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The Banner of Golden Brocade

Article about: The Banner of Golden Brocade This is Part 1 of a 2-part story on Rising Sun Flags. Please do not interrupt until you see the photo saying “End of Part 1” “D’OH! --- but, it’s still an attrac

  1. #31


    Thank you for your hard work putting together this spectacular thread Nick . This is a wonderfully informative and extensive piece of work and well deserves to be at the pinnacle of the sticky list !

    We are the Pilgrims , master, we shall go
    Always a little further : it may be
    Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
    Across that angry or that glimmering sea...

  2. #32

    Question Status

    Great information sir.
    I'm still curious about the status of the standard flag of the native troops formed by the japanese. In this case, the indonesian "PETA" (Pembela Tanah Air).
    The Banner of Golden Brocade
    The Banner of Golden Brocade

    The Banner of Golden Brocade
    (I don't know if this standard original or not).

    About this standard, is the japanese army HQ ever record this? If there's any record, was it destroyed too along with the majority of the army standard? And is it official standard? Also is it have the same privilige and status with the army standard?

    Thank you.

  3. #33


    Thank you for your response. I am not familiar with that flag, but I doubt that army records would have anything on it. I am now busy with Part 2 of this story, which will be about the naval ensign, so when I finish with that I can revisit your flag and see whether they left anything in record. I have spec drawings on Manchurian infantry and naval banners, which seem to have been designed in Japan, but featuring the rising sun on flags in occupied lands probably would have been avoided, even if they had any involvement in your flag. The fact that it also uses the 16 rays (the imperial chrysanthemum also has 16 petals, so this is not a random number) makes that flag such an overt copy that I assume the design was done totally locally.

    A Rising Sun flag that Japan was indeed partly responsible for was the flag of Tibet. A Japanese monk who was in Tibet in the 1910s designed the flag as a kind of joke together with the commander of the Tibetan army. Dalai Lama the 13th came across this doodling later and must have liked it, as it was made their national flag in 1912.

    By the way, I found a clip with English subtitles that nicely recaps the history of the Meiji Restoration, features the last Shogun in the French general's uniform presented to him by Napoleon the 3rd, shows a brief glimpse of the Banner of Golden Brocade, what it meant to end up the enemy of the court and even the 2011 Fukushima disaster all in just 6 minutes. It is a trailor for a biographical drama series about this woman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamamoto_Yaeko

    Here's the clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-gYLBRFH8k

    Remember to come back in a few days for Part 2 of the Rising Sun story here.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture The Banner of Golden Brocade  

  4. #34


    Here is the last part of the Banner of the Golden Brocade. Please do not interrupt until the last photo says “The End”.

    Part 2 --- The Naval Ensign and Naval Jack

    The Hinomaru as maritime flag

    Dawn came late for the navy, as the Navy’s Rising Sun Banners for battleships only appeared in 1889, 19 years after the army launched its first Rising Sun flag. During those years, before the appearance of the rising sun, what served the navy as the naval ensign was the Hinomaru (日の丸Sun Orb) national flag design, commonly referred to as the meatball flag. So we must start with this Hinomaru to give some important background.

    The Japanese have identified themselves with the sun since times immemorial. Jinmu, the first Emperor of Japan, according to mythology, was supposed to be a son of the Sun Goddess, and the first female Emperor, Suiko wrote to the Emperor of China in the year 607, “The Sovereign of the Land where the Sun rises sends her greetings to the Sovereign of the Land where the Sun sets”. So it is no surprise that the first recorded use of the Hinomaru emblem was as early as in the year 697, at the Imperial court of Emperor Monmu. It was also around this time that Japan started to use the word “Nippon” as the name of the land, meaning “where the sun originates”. Later on, even the Imperial Banner of Golden Brocade as carried by the 14th century Shogun, Takauji Ashikaga featured the Hinomaru.

    By the Sengoku period of constant warring in the 15th and 16th centuries, there was actually hardly any famous war lord that had not used the Hinomaru design on their battle flags at one time or another. So the list of Hinomaru users in those days included Shingen Takeda, Kenshin Uesugi, Ieyasu Tokugawa, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Masamune Date and Nagamasa Yamada, a list so formidable that if you were to censor all those names out of the history books, you’d end up with almost 200 years worth of black pages dripping ink.

