The Japanese Rising Sun flag has a dark history associated with it but despite this fact, it still keeps being used in pop culture. Muse, which is a British rock music group shot a music video that was meant to be fun and light-hearted but ended up causing a public outcry. The reason being that Japan’s Rising Sun flag was featured in the video for a brief moment and this made people very angry about the war past. Muse did not want to cause any more trouble and thus took to Twitter with an apology almost immediately, after which the band released another version of this video that had the Rising Sun imagery removed. The flag is a symbol of the imperialistic history of Japan along with everything terrible that occurred in the country’s past. It has also been noted that Westerners may feel that the design of the Rising Sun flag is much better than that of the current flag, which is why they use the imagery more frequently. This controversy concerning the Rising Flag also came about after one of the most popular singers in Japan, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, posed with the flag earlier in 2013. The images were apparently supposed to be used as New Year’s greetings but ended up angering the singer’s Korean fans so much that she had to cancel her scheduled tour in South Korea.
What is The History of the Japanese Rising Sun Flag?
Most people still consider the Rising Sun flag, which is a red circle surrounded by 16 sun rays, and the current Japanese national flag, which is simply a red circle in the middle (Hinomaru), very offensive. They are both a reminder of atrocities committed during the war as well as Japan’s colonialism.
The rising sun flag was a symbol of the Japanese empire during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Unfortunately, you can easily find pictures of the rising sun in TV shows, films, restaurants, and even clothing to name a few.
Hinomaru and the Rising Sun flag were both taken up in 1870 by the Mejji government, which had overthrown the federal government and introduced Japan to modernity in 1868. The rising sun flag then became the Japanese army’s official flag and Hinomaru became the national flag.
The rising sun flag accompanied the military troops as they were on their path of destruction while Hinomaru was also carried by the soldiers and raised whenever enemy territories were conquered by the Japanese forces. In December 1937, the Chinese city of Nanjing was captured by the Japanese forces and both flags were raised everywhere above the city on street corners, buildings, and walls. These flags were present as Japanese soldiers committed heinous acts such as rape and murder to an extent that the flags are a reminder of these atrocities and as such, they have become a controversial topic ever since. China and Korea still have many war victim survivors, particularly old women who were raped by these Japanese troops during the 2nd World War.
Since Japan was industrialized prior to the rest of Asia and generated a fierce military force capable and aiming to form a grand empire. This goal was fuelled by the belief that the Japanese were a superior race compared to the other ethnic Asian groups because they had progressed beyond Asia before everyone else. The Japanese administration, therefore, did not hesitate to treat Asians from the other countries i.e. Philippines, China, and Korea, as an inferior race to theirs.
An example of this would be the luring of young Korean and Chinese women by the Japanese colonial administration by promising them good jobs and an education. These women were instead made into ‘comfort women’ or sex slaves for the officers in the Japanese army. The China-based unit 731 was also responsible for performing all manner of experiments on people such as organ and limb reattachment or vivisection with anaesthesia. The aim of these experiments was to develop biochemical weapons for use by the Japanese army. The Rape of Nanking saw up to 300,000 innocent civilians, mostly women and children, being raped and massacred.
Back home, Japanese citizens would celebrate their victories in the war using both Hinomaru and the Rising Sun flag. Even though Japanese atrocities committed in Nanking were not reported widely, news reports often discussed military campaigns, which suggested a wide scale of killings.
At the time, the war culture ultimately thrived in Japanese society, as the Japanese did not seem concerned with what was happening to the citizens in their enemy countries. Hinomaru and the rising sun flag were even viewed as a symbol of resistance against any Korean or Chinese insurgencies and Western colonialism.
Recent Uses of the Rising Sun Flag
Until recently, the public mostly associated the rising sun flag with right-wing extremists who claim shamelessly that the Greater East Asian War, World War II before Japan’s defeat, was sacred. Actually, very few ordinary people have shown interest in waving the flag because the anti-military and anti-war sentiment remains strong.
In addition, the Japanese government still refuses to claim responsibility for what happened. The Japanese ministry of education has omitted or distorted the historical facts in textbooks used nationwide. The Japanese government also claims that the surviving comfort women lied and that they were prostitutes who offered to do what they did for the cause of the Empire.
Aside from that, Japanese retailers have also decided not to remove the image of the Rising sun flag from their merchandise i.e. key-chains or t-shirts. Considering the fact that the perpetrators who committed these atrocities refuse to admit to their wrongs, using the image of the rising sun flag symbolizes the imperialist and racist attitudes of that time, which is both enraging and concerning. It is unlikely that banning or limiting the use of the flag will solve the problem of reinforcing attitudes encouraging the crimes that happened during the war completely. However, the recurrent controversy surrounding the rising sun flag as well as other symbols linked to Imperial Japan are simply a reminder that the horrors of the 20th century are still fresh among the people.
Learn more history with our publications!