List of Japanese Flags Over The Years | Amazing History Of The Japanese Flag

Here’s a list of Japanese flags over the years so you can brush up on Japanese history a little bit! 

Japan is known for its evolution and growth in every single field, you name it. Be it technology, culture, cuisines or their lifestyles, there is one thing that is constant – change!

So when we talk about “change” and evolution, for those of you who might have noticed (or not), the Japanese flags too have undergone changes over the years, correlating to the historic events in Japan. While some countries have had the same flag, ever since their inception, Japan is not one of them.

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The rectangular white banner with the crimson-red circle in the center you see currently, is the present flag of Japan, but is not the only flag of Japan, as there have been many others in the past. Pretty interesting isn’t it?

Well, if you are someone who is interested in history and culture, then this article will be the perfect read for you.

Check out the evolution of the Japanese flag over the years!

List of Japanese Flags Over The Years

The Heian Period Flag

Year: 794

The Heian Period Flag

The Heian period is known to be one of the last divisions in the history of Japan. It followed after the Nara period in Japan. This happened when the Japanese Emperor Kanmu moved to the then capital city of Japan, Heian-kyo. Today, Heian-kyo is called Kyoto.

This was the period when the Chinese influence that was in Japan began to decline and there was growth in the national culture of Japan.

The Heian Period Flag

During this time there were two opposing clans called the Taira and Minamoto clan that were individually fighting to gain dominance over Japan.

The Taira clan then waged a war against the Minamoto clan, which was called as the Genpei War, a national civil war.

So in opposition to the flag of the Taira clan which was a red flag that had gold and silver moon circles, the Minamoto clan chose a pure white flag.

The flag during this period of time, in Japan, was a combination of the battle flags of both clans, a red circle on a plain white background.

When the war concluded the Minamoto class emerged victorious and they formed the Kamakura Shogunate.

The Kamakura Shogunate Flag

Year: 1192

After the Minamoto clan won the Genpei War against the Taira clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo founded the Kamakura Shogunate and he became the very first shogun (ruling military dictator) of this Shogunate.

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He governed from his residence at Kamakura along with the Japanese Emperor and his Imperial Court, which was in the Emperor’s palace in the city of Heian-kyo (present day Kyoto), as a figurehead.

Shogunate flag

During this period, the flag of the Kamakura Shogunate was a reddish-orange coloured flag that was rectangular shaped and had two even slits at the right hand corner of the flag, while a yellow circle was printed at the left-hand corner of the flag.

The Kamakura Shogunate Flag

This period in Japan is well known for the emergence of the samurai and the warrior class of people. They also became well-known for the establishment of feudalism in Japan.

The Tokugawa Shogunate Flag

Year: 1603

The Tokugawa Shogunate was also known as the Edo Shogunate or the Edo period, because the shogun’s residence was at Edo. They were the very last feudal military government in Japan.

After the Battle of Sekigahara, when they emerged victorious, Tokugawa Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Tokugawa was the very first shogun of this Shogunate and he ruled and governed Japan from the Edo Castle in Edo (presently called Tokyo) along with the Japanese magnates called the Daimyo Lords, who belonged to the samurai class of people.

The Tokugawa Shogunate ruled for a period of 265 years, from 1603 to 1868 until the Meiji Restoration.

The Tokugawa Shogunate Flag

The flag of the Tokugawa Shogunate was a very simple flag that had a white background with a black block stripe that passed through its center.

During the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan’s economic growth saw a boost and urbanization took place as well. That’s when the merchant class of people rose and the urban culture, called Ukiyo, soon crept into Japan.

This is when the Tokugawa Shogunate began to decline, marking the final years of the Tokugawa or Edo period and was called as the “Bakumatsu”, which meant “The final act of the Shogunate”, during 1853 to 1868, which lead to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, forming the ‘Empire of Japan’, under their Meiji Government.

