The National Flag and Citizens’ Views toward their Country in Japan
Volume 16, Issue 2 (Article 7 in 2016). First published in ejcjs on 28 August 2016.
Previous studies have shown that exposure to national flags significantly affects citizens’ feelings and political opinions. While the impacts of national flags have been carefully examined in some countries, no systematic effort has been made on this matter in the context of Japan. The present research addresses the gap in the literature. By conducting an on-line survey experiment utilising the image of the Japanese flag (Hinomaru), this study examines how the national flag affects patriotism/nationalism in Japan. Statistical analyses relying on the survey data in Japan indicate that Hinomaru significantly erodes one measure of patriotism among younger respondents. However, the analyses fail to detect a significant impact of Hinomaru on the respondents in other measures of patriotism and nationalism. By dissecting the relationship between the national flag and citizens, this study reveals the highly contested status of Hinomaru, thus advancing our understanding of current debates over Japan.
Keywords: national flag, patriotism, nationalism, Japan, on-line survey experiment.
The 1648 Peace of Westphalia treaties established nation-states as a basic unit in the international system. Since the time of their installations, the fundamental dynamics in world politics have been shaped around nation-states as key players. Although they have been facing critical challenges as globalisation gains more momentum, no entities have been able to replace the vital roles of nation-states in the world (Evans & Kelly 2002; Sassen 1999). In order to fulfill their basic tasks, nation-states are in constant need to maintain the solidarity among citizens by establishing an “imagined community” (Anderson 1991; Gellner 2005). For this purpose, the use of national symbols has been the most critical means of forging a solid foundation of nation-states. National symbols can effectively unify citizens under the same goals by appealing to their national sentiments (Merskin 2007; Bar-Tal & Staub 1997).
Among various symbols, national flags serve as one of the most important symbols by fostering a sense of unity among citizens. In recent years, scholars have directed a significant amount of attention to the roles of national flags as a critical factor influencing the solidarity of nation-states (see Butz et al. 2007, 2009; Carter et al. 2011; Hassin et al. 2007; Shanafelt 2008; Ehrlinger et al. 2011; Skitka 2005). Based upon the proposition that exposure to national flags induces certain attitudes that those symbols uphold, some studies have begun to explore the impacts of the American national flag on citizens’ mindsets (Butz et al. 2007; Ferguson & Hassin 2007; Kemmelmeier & Winter 2008). Research conducted in other countries has also verified the validity of the above proposition (Hassin et al. 2007; Sibley et al. 2011; Becker et al. 2012). These studies have consistently demonstrated that national flags significantly shape public opinions of different issues.
Building upon these insights, the present research investigates the impacts of the national flag in the context of Japan. The history of Japan provides a critical setting in which researchers can examine the relationship between the national flag and citizens. Since the end of World War II, the status of the Japanese flag (Hinomaru) has been highly contested, with different actors engaging in intense debates over the use of Hinomaru as a national flag (Haga 2000). This kind of situation is inconceivable in the United States where citizens agree on the status of the national flag almost unanimously (Sankei Shinbun 2009). Accordingly, one can expect that the relationship between the national flag and citizens in Japan will be different from that in other countries, thus making Japan a critical case in understanding the dynamics surrounding nation-state building. In spite of its importance, very few studies have systematically investigated the impacts of the national flag in Japan. This study addresses the gap in this literature. Following the study conducted by Kemmelmeier and Winter (2008), the main goal of this study is to examine how exposure to the Japanese national flag affects patriotism and nationalism by conducting a web-based survey experiment. Statistical analyses relying on the survey data in Japan indicate that Hinomaru significantly erodes one measure of patriotism among younger respondents. However, the analyses fail to detect a significant impact of Hinomaru on the respondents in other measures of patriotism and nationalism. Revealing the highly controversial nature of the Japanese national flag, the present research demonstrates that citizens in Japan still struggle to overcome the heritages of World War II.
This study takes the following steps. The second section reviews the studies that explore the relationship between national flags and citizens’ mindsets. Third, I explain the context of Japan and theorise how the Japanese national flag can influence patriotism and nationalism. The fourth section explains the research design to test the hypotheses. The fifth section implements the empirical analyses. Finally, after summarising the findings, I conclude this study by discussing the implications and the possibilities for future studies.
National Flags and their Impacts on Citizens’ Mindsets
National flags are one of the most crucial elements in the process of nation-state building considering they can serve as a powerful symbol that solidifies the political foundation of nation-states. The situation in the United States right after 9/11 exemplified this point. The flag displaying behaviour in the United States after the tragedy reflected the citizens’ desire to express their affection toward their country (Skitka 2005). Citizens’ national sentiments can be crystallised around national flags, and therefore national flags play essential roles in unifying citizens under the same goals.
