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Japanese Flags: Early Meiji Era

Last modified: 2014-10-18 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: meiji era: japan | hinomaru | rising sun |
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Some time ago I have sent (and improved) some images of Imperial Japanese Army flags. I have since found out that the dimensions were not in Anglo-American feet and inches, but in Japanese 'feet' (shaku) and 'inches' (sun). Accordingly the flag images have to be modified.
To put it simply, one 'shaku' equals exactly 10/33 of one metric metre. One 'sun' is one-tenth of a 'shaku', and a 'bu' is one-tenth of a 'sun'.
Miles Li, 20 April 2013

Actually, I need to amend a few things from the previous post. To begin with, I cannot back up my previous claim about the width of the fringes being 4 sun side; however, judging from a photo I found on the internet of the only surviving Infantry Colour (that of the 321st Infantry Regiment now on exhibition in Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo), the width of the fringes is roughly half the width of the white rectangle which bears the name of the regiment.
This leads to the dimensions of the flags themselves. In page 78 the book "Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment" by Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson, the illustration gives the dimensions of the Infantry Colour as 2 shaku 6 sun 4 bu wide, 3 shaku 3 sun long, with the white rectangle 7 sun wide, 8 sun long; that of the Cavalry Standard as 2 shaku each side, with the white square 5 sun each side.
The Japanese Wikipedia gives somewhat different dimensions, apparently quoting from official decrees: the Infantry Colour as 2 shaku 6 sun 4 bu wide, 3 shaku long; the Cavalry Standard as 2 shaku 1 sun each side; but nothing is said about the dimensions of the rectangles.
In improving my flag images, I took the flag dimensions as per Wikipedia, and the white rectangle dimensions as per Nakata's book. At least the Army National Flag, the Infantry Colour and its white rectangle all  agree in having the proportions of 7:8. The width of the fringes are also modified as appropriate. All dimensions are now stated as per Western practice, i.e. width to length.
Miles Li, 08 July 2013


1870 Decrees

1870 Merchant Ship's National Flag
[Flag in decree 57, 1870]
image by Antonio Martins


Army National Flag
Army National flag, 1870
image by Miles Li, 08 July 2013

In 1870 Daij˘-kan (the Great Council of State) made three separate promulgations regarding "national flag[s]".

  • February: the "Merchant Ship's National Flag" would be the Hinomaru, proportions 7:10, the sun disc 3/5 of the width of the flag, placed 1:100 the length of the flag towards the hoist.
  • May: the "Army National Flag" would be the 16-ray "rising sun" flag, 4 feet 4 inches by 5 feet, the sun disc 1/3 the length of the flag.
  • October: the "Navy National Flag" would be the Hinomaru, proportions 2:3, the sun disc 3/5 of the width of the flag, placed centrally; the Naval Jack identical except proportions 3:4.

So Japan of the early Meiji era ended up with four "national flags", with the army using the 16-ray "Rising Sun" some 20 years before the navy did; yet although the naval ensign at the time was the Hinomaru, it was technically a distinct flag from both the civil ensign and the naval jack!
Miles Li, 29-31 May 2008

Army National Flag
Adopted May 15, 1870; first presented January 23, 1874; abolished December 2, 1879. Dimensions: 4 shaku 4 sun wide, 5 shaku long (approx. 1.33m by 1.51m)
Miles Li, 20 April and 08 July 2013


1874 Changes

The sun ray width is not same but different according to construction sheet.

