The Act on National Flag and Anthem (国旗及び国歌に関する法律, Kokki Oyobi Kokka ni Kansuru Hōritsu), abbreviated as 国旗国歌法, is a law that formally established Japan's national flag and anthem. Before its ratification on August 13, 1999, there was no official flag or anthem for Japan. The nisshōki (日章旗) flag, commonly referred to as the hinomaru (日の丸), had represented Japan unofficially since 1870; "Kimigayo" (君が代) had been used as Japan's de facto anthem since 1880.
After Japan's defeat in World War II, there were suggestions to legislate the hinomaru and Kimigayo as the official symbols of Japan. However, a law to establish the hinomaru and Kimigayo as official in 1974 failed in the Diet, due to the opposition of the Japan Teachers Union that insists they have a connection with Japanese militarism. It was suggested that both the hinomaru and Kimigayo should be made official after a school principal in Hiroshima committed suicide over a dispute regarding the use of the flag and anthem in a school ceremony.
After a vote in both houses of the Diet, the law was passed on August 9, 1999. Promulgated and enforced on August 13, 1999, it was considered one of the most controversial laws passed by the Diet in the 1990s. The debate surrounding the law also revealed a split in the leadership of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the unity of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and coalition partners.
The passage of the law was met with mixed reactions. Although some Japanese hailed the passage, others felt that it was a shift toward restoring nationalistic feelings and culture: It was passed in time for the anniversary of Emperor Akihito's enthronement. In the countries that Japan had occupied during World War II, some felt that the law's passage, along with debates on laws related to military affairs and Yasukuni Shrine, marked a shift in Japan toward the political right. Regulations and government orders issued in the wake of this law, especially those issued by the Tokyo Board of Education, were also challenged in court by some Japanese due to conflicts with the Japanese constitution.
The Act on National Flag and Anthem established the Nisshōki as the national flag and Kimigayo as the national anthem. Details about each symbol were provided in appendices, including specifications for the construction of the flag and sheet music for Kimigayo. The law made no provisions for the use or treatment of either symbol, leading to different national and prefectural agencies and ministries creating their own regulations. If rules about the use of the flag and anthem had been included in the Act, it would not have gained enough support in the Diet to pass.
Provisions for the flag
A diagram illustrating the placement and size ratio of the elements of the flag.
The drawing and construction details of the flag are given in the first appendix. The overall ratio of the flag is two-units length to three-units width (2:3). The red disc is at the exact center of the flag and its diameter is three-fifths of the flag's height. However, the 1999 law allowed the continued use and manufacture of flags with the proportions set down in the Prime Minister's Proclamation No. 57 of 1870, which stipulated that the flag have a seven-to-ten (7:10) ratio, with the red disc off-center by one-hundredth of the flag's length toward the side of the hoist. The background of the flag is white, and the disc red, but the exact color shades were not defined in the 1999 law. Further explanations from the government merely stated that the red color is a deep shade. Specifications published by the Ministry of Defense in 2008 defined the shades of red for the flag. During deliberations in the Diet about this bill, there was a suggestion to either use a bright red (赤色 (aka iro)) shade or choose from the color pool of the Japanese Industrial Standards.
The lyrics and musical notation of the anthem are given in the second appendix. The text of the law does not credit a single person for the lyrics or music, but the notation credits Hiromori Hayashi for the musical arrangement. However, evidence suggests that Yoshiisa Oku and Akimori Hayashi (son of Hiromori) authored the music; the elder Hayashi had put his name on it for serving as their supervisor and Chief Court Musician of the Imperial Court. The melody was eventually put to a Western-style harmony by Franz Eckert and has been in use since 1880. The lyrics on the sheet music are in hiragana, and there is no mention for a tempo for the vocal arrangement. The anthem is played in the Dorian mode in common (4/4) time.