    In 1593, Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s invasion force sent to Korea featured the Hinomaru on the flagship of the armada, and in the 17th century, it was also increasingly common to see trade ships from Japan sailing to China hoisting the Hinomaru flag as an identifier on the high seas. The diplomatic mission sent to Korea by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1810 also featured the Hinomaru on their ships.

    Thus by the time Commodore Perry came to threaten the Shogun in 1853, and forced Japan into international trade, which required Japan to select for itself an emblem of national identity, the Hinomaru was a natural choice for maritime use. Already on 11th July, 1854 the Shogunate introduced laws requiring Japanese ships to identify themselves with a Hinomaru flag. This law was further amended in January of 1859, and next year, when the first Pacific Ocean crossing was achieved by a Japanese Steamship called Kanrin-Maru, manned by a crew of a fledgling Japanese Navy, they arrived in San Francisco flying the Hinomaru flag to conclude the trade treaty America had demanded.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture The Banner of Golden Brocade   The Banner of Golden Brocade  

    Last edited by Nick Komiya; 06-15-2016 at 09:02 AM.

  5. #35


    1870 January -- The Hinomaru as National Flag

    In this manner, the Hinomaru started as a maritime ship ID, but gradually came to represent Japan itself, not only its ships. So on January 27th of 1870, a few months before the army launched its first rising sun flag, the Hinomaru officially became Japan’s National flag.

    I read an incredible story that also in that year, the newly appointed French ambassador to Japan had approached the Japanese government with a tempting official offer from the French government to buy the Hinomaru flag design for a price equivalent to a quarter of Japan’s national budget of those days. However, unfortunately I have not yet found any diplomatic documents confirming this in the archives, so I have to put a big question mark to this story for now.

    The Hinomaru and the "Silver Ratio"

    From here onwards, to simplify descriptions of proportions and dimensions, I will give flag sizes in X (for the horizontal axis) and Y (for the vertical axis), which hopefully is an international math convention easy for everyone to follow. I will further assume that the Y axis itself (X=0) is the flag staff.

    By the way, the first half of the flag from the staff is called the “foist”, and the latter half the “fly” in flag lingo. Later on I need those words to explain offsets of the red disc from flag center.

    The reason I have to bring out math at this point, though I hated it at school, is because the aspect ratio of the Japanese flag was based upon a magical math ratio called the “Silver Ratio”. Many people are now familiar with the “Golden Ratio” of “1.6180” or (1+√5)/2 that supposedly governs the natural world, as that ratio has been popularized by the novel, “The Da Vinci Code”.

    The “Silver Ratio” on the other hand is “1.414” or √2/1. Both ratios were known since times of Ancient Greece, but popularized by German scholars in the 19th century. The Golden Ratio was published around 1830 and the silver ratio gained attention just around the time the Hinomaru national flag was designed.

    The magic of the "Silver Ratio" is that any rectangle that has the X and Y dimensions in a ratio of 1.414, when cut in half, will produce further rectangles, having the same ratios as the parent. A practical application of this was the paper size standard that the Germans introduced as DIN476, which has now become the international standard, ISO216 or the so-called “International A Series”. We in Germany and in Japan use A4 paper in our daily lives (The USA and Canada are on a different standard, in which "letter size" is wider, but shorter than A4).

    Applying this ratio to paper sizes, allows a whole range of sizes to be cut out of a single large sheet, all having identical aspect ratios without creating any wastage. So half of an A0 sheet begets an A1, half of that an A2, half of that again an A3 sheet and so on. In other words it is industrially efficient and green at the same time.

    This aspect ratio was adopted by Japan already in the first year of Meiji (1868) for official government paper sheets used for reporting to the Emperor. The A4 system only became the industrial norm for general paper sizes in Japan in 1929, so the government’s decision to introduce this aspect ratio for its papers and for the national flag was state of the art and way ahead of the times.