Imperial Army Infantry Regimental Color - 1874
Imperial Army Infantry Regimental Color - 1874sinister hoist icon
image by Kazutaka Nishiura, 20 March 2014

Adopted on Dec 12 1874 by Great Council of State Proclamation No 130.
16 sun rays with purple fringe and finial of Imperial crest of golden chrysanthemum on three facets. The regimental color was revised on Apr 9th 1917.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 20 March 2014


1879 Changes

Infantry Regimental Colour - 1879
Infantry Regimental Colour in 1879 sinister hoist icon
image by Miles Li, 08 July 2013

Infantry Colour
Adopted December 2, 1879 as Infantry Regimental Colour. Dimensions: 2 shaku 6 sun 4 bu wide, 3 shaku long (approx. 0.8m by 0.91m), with gold edges and purple fringes. A white rectangle 7 sun wide, 8 sun long (approx. 0.21m by 0.24m) at the lower hoist, with the name of the regiment written in black kanji. Black flagpole with golden finial in the form of three-sided chrysanthemum mon.
Miles Li, 20 April and 08 July 2013


Cavalry Standard - 1879
Cavalry/Artillary Colour in 1879 sinister hoist icon
image by Miles Li, 08 July 2013

1879: Daij˘-kan abolished the "Army National Flag" on December 2, in favour of the Infantry Regimental Colours and the Cavalry/Artillery Regimental Standards.
The Infantry Regimental Colour was 2 feet 6 1/4 inches by 3 feet in dimensions, whereas the Cavalry/Artillery Regimental Standard was 2 feet 1 inch by 2 feet 1 inch. Both were 16-ray "Rising Sun" flags with the sun disc at the centre, and a white panel at the lower hoist, 7 inches by 8 inches, bearing the name of the regiment in black kanji. There were gold edges on all four sides, plus purple (in practice a bluish purple) fringes on three sides and white sleeve at the hoist. Black flagpole with a finial displaying golden chrysanthemum (the Imperial Mon) on three facets.
It should be noted, however, that it took the Japanese some years to amalgamate their cavalry and artillery units into regiments. Regimental standards for artillery were abolished on January 10, 1885, without ever being presented, while the first regimental standard for cavalry was not presented until November 18, 1896.
Miles Li,
29-31 May 2008

Cavalry Standard
Adopted December 2, 1879 as Cavalry and Artillery Squadron Standard. Artillery Standards were abolished on January 10, 1885; Cavalry upgraded to Regimental Standards on November 18, 1896. Dimensions: 2 shaku 1 sun (approx. 0.64m) each side, with gold edges and purple fringes. A white square 5 sun (approx. 0.15m) each side at the lower hoist, with the name of the regiment written in black kanji. Black flagpole with golden finial in the form of three-sided chrysanthemum mon.
Miles Li, 20 April and 08 July 2013


Infantry Regimental Colour - 1879
Reserve Infantry Colour in 1879 sinister hoist icon
image by Miles Li, 31 May 2008

1885: On January 10 Daij˘-kan not only abolished the artillery regimental standards, but also instituted the Reserve Infantry Regimental Colours. These would have their fringes in red, but were otherwise identical to the purple-fringed (Regular) Infantry Regimental Colours.
In interesting aspect of the Imperial Japanese Army was that they tended to take their regimental flags into battle, even during World War II. Sometimes these got damaged so much that only the poles, the finials and the fringes remained - an example, from the 57th Infantry Regiment, is on display in Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Moreover, at the end of WWII the IJA was ordered to burn their regimental flags to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Allies. Only one complete flag, from the 321st Infantry Regiment, escaped annihilation, and is now also on display at Yasukuni Shrine.
Miles Li, 29-31 May 2008


1885 Changes

Imperial Army Reserve Infantry Regimental Color - 1885

Imperial Army Reserve Infantry Regimental Color - 1885 sinister hoist icon
image by Miles Li, 08 July 2013

Imperial Army Reserve Infantry Regimental Color - 1885sinister hoist icon
image by Kazutaka Nishiura, 20 March 2014

Reserve Infantry Colour
Adopted January 10, 1885 as Reserve Infantry Regimental Colour. Dimensions: 2 shaku 6 sun 4 bu wide, 3 shaku long (approx. 0.8m by 0.91m), with gold edges and red fringes. A white rectangle 7 sun wide, 8 sun long (approx. 0.21m by 0.24m) at the lower hoist, with the name of the regiment written in black kanji. Black flagpole with golden finial in the form of three-sided chrysanthemum mon.
Miles Li, 20 April and 08 July 2013

