The 6 historic flags of Japan

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Many know the flag Hinomaru, which has been the current flag of Japan since 1870. However, before this flag came into use, there were other flags or symbols used to represent the country, some separate territory, or some specific period in Japan's history.

Check out the chronology of Japanese flags below:

Observation: Japan only started using a national flag in the period of Tokugawa Shogunate. Before that, Japan, having been ruled by different clans, had emblems known as Mon (紋 lit.: “crest”) that represented the clans that ruled in their respective periods, but it is not known if they were considered a national symbol.

1. Kamakura Shogunate (1185 – 1333)

The 6 historic flags of japan

Initially, this was the emblem used to represent the Minamoto clan that ruled Japan between the 12th century and the 14th century.

Later, with the fall of the Minamoto clan caused by a coup d'état by the Ashikaga clan in 1333, Japan was left without a symbol to represent it as there was no government between 1333 and 1336.

Then in 1336 Takauji Ashikaga seized power and established a new shogunate and a new emblem was imposed to represent the new government.

2. Ashikaga Shogunate (1336 – 1573)

The 6 historic flags of japan

This was the emblem that represented the rule of the Ashikaga clan between the 14th and 16th century. However, the emblem ceased to be used after Yoshiaki Ashikaga was deposed, thus beginning the Azuchi-Momoyama period.

3. Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573 – 1600)

The 6 historic flags of japan
Left: Mon of the Oda Clan (1573 – 1583) and on the right: Mon of the Toyotomi Clan (1583 – 1600)

The Oda clan and the Toyotomi clan were responsible for the end of the Ashikaga Shogunate and thus ruled Japan for 27 years. Subsequently, Japan had two emblems to represent the government of the two clans.

In 1600, the Azuchi-Momoyama period comes to an end and the Tokuagawa clan establishes a new shogunate.

4. Tokugawa Shogunate (1600 – 1868)

The 6 historic flags of japan
Left: Flag of the Tokugawa Shogunate and right: Mon of the Tokugawa Clan

For the first time, Japan had a flag to represent its state. The Tokugawa Shogunate's flag is white with a black stripe in the middle.

However, although there is a flag to represent this period, the Mon of the Tokugawa Clan is generally used to represent the period in historical context.

Subsequently, the flag and emblem were replaced by the Hinomaru after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, which is still in use today.

5. Empire of Japan (1868 – 1947)

The 6 historic flags of japan
Left: Hinomaru used until today and right: Kyokujitsuki used in wars and now used by the Japanese Navy

Hinomaru is white with a red disk representing the Rising Sun. The flag was first used in 1870, after the end of feudal Japan and Meiji Restoration. Officially, it was named Nisshoki (日章旗 lit.: “Sun Brand Flag”), however it was only made official in 1999, many years after the dissolution of Imperial Japan.

In the image above on the right is the kyokujitsuki (Rising Sun Flag). It is used by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force officially.

However, Kyokujitsuki also carries the nationalist and imperialist feeling of Japan, especially in World War I and II because it was used by the Japanese army at those times.

Thus, the liberal use of Kyokujitsuki in Japan has now become controversial in China and Korea due to historical conflicts.

 6. Hinomaru Flag (1947 – present)

The 6 historic flags of japan
This is the (slightly) modified version of Hinomaru. The change occurred in the color of the circle, changed to a darker tone.

The current flag is a modified version of the Hinomaru and was only made official in 1999. Its origin goes back a long time, it was in 1870 that Hinomaru was made official as a merchant flag for the first time. It took over 100 years to become Japan's official symbol.

If you want to know more about the Japanese flag, we have an article that talks about the curiosities of the japan flag. If you liked the article share it and leave your comments.

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