    Thus the Hinomaru national flag at this time had proportions of X=13 Shaku (394 cm) by Y=9.1 Shaku (276 cm) for the large version reserved for national holidays, 10 Shaku (303 cm) by 7 Shaku (212 cm) for the medium size version for clear weather and 6 Shaku (181.8 cm) by 4.2 Shaku (127.3 cm) for the smaller rainy and windy day size, all yielding the Silver Ratio 1.4 when rounded off. The diameter of the disc was 3/5Y (4.2 Shaku, 127 cm for the medium flag). Though this disc was centered longitudinally at ½ Y it was not centered laterally, as the center point was offset to the foist-side by 1/100 X from the center of the flag. Thus disc center was at 1/2X-1/100X=0.49X. This was done to express the Sun still rising towards center.

    The above specs for the national flag were modified recently in 1999 to an aspect ratio of 1.5, making the new flag laterally longer. The orb is now also centered, though the diameter remains as 3/5Y. More on the secret of the 1999 design later.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture The Banner of Golden Brocade   The Banner of Golden Brocade  

    Last edited by Nick Komiya; 06-15-2016 at 07:43 AM.

  6. #36


    1870 October -- Introduction of the Naval Ensign

    Remember how the army established its Army National Flag in May 1870 along with paper lanterns? Well, it was now the navy’s turn; to launch a series of naval banners along with navy paper lanterns. This came on October 3rd as “Decree by the Grand Council of State number 651”. This included personal flags for the emperor, down to generals. Interestingly, the Emperor’s flag is of brocade with a golden sun orb on one side and a silver moon on the other, which is an allusion to the Banner of Golden Brocade. The paper lanterns came after the flags this time, not before, so the navy at least seemed to have more respect for flags than the army initially did.

    What concerns us here, however, was that Decree 651 also introduced a Navy version of the National Flag (Naval Ensign/Battle Flag) as well as a Naval Jack, both being Hinomaru flags, but in different aspect ratios. Let’s start with the Ensign.

    The Naval Ensign (御国旗,Go-Kokki) is described in an interesting, roundabout manner as Y=7.8 Shaku (236 cm) and X=11.7 Shaku (354.5 cm). Thus the aspect ratio is so far 1.5 or 3/2. I said “so far”, because it goes on to say “1/20X in length was to be further added to the fly side of that rectangle”. As a result, X+0.05X =1.05X=12,28 Shaku=372 cm was the final width. This resulted in a final aspect ratio of 1.57. The Orb was to have a diameter of 3/5Y and centered within the initial rectangle. However, adding material to the fly side meant the orb got offset to the foist-side of the resulting design, and this offset was increased 5-fold to 5/100X=1/20X from the 1/100X as specified for the real national flag of January 1870.

    In essence, it turned the clock back and the sun’s position was now depicted as even earlier in the morning than the version in the official national flag, as if foretelling the coming arrival of the rising sun banner.

    The decree also defined the Naval Jack (船首旗,Senshu-Ki) which is a flag flown on the bow of the ship, identifying the ship’s nationality mainly when in port. This had the size X=8 Shaku (242 cm) and Y= 6 Shaku (182 cm) or a clean 3/2 ratio. The orb was a diameter of 3/5Y and completely centered.

    We now realize that the revision to Japan’s national flag in 1999 had actually made the Imperial Navy’s Naval Jack of October 1870 into Japan’s national flag of today!

    The Navy’s flag regulations underwent further revisions in 1871, 1873 and 1875, but the Naval Ensign and Naval Jack were not affected by these amendments.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture The Banner of Golden Brocade   The Banner of Golden Brocade  

    The Banner of Golden Brocade  
    Last edited by Nick Komiya; 06-14-2016 at 07:44 PM.

  7. #37


    1889 October -- Finally dawns the Navy’s Rising Sun

    Finally on 7th October 1889 arrived the navy’s Rising Sun flag as introduced by Edict 101. This flag had the following proportions and was no longer called a national flag, but Battle Ship Flag (軍艦旗,Gunkan-Ki) and was to be used from 3rd November 1889 and was in service, unchanged, until the end of WW2.

    Overall X=1.5Y
    Orb diameter=1/2Y
    Orb offset from lateral center=1/6Y=1/6 x 2/3X=2/18=5.56/100X towards foist-side, maximizing the offset that started in 1870 January.