While national flags can be a powerful symbol that citizens can identify themselves with, it is also important to pay attention to the impacts of national flags on citizens. In their daily lives, citizens are exposed to national flags in a variety of settings including sporting events, school ceremonies, and social events (Billing 1995). With their symbolic power, national flags can affect citizens’ feelings in a critical manner. Studies have shown that exposure to national symbols induces certain attitudes consistent with the meanings of the symbols. For instance, Hong et al. (2000) analysed the attitudes of those individuals who have been immersed in two cultural backgrounds, and they found that exposure to a national symbol from either one activates the attitudes that are compatible with the symbol. Findings from their research are suggestive in demonstrating the link between national symbols and citizens’ attitudes. Echoing their research, different studies have examined the impacts of the national flag on citizens in the context of the United States. Based on the assumption that the American national flag is associated with egalitarian values, Butz et al. (2007) showed that citizens are more likely to support egalitarian principles when they are exposed to the American national flag (see Ferguson & Hassin 2007). Similarly, Carter et al. (2011) have found that exposure to the American flag shifts citizens’ preferences toward the Republican Party. Finally, Kemmelmeier and Winter (2008) have indicated that the American flag activates more nationalistic feelings which invoke a sense of superiority over other countries; yet, their study failed to detect a significant impact of the flag on patriotism, which is a pure affection for one’s own country. These studies have repeatedly demonstrated a solid link between the American national flag and citizens’ attitudes.
Although Kemmelmeier and Winter (2008) acknowledge that the case of the United
States is exceptional in that Americans display an extremely high level of national pride, research conducted in other countries has also revealed substantial impacts of national flags. Hassin et al. (2007) found that exposure to the Israeli national flag significantly affects individuals’ political preferences. Similarly, Sibley et al. (2011) showed that the national flag of New Zealand makes citizens more egalitarian. One point that is noteworthy in their research is that the significant impact of the national flag is absent among foreigners, which indicates a strong symbolic power of the national flag for those who are closely attached to New Zealand (Sibley et al. 2011). Finally, Becker et al. (2012) indicated that exposure to the German national flag prompts more prejudice toward minorities among highly nationalistic individuals. These studies conducted in different countries have verified significant impacts of their national flags on citizens. According to these findings, the symbolic power of national flags is not unique to the American context; indeed, it is likely that national flags can significantly influence citizens’ feelings in other countries also.
Although an increasing number of studies have begun to examine the effects of national flags empirically, not enough attention has been paid to this issue. There have been only a few studies investigating the influence of national flags in some countries, and it is still not clear how national flags shape citizens’ opinions in various contexts. Recognising the gap in this literature, the present research investigates this matter in the context of Japan. Following the study conducted by Kemmelmeier and Winter (2008), this study examines how exposure to the Japanese national flag affects patriotism and nationalism in Japan. The next section explains the unique characteristics of Japan and theorises the relationship between the national flag and citizens in Japan.
Japanese National Flag and Its Background
The national flag of Japan, which is called Hinomaru in Japanese, represents the sun, and evidence shows that the Japanese had begun to describe this flag in documents as early as in the 12th century (Web Japan). Originally, the Tokugawagovernment employed Hinomaru as a token in order to distinguish domestic ships from foreign ones (Cripps 1996, p. 77). As such, most Japanese citizens did not recognise Hinomaru as the official national flag before modernisation started (Hoshino 1980). During the modernisation process that was set forth in 1868, the Japanese government started to use Hinomaru as a national symbol in order to incorporate the wider population into the process of nation-state building (Ko 2012, p. 98; Itoh 2001). This motion reflected the desperate effort of the Japanese government to solidify the foundation of the country facing pressure from the Western powers that were aggressively expanding their colonies around the world (Ko 2012, 2013).
In order to understand the relationship between national symbols and citizens, it is necessary to recognise that citizens engage in the continuous process of interpreting and constructing the meanings of national symbols (Cohen 1985; De Cillia et al. 1999; Ricento 2003). The Japanese national flag is no exception to this point. Without any doubt, one of the most critical events that has influenced public perceptions of Hinomaru is World War II. Hinomaru as a national symbol has been inevitably associated with memories of the war, which caused massive destruction with millions of casualties in different countries. From the inception of the modernisation process, Japan attempted to expand its influence into Asia. In waging war against its neighbouring countries, the Japanese government utilised Hinomaru in order to promote its war efforts (Ko 2012, 2013). While Hinomaru was rarely seen in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, various newspapers began to include some descriptions of Hinomaru during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 (Ko 2013, p. 5). Once the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 broke out, Hinomaru was widely utilised by the Japanese government as a national symbol that could unify the citizens under the same goal (Ko 2013, pp. 7-10). As Japan further engaged in extensive war efforts, Hinomaru became an essential element of Japanese imperialism around which Japan pursued its expansionist ambitions in Asia (Ko 2012; Hoshino 1980, p. 146). The debate over the national flag has deep historical roots that are closely associated with the Japanese invasion of Asia during World War II.
