When you think of Japan, what do you picture? The majestic Mt. Fuji, delicious sushi or maybe the crazy world of anime and manga?
There are many factors that make Japan the unique country that it is, but what you might associate with Japanese culture doesn’t show the entire picture. The nation of 127 million people has a long history that still affects modern culture. Today we want to introduce you to some of the national symbols of Japan to show you how the country defines itself and which aspects of their culture they use to represent themselves.
Enjoy today’s article!
Let’s start this list with a symbol that many of you know and love: cherry trees.
Even though cherry trees grow all over the world, they have received excessive love and appreciation from the Japanese. But don’t think that their popularity simply comes from the beautiful color of their petals. The sakura depicts one of the most important aspects of Japanese wisdom, namely that everything perishes. Cherry blossoms are the first sign of spring and a beautiful view; however, the spectacle only lasts for around a week. The sakura shows that even the most beautiful things don’t last forever and that’s part of the reason why it is one of Japan’s national symbols.
Japan’s deep love for nature doesn’t stop at trees. Even animals have made it to the domain of national symbols.
The tanuki is often translated as Japanese raccoon dog since it is a sub-species of the Asian raccoon dog. Similar to sakura, the tanuki is not simply a symbol because of its cute looks. Rather, tanuki are one of the most well-known characters in Japanese folklore. There, it is known as a mischievous creature that can shapeshift to fool around with people. The tanuki is portrayed as a lovable creature that just likes to play around and is thus one of Japan’s most charming symbols.
Coming back to a more traditional symbol of Japan, next up is the official Imperial Seal.
It is also called the Chrysanthemum Seal since it was inspired by the flower of the same name and used by the Emperor of Japan and members of the Imperial Family themselves. The seal exists since the Meiji period (1868-1912) and shows a yellow flower with 16 petals. It is supposed to represent longevity and rejuvenation and is thus a fitting symbol for the leaders of Japan. You can even see the beautiful flower on the cover of Japanese passports, so keep your eyes open next time you are traveling internationally.
The tanuki isn’t the only national animal of Japan; koi fish are at least equally, if not even more, popular than the raccoon dog.
Koi are domesticated versions of the common carp which have been specifically bred for their stunning colors. You can see them in almost every traditional garden or ornamental pond and be surprised by their beauty. Koi are the universal symbol of strength due to their powerful bodies and their ability to fight against strong currents. They show that you can overcome almost all adversities and still succeed at the end. This symbolism also makes them popular motives for tattoos, so keep the Japanese carp in mind if you are looking for a meaningful tattoo design.
Last but not least we had to include the most prominent Japanese symbol out there: the national flag itself.
Its design might be simple, but the hinomaru (“circle of the sun” in Japanese) bears a lot of meaning. As you probably already know, it is supposed to symbolize the rising sun which plays an important part in Japanese culture. For example, the Emperor is supposedly a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu who founded Japan thousands of years ago. Also, Japan is often called “land of the rising sun”, so it is only suitable that the sun itself fills the Japanese flag.
Japanese pop culture might be exciting and fun, but Japan has much more to offer than just current phenomena. Japan is a country with a long and rich history and remnants of past events can still be found nowadays. We hope we could give you a quick overview over some of the most common Japanese symbols so you can get a better understanding of Japanese culture.
Which national symbol of Japan is your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below!