Japanese “Rising Sun Flag” and Abe’s Bid to Reclaim Imperial Past: Resurgence of Wartime Ultranationalism

Red flag: China unnerved by Japan’s bid to reclaim imperial past



Less than a year after Japan nationalized the disputed Diaoyutai (Diaoyu or Senkaku) islands in the East China Sea, the country’s leadership under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to reclaim the nation’s imperial past by declaring that the official use of the Rising Sun Flag is not problematic, reports Duowei News, an outlet operated by overseas Chinese.

The Rising Sun Flag is controversial as it is viewed by most nations in Asia as a symbol of Japanese militarism and imperialism in the first half of the twentieth century. With its associations with Japan’s wartime ultranationalism, it has rarely been displayed in public after the country’s defeat in 1945.

However, the flag is still used by Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and Maritime Self-Defense Force to trace their lineage back to the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy.

Since the flag was widely used in occupied China and Japanese colonies including Korea and Taiwan before Japan’s surrender, Abe’s policy to recognize the Rising Sun Flag as a second national flag has been met with anger in Beijing and Seoul.

Professor Liu Jiangyong from the Institute of International Studies at Beijing’s Tsinghua University said Japan is the first nation to declare that it has two national flags and that Tokyo’s move pays respect to a regime which launched a war of aggression against its neighbors.

Meanwhile, the 22DDH helicopter carrier, the largest vessel of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force was officially named Izumo on Aug. 6.

This too is a name with some history.



The first Japanese warship to be named Izumo was a cruiser in service from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 through to the end of World War II and was the flagship of the Imperial Navy’s Third Fleet during the Battle of Shanghai between August and November of 1937.

Izumo was deployed to hit the positions of the Republic of China Army in the city but was almost sunk by torpedo boats and aircraft.

One of the air attacks directed against the Izumo was led by Claire Lee Chennault, the American aviator who later founded the Flying Tigers with American volunteer pilots before the US officially entered the war.

For this reason, the name Izumo also conjures up memories of the Japanese invasion from China’s perspective.

Yet even while pandering to a nationalistic constituency at home that swept his Liberal Democratic Party of Japan to victory in the House of Councillors election last month, there are signs that Abe is being conscious not to go too far with moves that could cause long-lasting damage to relations with China, South Korea and even the United States.

The Kyodo News based in Tokyo reported that the prime minister will not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15 on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945.

The site honors Japan’s war dead but also enshrines the spirits of officers executed for war crimes by postwar Allied tribunals.

Visits to the shrine by top Japanese government officials invariably draw protests from China and South Korea.


Xin Ming <xinming@bearcanada.com>

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