On this day in 1854, Japan established the Hinomaru or Nisshoki, the familiar sun-disc design on its national flag. The Hinomaru was to be the official flag flown from its ships.
The bold, simple flag depicts a crimson circle representing the Sun set against a stark white background. In fact, the sun-disc flag was not new in Japan; it had actually been a common emblem for the empire for centuries. In early Japanese history, the Hinomaru motif was used on the flags of daimyos, or feudal landholders, and samurai. The first recorded use of the sun-motif flag in Japan dates back to 701, when Emperor Mommu used a flag depicting the Sun in his court.
But it was during the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that both the Sun disc and Rising Sun Ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy became significant symbols for the emerging Japanese empire. The symbols were used prominently in propaganda posters, textbooks, pamphlets, films, and more as a source of pride and patriotism. During that time, citizens were required to display the flag in their homes during national holidays, celebrations, and other state occasions.
It was during this period, on 7 August 1854, that the Tokugawa shogunate (then government) declared that all Japanese vessels should fly the Hinomaru flag as the official flag of Japan and to distinguish these vessels from those of other countries. Though the Hinomaru flag had been flown for centuries as the de facto flag of Japan, this was the first time the Hinomaru had been used as the national flag of Japan.
Though the flag continued to be regarded as the official national flag, there was no legal basis for this until 1999, when the National Flag and Anthem Act was put into effect, making the Hinomaru the legally-sanctioned, official flag of Japan. Public perception about the flag varies, however. Some Japanese associate the flag with Japanese militarism and its wars of aggression in World War II, viewing it as a symbol of ultra-nationalism. Others respect the flag and what it represents. Whatever the connotation it conjures, the Hinomaru remains a powerful and enduring symbol to the Japanese.
Caption: The first recorded use of the sun-motif flag in Japan dates back to 701, when Emperor Mommu used a flag depicting the Sun in his court.