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Japanese military flags

Last modified: 2023-06-03 by zachary harden
Keywords: military flags: japan | sun (red) | rays | rising sun |
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The Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are the unified military forces of Japan that were established in 1954. Controlled by the Ministry of Defense, it consists of an Army (GSDF), Navy (MSDF) and Air Force (ASDF). Because of constraints in Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the JSDF acts in national defense and UN peacekeeping operations.

Ground Self-Defense Forces

[Self-Defense Forces]
image by Kazutaka Nishiura, 18 March 2014 and Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 25 June 2014
Proportions: ~8:9 [FIS Code]

This flag was adopted by a Law/Order/Decree published in the Official Gazette of 30 June 1954.
Christopher Southworth, 5 May 2004

The Army Flag is often quoted in ratio 8:9, but this is only approximate. This is because it is only the length that is prescribed as 108.9 cm, and the angle of the diagonal is 50°. The trigonometry thus yields the height to approximately 91.378 cm.
Željko Heimer,
5 May 2004

Is the image of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces flag on the fotw websites in error? The image, credited to Željko Heimer, shows the first gyronny segment/ray (ie on top next to the hoist) to be white, then alternating white and red. The Wikipedia image shows the design with the first ray on the top from the hoist as red. I have reviewed an image of the JSDF flag in one of Nozomi Kariyasu's books (Pictorial Book of Military Flags, Roundels & National Flags of the World) and it shows the same illustration as Wikipedia. "Flags of the World" by EMC Barraclough and WG Crampton (1978) shows the JSDF flag as being the same as Wikipedia. MJ Viera has a comment dated 27 June 2005 that the JSDF use the red sun Hinomaru flag as the national standard, but only the Maritime SDF fly the rayed Rising Sun flag. Is the Ground Defense Forces flag still actually used??
Ralph Kelly, 10 September 2013

Yes, the wikipedia image is correct and the flag is still used by GDF.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 10 September 2013

Well, if there's only one version, those would be the changes. What would the reverse of the flag look like, BTW?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 10 September 2013

The law does not mention about the reverse of this flag.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 18 March 2014

Construction Sheet
[Self-Defense Forces]
image by Željko Heimer and Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 25 June 2014

The central red disk diameter is prescribed to 41.5 cm. The rays are made so that the edges they form angles 19, 21, 26 and 24 degrees. The "indentations" to make place for the yellow irregular triangles along borders are such that the imaginary line extending from the edge between two fields is 5.6 cm long from the edge.
Željko Heimer, 5 May 2004

Naval Ensign

[Naval Ensign]
image by Željko Heimer
2:3 [FIS Code]

Japan 1913 and 1941: the ensign is the same as today, white with a red disc slightly to the hoist with rays (16 to be precise) extending from the disc to the edges of the flag. The rays are the same as if the flag were gyrony of 32 gules and argent.
Nathan Augustine, 05 December 1995

The naval flag was introduced in 1889 and that has 16 rays extending from the Sun "Mon" to the edge of the flag. The flag was "banned" by the Treaty of San Francisco which prevent Japan from having her own armed forces, but in 1952 she started to build up "self-defence" forces. The naval forces readopted the naval ensign in 1954.
I believe, but may be mistaken, that the naval flag was also the war flag in the Second World War, in which case it would have been used by Japanese soldiers and bases. This may be why you think they removed the rays from the flag, but in fact both flags existed at the same time. The modern land "self-defence" force uses a flag with 8 rays with a gold edge (made of two shallow triangles on each edge).
Graham Bartram, 9 November 1998

Graham is correct in noting that both the army and the navy had a version of the Rising sun flag (Hinomaru) with rays; the naval version was off-set, with the red sun closer to the lanyard side, while the army's version (which was part of the regimental colors) was more centered.
Today, the Jietai (Japanese Self-Defense Forces) use the red sun Hinomaru flag as the national standard, but only the Maritime Self-Defense Forces fly the rayed Rising Sun flag.
M.J. Vieira, 27 June 2005

The Naval Ensign was first adopted on October 7, 1889 and used until the end of World War II and re-adopted on June 30, 1954 as a Naval Ensign used by Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 6 February 2000

Anyone who has tried to draw the Japanese naval ensign will know that the 32 rays placed at 11.25degree intervals will not fit correctly (i.e. with rays at the corners) into a flag of 2:3. As far as I can see, there are two ways to do it, one is to alter the proportions of the flag, and the other is to adjust the rays, and for years I wondered how the Japanese did it?
A couple of years ago I managed to get a faxed copy (from Whitney Smith) of the law, which revived the flag, and (whilst it was in Japanese) fortunately had an illustration.
Christopher Southworth, 24 January 2003

I asked a JAVA member who is working for flag manufacturer about your question. His answer is to adjust rays to the flag but not change  proportion. Actually they hide rays with hoist edge. He has an official document showing flag specification but there is no statement on how to adjust rays  with 11.25 degree intervals. He is surprised to see Christopher notice this strange specification on naval ensign.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 27 January 2003

based on an illustration attached to the 1954 Law that restored it (a copy of which I have on file) and upon the 1939 Edition of the Flaggenbuch [neu39] a disc diameter of 1/2 the width, with its centre located on the horizontal meridian 7/18 of flag length from the hoist. In other words in a flag of 12 units x 18 units the disc is 6 units in diameter and is centred at a point 7 units from the hoist.
Chris Southworth, 20 February 2007

The diameter of sun disc is 1/2 of width according to laws of 7 October 1889 for the Imperial naval ensign and on 30 June 1954 for the Marine Self Defence Force ensign.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 20 February 2007

Masthead Pennant

[Masthead Pennant]
by Zachary Harden, 28 February 2018

I have a streamer pennant from World War II. It has the red circle with 8 rays on the wide end. the pennant is 4 inches wide by 18 feet long. red design on a very long white wool, pointed pennant. I collect Japanese navy flags and I have been told it is a ship commission pennant.
Jim Bogdan, 29 April 2000

The masthead pennant, in its present form, was adopted by Naval Insignia Order No. 11 of 11 January 1914; it was abolished following the Japanese surrender of 14 August 1945 and re-introduced by Defence Agency Notice No. 2 dated 28 January 1956.
Christopher Southworth, 2 May 2004

The triangular pennant is in ratio between 1:40 and 1:90, with the hoist part in ratio 2:3, containing a simplified variant of the naval ensign - the sun disk being in its center, with diameter half the hoist size. The eight rays are such to cover at edges about 1/5 of the hoist size, the diagonal rays border only with the top and bottom sides.
Željko Heimer, 2 May 2004

This is a commanding officer's pennant used Jan. 30, 1914-1945.

The commanding officer's pennant was re-adopted on Jan. 28, 1956 for the Maritime Self-Defense Force.

During Jan. 30, 1914 - Oct. 7, 1889 the commanding officer's pennant had 16 rays with red disc like a Naval ensign and from Oct. 7, 1889 - Oct 3, 1870 the pennant had a red disc-like Hinomaru.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 30 April 2000

Air Self-Defense Forces

[Air Self-Defense Force, 2001]
image by Kazutaka Nishiura, 14 October 2009

Air Self-Defense Force Flag was re-adopted on 19 March 2001. The cobalt blue flag charged with gold winged eagle ASDF cap emblem in the center.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 14 October 2009