Adam Taylor, THE WASHINGTON POST
(The Washington Post) — As the debate about the use of the Confederate flag raged in the United States this week, many looked abroad for other symbol-based controversies. Germany, which had banned the swastika and other Nazi iconography after World War II, became an especially common reference: If the Germans had banned Nazi symbols, the logic went, why couldn’t the United States ban symbols of the Confederacy?
The German example is illuminating, if imperfect, but the swastika is not the only controversial symbol of World War II worth considering. The most infamous emblem of the horrors of wartime Japan, the Rising Sun flag, was never banned, and it still flies today.
Much like the Confederate battle flag, which was used by several Confederate army units, the Rising Sun flag was a flag of war. It was first used by warlords back in the Edo period between the 17th and 19th centuries and was officially made the war flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1870.
Despite its history, the Rising Sun flag remains in use. It is flown by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, which was formed following the dissolution of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force uses a modified version, too, and you can spot the flag on cans of Asahi beer or in the flag of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper company. (Japan’s official national flag since 1999, which shows a sun disk and is known as the Hinomaru, also has links to Imperial Japan but is generally considered less provocative than the Rising Sun flag.)