    This decree also changed the orb size of the Naval Jack. Instead of the 3/5Y of the 1870 regulation, the diameter was now changed to 2/3Y. In other words, a slight increase from 9/15Y to 10/15Y.

    Naval Gunkan-ki Sizes

    No definite sizes were given for the Gunkan-Ki in the above specs, because various sizes were to be prepared, according to the size of the vessels. The navy used flags in 6 sizes. Material size for flags was flexible in the lateral direction of the flag ( X ), but as the width of the standard bolt of cloth was limited to approx 45 cm, the various sizes in the longitudinal direction ( Y ) of the flag required parallel joining of these bolts. So in order to make a flag with Y=89 cm, 2 bolts of fabric needed to be joined. Such a flag was called a 2 幅 “Size 2, Futa-Haba (also written simplified as 巾 and read Haba, meaning width)”. The largest battleship flag used for ceremonies had Y=360 cm, which required 8 bolts to be joined, so it was a “Size 8”, or “Hachi-Haba”.

    Each ship would have carried several different sizes in quantity, so size markings had to be readable in the flag’s folded state. Therefore size markings are typically found at the top foist-side edge. Naval ensigns would be marked with the character 軍 from軍艦旗 (Gunkan-ki) to separate it from a Naval Jack bow flag 船首旗 (Senshu-Ki).

    Each class of ship had standard flag sizes for routine cruising, but will typically use one size larger for Ceremonies and Celebrations. Various sizes smaller than the standard flag size for the vessel class were used as extra Battle Flags, as it was customary to put up multiple battle flags in case some were shot off in battle. Metric sizes shown below are approximates.

    1.5 幅 100cm x 67cm Standard size for Cutter boats, Launches, Mosquito Crafts, also used as Battle Flags

    2 幅 134cm x 89cm Same as above

    3 幅 200cm x 133cm Standard for Destroyers, Submarines and Escort Ships, also as Battle Flags on Battleships and Cruisers

    4 幅 267cm x 178cm Standard Cruiser size, or as Battleship Battle flag or Ceremonial use on Mosquito Crafts

    6 幅 400cm x 266cm Standard Battleship flag size or as Ceremonial flags for Cruisers

    8 幅 534cm x 360 cm Ceremonial and Celebration use on Battleships
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture The Banner of Golden Brocade   The Banner of Golden Brocade  

    The Banner of Golden Brocade  
    Last edited by Nick Komiya; 06-15-2016 at 09:21 AM.

  8. #38


    1903 March – Getting Second Thoughts about Offsetting the Sun

    As we have seen, the navy had increased the Sun’s position more and more towards the flag staff. They seemed determined to avoid becoming the navy of the “Land of High Noon” and insisted on depicting the sun in the process of rising. Thus what was an offset of 1/100 (1870, Jan.) increased to 5/100 (1870, Oct) and finally to 5.56/100 (1889). However, the Rising Sun was now expressed by the radiating rays, so shifting the center of the orb further was overkill without too much gain.

    By 1903, the navy was no longer too confident that offsetting the sun was a good idea. So they decided to experiment with a new design in March of 1903. The new idea consisted of the following 3 points.

    1. The sun to be properly centered

    2. The X/Y ratio to be increased to 1.9 (at that time, it was 1.5)

    3. The white spacing between the rays become more pronounced, due to centering and horizontally stretching

    As reasons for the above, the proposal submitted on 19th March 1903 had the following to say.

    1. “The sun offset towards the staff does not look right when the national flag has the sun in the center.” (Actually, the national flag did have the sun offset by 1/100 until 1999. It was the navy’s version, the Naval Jack, which had the Hinomaru centered unlike the real national flag.)

    2. “The British have naval ensigns with a horizontally long aspect ratio (X/Y=2), which unfurls better in the wind and prevents it from getting wrapped around and clinging to the pole. The British ratio is the result of long experience and is a sensible format.”

    3. “The increased volume of white spaces between the beams, makes the overall impression more vibrant”

    They made one prototype of this modified Ensign in Size 6 to be tried out, but there are no documents following this up further. It is clear that this idea was scrapped in the end, most likely interrupted by the Russo-Japanese War that broke out early in the following year. Once Japan won that war, which most believed it couldn’t, no one probably had the nerve to “ fix what wasn’t broke”, now actually a kind of lucky charm for the Imperial Japanese Navy.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture The Banner of Golden Brocade  
    Last edited by Nick Komiya; 06-14-2016 at 08:19 PM.

