Finally the Tokyo Olympics 2020 are off to a grand start with a spectacular show of opening ceremony that lasted for three hours as the grandest show on earth that the human history has ever seen. Since then the event has been a centerpiece of television debates all over the world and the Internet is choked with viewership. For the next two weeks the world will watch the marvel of Japanese technology applications in the daily lives of the common people. The spectacle of technological marvel must have delighted the hearts of all Japanese citizens including those who have stood in opposition to Olympics for some reason or the other.

By Dr Anil Rawat

Holding the Olympics under the shadow of public opposition and the pandemic is an act of Japanese determination to show the world Japanese capacity to meet its international obligation at any cost and its recognition as an autonomous centre of global politico-economic management in the emerging global political system. It is the confident march of an emerging ‘flower power’ in the new international order.

Few unfortunate events and controversies have occurred that will inevitably creep into the Olympian debates more nationally than internationally. The sudden disappearance of an African participant and the firing of two officials are minor incidents and more of administrative issues that could happen anywhere and have happened in the past on several occasions. However, the sudden upsurge in the COVID-19 cases on the day of opening ceremony was really an unfortunate situation. Opponents have found new ammunition to fire at the government’s endeavour. But how many of these have resulted from the arrival of Olympic participants or caused by the clustering of protesters themselves is yet to be seen. But hopefully, as the games proceed, the COVID-19 situation is likely to ease. Because from now, most Japanese will remain glued to televisions in their homes thus restrict their movements to help maintain mandatory social distancing and check further transmission. The government’s healthcare machinery will spare no effort to contain further spread of the virus.

But most unfortunate was the controversy surrounding Japan’s national anthem Kimigayo and the national flag Kyokujitsu-ki. Since the end of the Second World War these have been the subjects of controversy both inside Japan, due to pacifist sentiments prevailing among the Japanese population, as well as outside, used as diplomatic tool to beat Japanese leadership, especially by China and Korea. Although, on occasions of importance, the use of national anthem and national flag is a natural and accepted ritual of expressing national sentiments all over the world. In order to understand the true meaning of these national symbols of Japan it is important to situate their origins in the proper context. Origins of both these are steeped deep in historical past of Japanese history.

The song Kimigayo meaning “His Imperial Majesty’s Reign” originated from the Waka1poetry the most ancient poetic form of Japan. The lyrics of “Kimigayo” are probably the oldest among the world’s national anthems, and with a length of 32 characters, they are also the world’s shortest. The lyrics are said to have been taken from a waka poem written by an anonymous author in the Heian period (794–1185). Despite its meaning “His Imperial Majesty’s Reign” it is in no way connected to imperialism. Since it originated during Japan’s classical period laying foundations of Japan’s rich cultural tapestry and nascent nationalism elements of nationalist sentiments may be traceable.

The story of Japanese national flag Kyokujitsu-ki consisting of a red disc and sixteen red rays emanating from the disc is also steeped in history. Japan’s officially adopted flag is called “Hi-no-maru” with a red disc in the centre with white background, both these flags have been in use among the public since long. The Kyokujitsu-ki was borne in the medieval Japan used by feudal warlords during the Tokugawa period. But after the Meiji Restoration and the consolidation of the Bakufu forces on May 15, 1870 the Meiji government adopted it as the flag of Japan’s imperial army. Kyokujitsu-ki’s association with imperial army is undisputable but it has remained popular even among the civilian population

Rising Sun is associated with Japan as a nation. The two Chinese characters used for writing Nihon or Nippon (Japan) of which Nichi means the Sun and Hon means origin. For centuries, the Western sobriquet for Japan has been the ‘Land of Rising Sun’. Even as early as in 607AD Chinese historical records mention that when the Japanese government sent a sovereign message to the Chinese government it used the phrase in the message “From the emperor of the Land of the Rising sun to the emperor of the setting sun.”

However, in 1870 Japan was in no position to fight a war nor was it planning any aggressive war. Under the official policy of Kyohei (Strong Army) Japan was consolidating its military power to safe guard its independence against the western imperialism. It is a quirk of history that it has remained associated with the Army even after the war. Now, by showing this flag during Olympics, Japan would not be communicating that it is getting ready to declare war against the world.4 On the contrary it is more appropriate to construe for the ‘flower power’ that it is a statement communicating that ‘the days of real war games are being replaced by Olympic games’.

Comparing Japanese flag with Nazi flag is a travesty of truth. Nazi flag was an ideological construct based on the concept of demonstrating superiority of a particular race. Prior to 1935 Germany had a flag with three strips of basic colours of Germany with insignia in the centre as shown below. This flag was first seen in 1848 at the German Confederate and later adopted by the Weimar Republic 1919-1935. Nazis discarded it in favour of Swastika flag (1935-1945) with no history but as a symbol of cultural and racial superiority against all others in the world. This concept does not match with the origins of Japanese flag.

Japan would like the world to understand the Olympics as a show of indomitable spirit of human enterprise and for itself a giant step towards an emergent ‘flower power’.

This article first appeared in and it belongs to them.