed to be even older. Japanese officials claim that the flag was a gift from the Emperor Go-Reizei and dates back as far as the 11th century, though this has never been confirmed.
6. The Japanese military uses a different flag
Both the Japanese army and navy use a variation of the flag known as “The Rising Sun Flag,” which depicts a red circle on a white background with the addition of 16 spokes (meant to resemble sunbeams) from the center circle to the flag’s border.
Pre-WWII Japanese army and navy flags differed, with the army having the sun in the center with the navy having the sun slightly off-center and more to the left. The number of spokes remained the same.