The flag of Japan is simple, but rich with historical and social significance. Japan’s national flag is a white rectangle with a large red circle or disk in the center. The official name for the flag is Nisshoki, or sun mark flag in Japanese; however, the flag is commonly known as HInomaru, or simply, sun disk.
In 1870, two proclamations by the Daijo-kan, the governing body of the Meiji Era, provided a design for the national flag of Japan. On February 27, 1870, the flag was adopted as the national flag for merchant ships; on October 27, 1870, the flag was adopted as the national flag for the Navy.
The red sun disk has been used for centuries on daimyos and samurai flags. Using this historical and social connotation, the government of the Meiji Era in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries exploited this image by using it in the armed forces, on propaganda posters, in textbooks, and in films as an emblem of patriotism and national pride. Japanese citizens were required by law to display the flag on national holidays and any other government-mandated occasion. After World War II, the American military occupying Japan restricted the flag’s use.
Due to its exploitation in propaganda schemes, the Japanese flag has differing connotations. Although many Japanese feel strongly about the flag’s use, viewing it as a symbol of a strong nation, to others, the flag is a reminder of extreme nationalism. Use of the flag is a sensitive, unresolved topic in schools and arguments about the flag’s presence have caused protests and lawsuits.
Arguments about the flag’s presence came to the forefront in 1999, when a Hiroshima school principal committed suicide because he could not resolve a disagreement between teachers and his school board about the flag’s use. Following this incident, the Japanese government passed The Law Regarding the National Flag and National Anthem, officially recognizing the Hinomaru as the national flag of Japan.