What you must know about the rising sun symbol

Rising Sun flag

Rising Sun flag

Lauren Oh, Staff Reporter

I cannot forget the suffocation when I first saw a guy with a rising sun symbol laughing obliviously.

As a Korean American who learned Korean history in detail, I am shocked to see how commonly the rising sun symbol is used in America. I could see it in clothing, tattoos, jewelry, and more. Then I figured that Americans may not know how sensitive the symbol is to Koreans and other Asians whose countries were under Japanese rule during World War II. 

  In Korea, the rising sun symbol with 16 red rays is considered equivalent to the swastika (the Nazi symbol). It is because the symbol was used by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Under the flag, the Japanese army colonized the Korean Peninsula for 35 years. 

Numerous Korean young males were captured to be used as human shields in battlegrounds, and young females were forced to serve as sex slaves known as “comfort women”. 

Koreans were not allowed to use their own language at schools, compelled to change their names into Japanese ones, and obliged to worship gods of imperial Japan. The occupation amounted to total martial law using criminal methods of torture, rape, and genocidal tactics. 

The symbol can also be offensive to other East Asians. Under the rising sun flag, Japanese troops took over parts of China and massacred tens of thousands of residents of Nanjing (China).

When we consider this recent history, it is not surprising that a lot of East Asians view the rising sun as a symbol of imperialism and militarism just as the Swastika reminds the rest of the world of genocide and horror. 

Despite the controversies, the rising sun is still widely used by the Japanese and other countries including the United States. It is because the symbol itself is actually centuries old, not exclusively used during World War II. To help the understanding, we can compare the rising sun to the confederate flag. 

The Confederate flag is originally designed to represent the seceded states in the South, but nowadays it is considered as an indication of racism and approval of slavery due to its use during Civil Rights Movements.

Some still argue that it represents southern culture without racial or political connotation. Similarly, many Japanese people do not see the symbol as offensive since it was used in several cultural events in the old days. 

In spite of Korea’s demand to ban the rising sun flag in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the IOC (International Olympics Committee) never planned to forbid it. I personally believe that it is selfish to continue to use the symbol in a worldwide event like the Olympics while it can be such a gut-wrenching and traumatic representation to some countries. 

It is heartbreaking for me to see how many people are unaware of or have forgotten the recent history. I hope that this article would let students and faculties know that there are people who are very sensitive in the use of the rising sun symbol. Now that you have learned the meaning; it is on you to decide whether to stop the use or not.