The Empire of Japan Flag

Year: 1868

The Empire of Japan Flag

This was the beginning of the Meiji Era in Japan, after the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown by the Imperial supporters and it restored the rule of the Imperialists in Japan under the 122nd Emperor of Japan, Meiji.

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The Meiji Restoration was a huge political event in Japan and came to be called as the “Renovation” or “Renewal” of Japan.

At this period of time, Japan saw revolutionary changes in its political and social structure. Japan began adopting ideas from the West and incorporated new production methods, bringing in further industrialization.

During this period of time, it was almost like Japan had two flags. Even though the flag of Japan during the Meiji Restoration period was a rectangular white flag with a reddish sun disc in the center, another flag began gaining popularity because it was a symbol of the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army. This flag was called as the ‘Rising Sun Ensign’.

The Rising Sun Flag

The Rising Sun Flag

The Rising Sun Flag was the Naval and Army symbol of Japan during the Meiji Restoration period and the flag consisted of a design that had a while background with a red sun disc (centered towards the left of the flag), along with 16 red rays that emanate from the disc, symbolizing the sun.

The Allied Occupation Of Japan Flag

Year: 1945

The Allied Occupation Of Japan Flag

The Allied Powers, (consisting of Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union) formed a union and occupied Japan in 1945, after World War 2, once Japan got defeated.

During 1945 to 1952, the United States led Allies, headed by Army General Douglas MacArthur, began to socially, politically and economically reform Japan, including making military changes.

The flag during this period (1945-1952) in Japan was a blue and red swallowtail (a flag with a V-shaped cut at the right end, letting the end points of the flag fly in two directions) flag, with blue covering the top half of the flag, along with red covering the bottom half of the flag.

The Flag of Japan

Year: 1952

The Flag of Japan

In 1949, Army General Douglas MacArthur made a change in the structure of the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP). This was when the power of the native rulers of Japan began to increase and they began to gain power over Japan again. That’s when the Treaty of San Francisco came about.

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Finally in 1952, The Treaty of San Francisco (the Treaty of Peace) led to the reestablishment of Japan. This ended the occupation of the Allies in Japan and that’s when Japan restored its full sovereignty.

After the Japanese native rulers got back Japan, the flag was brought back to the Japanese flag which was the civil and state flag of Japan and also the ensign of the Empire of Japan, which was a reddish sun-disc which wasn’t centered, but was 1% left-centered (towards the hoist). 

The reddish colour of the disc was a dull or faded red shade.The ratio of the flag was 7:10.

The National Flag of Japan

Year: 1999

Japanese Flags

Well, if you are confused looking at the flag of Japan since 1952, comparing it to the Japanese national flag since adopted in 1999 because they look almost the same, well, they aren’t the same, but are definitely similar.

The present national flag of Japan is made in the ratio 2:3, where you will observe that the disc is a bright crimson-red colour, on a white rectangular background. Here, the sun-disk is perfectly centered in the middle of the flag. 

Today, this flag has become the official flag and the National flag of Japan, which is used as the civil and state flag and civil and national state ensign of Japan.

This flag is now officially called as the “Flag of sun”, or Nisshoki, but most often, most people know and call it the “Circle of the sun” or Hinomaru.

While this flag became the civil ensign in 1870, it also became the official National Flag of Japan only in 1999.

Japan: The Land Of The Rising Sun

Well, it is no secret that Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun and I’m sure most of you did know why – because the country is located very close to where the sun rises, right?

Well, while undoubtedly that is also true, the history of the Japanese flags will offer you more of a historical insight into why Japan actually got this nickname and this is because Japan is known to embody the sobriquet (or nickname) of the country.

The final takeaway

The Japanese have many types of flags, like governmental flags, military flags, historical flags, prefectural and municipal flags and imperial flags, but their national flags have been one of the most prominent and distinct features of Japan and the Japanese heritage.

The flag of a country is one of its most integral components because a flag is a representation, a representation of unity, a representation of community and belongingness.

Flags are symbols that reassure the citizens that they belong to the country, sharing the same culture, beliefs and heritage.

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