Adopted on Mar 9th 1885 by Great Council of State Proclamation No 6
16 sun rays with red fringe and finial of Imperial crest of golden chrysanthemum on three facets. All Reserve Infantry Colors were returned to Emperor in 1919.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 20 March 2014


1896 Changes

Imperial Army Cavalry Regimental Color - 1896
Imperial Army Cavalry Regimental Color - 1896
image by Kazutaka Nishiura, 20 March 2014

Adopted on Sep 7th 1896 by Imperial Ordinance No 304
16 sun rays with purple fringe and finial of Imperial crest of golden chrysanthemum on three facets.
The Regiment Color is smaller than Infantry Regimental Color and was revised on Apr 9th 1917.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 20 March 2014


Regular Infantry Battalions

Regular Infantry 1st Battalion:
Regular Infantry 1st Battalion
image by Miles Li, 09 July 2013

Regular Infantry 2nd Battalion:
Regular Infantry 2nd Battalion
image by Miles Li, 09 July 2013

Regular Infantry 3rd Battalion:
Regular Infantry 3rd Battalion
image by Miles Li, 09 July 2013

Source: "Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment" by Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson, page 78.
Miles Li, 09 July 2013

The way in which a second and third battalion flag is derived is fairly obvious. But is anything known about the meaning on the zig-zag pattern itself?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 11 July 2013

Unfortunately I cannot find the meaning of the zig-zag pattern. However such zig-zags are referred to in Japanese as "Mountain Shaped Lines", even when these appeared on naval flags.
Miles Li, 15 July 2013


Independent Infantry Battalion

Independent Infantry Battalion
image by Miles Li, 09 July 2013

(Note: The name of the battalion is written in black kanji at the bottom.)
Source: "Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment" by Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson, page 78.
Miles Li, 09 July 2013


Infantry School Instruction Battalion

Infantry School Instruction Battalion
image by Miles Li, 09 July 2013

Source: "Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment" by Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson, page 78.
Miles Li, 09 July 2013


Reserve Infantry Battalions

Reserve Infantry 1st Battalion:
Reserve Infantry 1st Battalion
image by Miles Li, 10 July 2013

Reserve Infantry 2nd Battalion:
Reserve Infantry 2nd Battalion
image by Miles Li, 10 July 2013

Reserve Infantry 3rd Battalion:
Reserve Infantry 3rd Battalion
image by Miles Li, 10 July 2013

Source: "Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment" by Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson, page 78.
Miles Li, 10 July 2013


National Infantry Battalions

National Infantry 1st Battalion:
National Infantry 1st Battalion
image by Miles Li, 10 July 2013

(Note: also the National Infantry Battalion flag during the Russo-Japanese War)

National Infantry 2nd Battalion:
National Infantry 2nd Battalion
image by Miles Li, 10 July 2013

Source: "Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment" by Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson, page 78.
Miles Li, 10 July 2013


Other flags

Guard Cavalry (Honor Guard) Pennon:
Guard Cavalry (Honor Guard) Pennon
image by Miles Li, 11 July 2013


Autumn Exercise Inspectorate:
Autumn Exercise Inspectorate
image by Miles Li, 11 July 2013


Autumn Exercise Umpire:
Autumn Exercise Umpire
image by Miles Li, 11 July 2013

Source: "Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Uniforms and Equipment" by Tadao Nakata and Thomas B. Nelson, page 78.
Miles Li, 10 July 2013


Topography Department Marker Flag:
Topography Department Marker Flag
image by Miles Li, 11 July 2013

Source: http://www.photoree.com/photos/permalink/1095694-40011478@N00
Miles Li, 11 July 2013