The Japanese flag is an immediately recognizable emblem of the island nation, a brilliant red circle stamped on a pure white background. It's simplicity belies it's cultural importance to the Japanese and although you may think of the flag as a mainstay of Japan dating back at least 100 years, until 1999, the flag - known as the Nisshōki or Hi no maru - was designed completely differently.
Okay, maybe not completely differently.
This tweet appeared in my feed early this morning:
In 1999, Japan redesigned its flag. pic.twitter.com/qqfezXbns0
— M. (@Owaahh) February 3, 2018
At first, I was confused. Surely this was one user's cheeky dig at the relative simplicity of the Japanese national flag.
But I looked closer.
Okay, the shade of red has changed ever so slightly and, wait a second, is the circle a little closer to the centre?
Maybe this is real.
Maybe Japan did redesign their flag in 1999.
After a little research into the history of the Japanese flag, I discovered that the original flag was officially proclaimed as a flag for merchant ships in 1870 but that it was in use long before that date.
The exact origin of the sun-disc flag is unknown, but has been seen as early as the 12th Century, when samurai painted the red disc on folding fans known as gunsen.
From 1870 to 1999, the flag was cast in a 7:10 ratio - seven units wide, ten units long. Although the original law decreed the red circle to be in the centre, it was usually one one-hundredth closer to the hoist.
In 1999, a bill was proposed to the national Government that would officially recognise both the flag and Japan's national anthem and on August 9 that year, the Law Concerning the National Flag and National Anthem was enacted. Thus, strangely, before this day there was no official national flag of Japan and no official national anthem.
Within the law, the flag was redesigned in a 2:3 ratio - two units wide, three units long. The red disc was shifted towards the exact centre of the flag. However, no official proclamation was made on what colour the red disc should be.
The passing of the bill was somewhat controversial as the Japanese had worn the flag during World War II and since that time, it had been associated with their militaristic history. It's use in Japanese schools was still widely debated and passage of the bill was seen as a tendency towards conservatism and a return to the militaristic past.
Here the two flags are side by side.
Who knew flags were so fascinating?
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