Japan is an East Asian island country situated in the Pacific Ocean. Its Japanese name is Nihon and it is known officially as “The Land of the Rising Sun”. The characters of the name of the country mean “sun-origin”. According to legend, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, founded Japan in the 7th century bc and was an ancestor to its first emperor, Jimmu. Emperors were known as “the Son of the Sun” and often ascribed god-given power. A symbol arising from these origins is the national flag of Japan, a sun on a white background. It is over a thousand years old and one of the oldest flag designs known to man.
The earliest evidence of the sun flag of Japan dates back to 1184, although it is believed to have existed centuries earlier. The original designer of the flag is unknown, though a popular legend tells of the story of the Buddhist priest Nichiren; during the 13th century Mongol invasion, he presented the flag to the shogun to carry into battle.
The flag itself is a filled crimson circle on a white background. According to law, the circle must comprise three fifths of the width of the flag, and the rectangle must be at a 3:2 width/height ratio. The simplistic design appeals to the dualist nature of Buddhist and Shinto philosophies, with its hot red against the cool white background, and the circle against the rectangle of the flag itself.
The current form of the flag was adopted in 1854 for use at sea, with acceptance on land increasing slowly over the next few years. In 1870, due to increased merchant and diplomatic affairs with Europe, the flag’s design was made official. Naval vessels were allowed to fly a slightly different version, that had rays of the sun traveling out to the edge of the flag. The Prime Minister laid out the rules for its use, which included removal only at night. Any ship found not flying the flag during the day was to be treated as a pirate ship.
To regularize flag laws dating from the century earlier, the Japanese parliament officially adopted the flag design in 1999. This was met with resistance from pacifists, as they saw it as a reminder of Japan’s militaristic past. It flies over Japan today, one of the oldest and most recognizable flags in the world.