  9. #39


    Flying the Jack and Ensign

    Naval Jack
    These were flown at the bow when in port. It was to be raised in the morning and taken down at sunset. In Japan, it was to be raised at 8 AM during the season between 16th March and 30th September. Between 1st October and 15th March, it went up at 9 AM. When in a foreign port, it was at the discretion of the fleet commander to choose between 8 or 9 AM. However, when entering or exiting port, the Jack was to be flown, whatever time it was. The jack was also to be raised on the high seas, when passing or coming across other vessels, domestic and foreign.

    Naval Ensign
    The Ensign was to be flown from the stern flag staff or sprit, but in case of submarines, the flag staff at the rear of the tower could be used as an exception. In port, it was to be raised at 8 AM and lowered at sunset. When preparing for battle, the flag was to be kept raised regardless of the time of day, and during a battle, the flag was flown high from the mast as a battle flag. Entering and exiting port also required the ensign to declare nationality. When in foreign ports, the flag could stay up all the time, but at sunset they still needed to make the motion of lowering it once, before immediately raising it again.

    Construction, repair and maintenance

    These were flags required by international maritime convention for the purpose of declaring their national identity to others from a distance. So they always needed to be clean and sharp. The flags were sturdily made. The red sun and its beams were hand-sewn onto the white background as separate patches, resulting in a multi-layered patchwork which also reinforced the material. However, constant exposure to harsh elements like buffeting winds and the baking sun took its toll quickly, requiring constant care.

    Damages were promptly patched up and flags in bad condition were replaced from stock they carried onboard. Along with signal flags, these were the responsibility of the signals personnel, so they were trained in repairs and, when necessary, even to make ensigns from scratch, should long missions deprive the ship of port calls for resupplying its stocks of flags. As a matter of fact, destroyers and subs routinely used such improvised handmade flags for rainy weather stand-ins, as speeding or diving vessels tore up flags quickly, requiring nice ones to be kept for times they were really needed.

    Unlike the army which bore its rag-like standard with pride, as if it were the Shroud of Turin, the navy saw the flag simply as supply that needed to be topped up. However, when the ensign was raised on the high mast as a battle flag, it did gain profound symbolic meaning. So when surrendering or abandoning a sinking ship, they needed to recover the battle flag and evacuate with it.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture The Banner of Golden Brocade  
    Last edited by Nick Komiya; 06-15-2016 at 09:39 AM.

  10. #40


    1906 March -- Commemorative Battle flags

    Though, by purpose, the banners always needed to look sharp, there were some special occasions when they flew tattered ones as good luck charms, which they had indeed become as a result of the resounding victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/05. Ships wanted to preserve the glory of that moment in the form of the scarred battle flags they flew in that conflict.

    So a new regulation that came out on 5th March 1906 allowed each ship to retain one battle flag from each conflict, under which the vessel had engaged the enemy. This flag could be carried in addition to the maximum stock quantity of flags allowed each ship. These were designated “Commemorative Battle Flags (記念軍艦旗)” and ships could provide detailed campaign history as well as dimensions to get their flag registered. These were to be flown on anniversaries of the conflict and for memorials for the fallen. They were further to be flown as battle flags in future conflicts. When new ships inherited names of decommissioned older vessels, the former ship’s commemorative flag was also to be taken over by the new ship.

    1932 November – Naval Battle Flag for the Naval Landing Forces, etc

    On 24th November 1932, Navy Ensign regulations were changed again to allow land-based units of the navy, schools, hospitals and aircraft also to fly the naval ensign. As a result of this amendment, the Head Quarters building of the Shanghai Naval Special Landing Forces flew a naval ensign from the rooftop pole and also used the ensign to rally its troops in combat in similar fashion to the army standards.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture The Banner of Golden Brocade   The Banner of Golden Brocade  

    The Banner of Golden Brocade  
    Last edited by Nick Komiya; 06-15-2016 at 09:43 AM.

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