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Shonai Domain (Japan)

Last modified: 2023-06-03 by zachary harden
Keywords: japan | boshin civil war | shogunate | shonai |
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[Flag of Fukushima Domain]
image by Kazutaka Nishiura and Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 23 March 2014

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Shonai Domain Flag

Located at Yamagata Prefecture. Last lord's name: Sakai Tadamichi. They used white field charged with red disc and black three stars as domain's ensign.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 23 March 2014

2nd Battalion of Shonai Domain

[Flag of Fukushima Domain]
image by Jaume Ollé and Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 23 March 2014

The 2nd Battalion of Shonai Domain used a blue war flag charged with an inverted Big Dipper (Ursa Major) called HAGUN-SHICHISEI-KI, 破軍七星旗 meaning "defeating the enemy’s seven stars".
According to HOKUTOKI YURAIKI (the origin story of this flag, written by Genba Sakai, the chief of 2nd Battalion of Shonai Domain), by placing the constellation upside-down and therefore the seventh star in the first position, the star points toward position of the Polar Star, which is called HAGUNSEI, meaning "a star to defeat the enemy". In ancient China during the 3rd century B.C., it was said that an army fighting toward the top star would win and an army fighting behind the top star would lose - the star had the power to defeat an enemy.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 23 March 2014

I don't know which star is the 1st, originally, and which is the 7th. But over here, the two stars that are now closest two the ground normally point together to the North Star. In the flag, they seem to point to the ground.
The story is reminiscent of the story about the Raven banner: Both teach you the difference between good circumstances and bad circumstances- For the Raven banner, it's a matter of attacking with a sea wind, so you can row away afterwards while sailing foe will be unable to reach you. Here, it seems to be about positioning your opponent with the sun in his eyes: Fighting towards the North means your opponents are looking South.
There's one problem, though: In the third century B.C. there was no North Star. Before that, Beta Ursae Minoris had been a fairly usable North Star, and in times AD, Polaris (Alpha Ursae Minoris) has become the North Star, but in between there really wasn't anything very usable. Still, I wonder whether the constellation this story was linked to wasn't originally supposed to be Ursa Minor. Its two brightest stars are the older and newer North Stars, thus just one of its stars is enough to point to the North, whereas Ursa Major needs two stars to point in a direction, of only the current North Star. And with the progression from one North Star to the other, the constellation would have to be turn
upside down for the story to remain as true as possible.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 24 March 2014

Yes, The star closest to hoist is the 1st star pointing Polar Star.
The flag has a hoist on left side. The three white ones are not a part of the flag design but cloth tube to fix the flag to the flagstaff. This is common style tube called CHI 乳 in traditional Japanese Hatasashimono.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 24 March 2014

I'm not sure how that one star would be able to point. But also, apart from the two stars together now pointing into the ground, I don't see how flipping the constellation would make any difference for pointing to the North Star.
If the lower hoist of a Japanese flag is the place of honour, then it makes at least some sense, but otherwise I don't get it. The only effect I see that if this is Ursa Major, you now have to look at the other side of the flag to see it as it's visible in the night sky.
When is the oldest source for Hokutoki Yuraiki? Does it describe someone doing/ordering the flipping? Or does it merely give an explanation for the current flipped image, that may not be historical?
I've draw a version with transparent holes on both sides. I take it the "left side" means the dexter side of the  flag, but since the ones on the sinister side look like openings as well, I made them transparent too. Since no specific colours were mentioned, I used standard Blue, Red, and White. For the constellation I've followed Jaume, but I've assumed yellow as the colour. As a side-effect, it's 1/20th of the size of the other image.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 24 March 2014

Sorry but I don't have further information on this flag but think they might consider the Polar Star as an enemy and believe flipping flag upside down could defeat the enemy.
Hokuto Yuraiki was written by chief of 2nd battalion of Shonai Domain himself ( 1843-1876). As my text says Ancient China 3rd Century B.C. used same idea for army flag.
Shonai Domain is located Yamagata Prefecture Tsuruoka City.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 25 March 2014

I was trying to determine whether it was written contemporary with the flipping, or whether that had occurred much longer ago. It would, of course, be interesting to learn more about the Chinese flag, though.
It's not like Croatian ceremonial flags, where a tube is three parts with openings in between. It's more like the Tibetan regiment flags that have a tube, with in the middle a lozenge with a lace, so you can tighten the tube to the flag there. A chi then has three such tightening points (they're just not lozenges).
Do we have terms for how a flag is fixed to its bearer, BTW?
Slightly idealised, but I left in the chi patches in two colours as I don't know which colour might be original. It's definitely a taller flag than we had before, which gives the constellation more space. (It also has one tail more than we had previously.)
I've used dark yellow for the stars, as that seems closest to the intended colour. There are a lot of different colours in them in the photograph, though, so it may be that in reality they are painted with a reflecting gold paint. If anyone ever visits the Chido Museum, please remember to check the actual flag.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 04 April 2014