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Royal flags of Japan, circa 1876

Last modified: 2014-05-29 by zoltán horváth
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Emperor's flag, circa 1876
[Emperor's flag, circa 1876]
by Jaume Ollé

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The device in the center of the Emperor's flag is not simple gold disc but gold chrysanthemum with 16 petals which is exactly same as the one used in the current Japanese Emperor's flag.

The gold colour Kiku Mon in the original plate had been seemingly tarnished to black for the last 123 years (1876 thru 1999).

The flag plate was taken from Japanese flag book published in 1876 which is really precious material vexillologically, for the flag plate is a product of compromise between the Japanese traditional flag concept and the Western traditional flag concept.

The Emperor's flag was long called Nishiki no Mihata in Japanese (The Emperor's gold flag is a straight English translation) actually the flag was made from precious woven silk; the field colour of which was vermilion as Sun's colour at least to average Japanese people the sun looks vermilion (not red but close to bright orange) at any place in Japan with textile pattern with other colour silks. The device was the Emperor's family's (Royal family) emblem (Ka-mon) of gold 16 petals chrysanthemum and the flag proportion followed Japanese traditional flag as seen in lots of Daimyo flag (feudal principalities flags) i.e. 5 by 1 (length / width). I found some square flags in Daimyo flags but never rectangular flags which are quite popular in Europe at this time. (see: Feudal Flags)

The flag was used even at Meiji Restoration (in 1868) in other words Imperial Restoration which means Japanese political power was restored by Emperor from the strongest feudally principalities (Shogun in Japanese words). (see Daimyo Flags, 19th Century)

In the meanwhile, the current Emperor's flag was made in accordance with Western flag concept of a gold Emperor's family emblem in plain red field without any textile pattern and the flag proportion is 2 by 3. But it may mean every flag must follow Western flag concept.

I don't know if this theory is correct worldwide since flags evolve differently in each culture.

Anyway the Meiji government rushed to westernize Japan to catch up Europe and U.S. after a long-time isolation policy and changed Emperor's flag.

Now you see flag plate in 1876-8 years after Meiji Restoration is very interesting one which is a texile pattern but 2 by 3 proportion . This shows a transition period in flag concept/tradition.

We are not 100% sure but in a fact there is a story that our national flag Hinomaru (sun disc flag) originated in a gold colour metal disc having a drawn crow believed to live in the sun which was placed on the top of a pole . There was another silver colour metal disc having two rabbits believed to live in the moon placed on the top of a pole .

According to Japanese old history book called  Zoku Nihon Shoki written in Year 797, these two disc shape tools on the top of poles were used in very important ceremonies like a Tenmu Emperor's accession in Year 701. The origin of the ceremony itself obviously had come from China.

The gold disc representing the sun was changed to a red disc and the silver disc was changed to white. I believe the white survives still now as colour of the field of Japanese national flag.

According to Mr Miru Takano, unlike the current ones the flag was green field again with textile pattern charged with a silver (not gold) 16 petals chrysanthemum.

The device( Kiku mon) seems to have been tarnished to red on the plate for the last 123 years.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 10 December 1999

The flag plate of Emperor's flag taken from Japanese flag book published in 1876 is found to be incomplete in comparison with design specification of the flag shown in the official gazette.

The emperor's flag was adopted on October 27, 1870 as a flag used for Japanese Navy. The flag was two faces i.e. obverse has a gold disc on red field with gold texture. The reverse has a silver disc on red field with gold texture. The proportion of the flag was 2 by 3 and diameter of the disc 3/5 of length and the disc set 1/20 towards hoist. The texture pattern is more complicated than the above plate.

The Emperor's flag was abolished on December 10, 1875.

On the same day Japanese Imperial family's flag was adopted to be used for Japanese Navy. The imperial family means Empress, Empress Dowager, Crown prince, Imperial prince, Crown princess, Imperial princess.

The flag has a red disc on blue-green field with gold texture and reverse is the same as obverse. The proportion and position of the disc is totally same as the Emperor's flag and was also abolished on December 10 1875.

There existed two different Emperor's flags used in those days. On October 28, 1871 another flag was adopted as the Emperor's flag at visit. The flag has gold 16 petals chrysanthemum on red field without texture pattern and reverse is the same as obverse. The flag proportion is 3 by 4 smaller than the other flag so a cavalry-man can hold the flag and leads Emperor's carriage. The flag was abolished on September 30, 1889.

On December 10 1875, a new Emperor's flag and Imperial family's flag were adopted. The Emperor's flag has "white" 16 petals chrysanthemum on red field without texture pattern and the flag proportion is 2 by 3. The new Imperial family's flag has "white" 16 petals chrysanthemum on dark blue field without texture pattern. Both reverse is same as obverse. These flags were abolished on September 30, 1889.

On Apr 14 1873 the Empress's flag at her visit was adopted. The flag has gold 16 petals chrysanthemum on purple field without texture pattern. The flag proportion was 15 by 23 and reverse was same as obverse. The Empress's flag at her visit was abolished on September 30, 1889 when the swallow tale red flag with gold 16 petals chrysanthemum was adopted.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 26 December 1999