What is the origin of Japanese rising sun flag? When did it become a national flag of Japan?


When we think about “hinomaru”, literally meaning is “rising sun”, it is the Japanese national flag.

The Japanese flag, the red in white, is very simply design compared with other nations’ flag. However, each element such as color and shape conveys many meanings.

The Japanese have been using this design for many years. Let’s look into why people start using this design and when it became national flag.


The origin of ‘hinomaru”.


People call the Japanese flag as ‘hinomaru”, in general; however, it is called as “Nissyoki”, the flag of the rising sun officially.

The red circle in the center represents the sun. Why the sun is the motif of the flag?

From the ancient era, the sun is important for Japanese because Japanese are agricultural people.

A goddess named Amaterasu-omikami, who is believed to be an ancestor of emperor’s family, is the goddess of the sun. This reflects that Japanese believe in heliolithic religion.

The nation’s name, Nippon (Japan) is from “Under the sun”, which means the place where the sun rises. In that meaning we would say that Japanese culture and the sun are associated with each other closely.

We can find the description that “hinomaru” was used as the national flag as old as in “Shoku nihongi”, an ancient historical book of Japan.

It is said that the government raised the flag of the sun at Choga, a ritual that prince and all the officials congratulated the emperor on every New Year’s Day at the Council Hall in the Imperial Palace under the Japanese laws and ordinance systems, in A.D. 701. However, the ancient design of the flag was not the crimson-red in white.



Since the ancient era, it has been quite rare that red represents the color of the sun. In general, the sun was yellow or gold and the moon was depicted white or silver.

It is unknown and no clear-cut reason why the current design is adopted as the flag. One said that the Genpei War (A.D. 1180-1185), a fight between Taira and Minamoto clan in the late Heian period (A.D. 794-1185), influenced.

By the Heian period, the design of the golden sun in crimson-red with silvery moon was the imperial standard, which is the symbol of the royal court.

From there, the war of Gempei was fought: Taira clan, who claimed they were the imperial forces, raised the “golden disc-centered in crimson-red” and their opponent, Minamoto clan raised the “red disc-centered in white”.

As the result of the war, Taira clan fell and Minamoto clan established the government of samurai warrior. Since then, it is said that hinomaru, “crimson-red disc centered in white” flag, started passing down as a symbol of the unification of the whole country.



Also, red and white represent good luck in Japan originally. Therefore, some say that the flag color came from there.


When did it become the national flag?

Since the war of Gempei, hinomaru, crimson-red in white, had been used as the national flag; however, it has not become a national flag until the law, the Law Regarding National Flag and National Anthem was taken effect in 1999 (Heisei 11).

Before this law was adopted, there was not any law that provides this design is the one as the national flag of Japan, and the ratio of crimson-red to white varied from current flag.

After the establishment of this law, it was clearly provided the design of the flag that the proportion to height to width is 2 to 3, the diameter of the disc of hinomaru height is 3 to 5 that occupies the center of the flag, and the sun is crimson-red in white background.

The definition of red and white have significant meanings respectively. It is said that red represents “philanthropy” and “vitality”, and white represents “sacredly” and “purity”.



The design of the flag has been passed down since ancient time. If the outcome of the Gempei War is different, another center color of the hinomaru might have been used today.

Although the design of the Japanese national flag is simple, various events and thoughts create the current flag. We would like to hold the dignity in further future.



© 2021 Japan Culture Lab