Reflecting the controversial nature of the national flag, Japanese citizens’ attitudes toward Hinomaru are ambivalent. In recent years, there have been some attempts to analyse public opinions about this issue by relying on survey data. For instance, Ichikawa (2007) examined how college students perceive Hinomaru by asking them to choose the words that best describe it; he found that the students tended to choose positive words. While this study is informative, Ichikawa’s analysis fails to incorporate the historical images of Hinomaru that are inevitably linked to memories of the war, thus preventing us from accurately understanding public perceptions of Hinomaru. Surveys based on larger samples present a subtler picture surrounding the Japanese national flag. According to the survey conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun in March 1999, about 60.7% of the respondents noted that Hinomaru had already been accepted as the national flag before its official recognition (Itoh 2001). Although the majority of Japanese expressed support for Hinomaru, it is obvious that citizens in Japan did not embrace it unanimously. In the same manner, evidence indicates that younger generations in Japan tend to be more critical of Hinomaru’s roles in society than their older counterparts (Itoh 2001). One survey examining the attitudes of high school students in 2004 revealed that only 13.3% of Japanese students noted that they were proud of their national flag (Japan Youth Research Institute 2005). The low level of pride in the national flag among Japanese youth is striking when it is compared cross-nationally. The same survey conducted in the United States and China in 2004 found that the percentage of youth who expressed pride in their flag is 53.9% in the United States and 48.4% in China (Japan Youth Research Institute 2005). As these results show, it is obvious that public perceptions of Hinomaru are rather complex.
The highly controversial element of Hinomaru is often revealed in the educational arena. Before 1945, the Japanese government attempted to solidify its militaristic stance by widely utilising Hinomaru as a powerful symbol that could incorporate school children into its war efforts. One of the main goals of “morality” education in Japan was to teach the importance of Hinomaru as the national flag (Ko 2012, p. 102). However, the end of World War II in 1945 fundamentally changed the direction of Japanese education. The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) implemented a series of educational reforms to demilitarise and democratise Japanese education in a bid to prevent Japan from reemerging as a militaristic country (Thakur 1995). Accordingly, fostering patriotism among school children was not a major emphasis of education in the post-1945 era (Sneider 2013).
In the situation where patriotism was carefully restrained in schools, the issue of the national flag has become a contested subject. Since Hinomaru was used as a symbol of imperial Japan, the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Allied Powers prohibited the display of Hinomaru in 1945 (Onishi 2009, p. 81). Although the GHQ lifted the restriction on Hinomaru several years later, the issue surrounding Hinomaru remained highly polarised with two camps advocating different positions (Onishi 2009, p. 81; Ide 2009). The first camp, which was represented by the Japanese government, has promoted the use of Hinomaru in the educational sphere. In 1950, Minister of Education Teiyu Amano suggested that it was “desirable” that students sing the national anthem while Hinomaru was displayed (Ono 2001, p. 141). The revision of the education guideline in 1989 was also highly controversial in its treatment of the national flag and anthem, making it practically obligatory that school children sing the anthem in the presence of Hinomaru during admission and graduation ceremonies in schools (Cripps 1996, p. 83; Tanaka 2000, pp. 155-162). Finally, the government adopted Hinomaru as the official national flag of Japan by passing the Act on National Flag and Anthem in 1999 (Fujita 1999). These motions represent the government’s attempt to promote patriotism among children by enhancing the appeal of Hinomaru as a national symbol (Nishihara 2003).
While the Ministry of Education (MOE) has encouraged the use of Hinomaru in the educational arena, the second camp has been opposed to this attempt. One of the most powerful groups that has strongly resisted this motion is the Japan Teachers’ Association. This group contends that the use of Hinomaru in schools can lead to the reemergence of militarism (Tanaka 2000). Expressing their concerns over the issue of Hinomaru and the national anthem, some teachers have refused to follow the order from the MOE. However, these teachers have been harshly penalised for their actions, leaving many of them ambivalent toward the MOE’s principle on the issue of the national flag (Tanaka 2000; Ko 2012; Umehara 2009; Japan Today 2012). Many have criticised the MOE’s stance, suggesting that it is impossible forcefully to foster patriotism among school children (Nishihara 2003; Umehara 2009). In the same manner, Kawaguchi (2012) maintains that the government’s policy on patriotic education, which is directly related to the issues of Hinomaru and the anthem, may violate the constitutional protection of “freedom of thought and conscience.”1 The issue surrounding Hinomaru continues to be a sensitive topic in the educational arena, and turmoil over this matter can seriously shake the foundation of the educational system.
Since the situation surrounding Hinomaru is rather complex, it is not an easy task to theorise the relationship between the Japanese national flag and citizens. However, one can envision three different scenarios regarding how Hinomaru may influence citizens’ attachment to their country. The first hypothesis predicts a negative impact of Hinomaru on patriotism and nationalism. Due to its close association with memories of the war, many of the citizens tend to have ambivalent feelings toward Hinomaru (Ko 2013). Regarding the relationship between Hinomaru and the war, Befu contends as follows:
Since all the major symbols of the nation are ‘tainted’ in this respect, and are deeply implicated in having legitimated the war efforts which most Japanese now reject, it is difficult to use these symbols as a means of unifying the country and calling forth people’s patriotism. Indeed, these symbols have the potential to cause the opposite effect of turning people against the state (1992, p. 42).
The issue of Hinomaru has caused intense controversies in Japan because it is essentially inseparable from the memories of the war that resulted in disastrous outcomes in Japan and other countries. Recognising the legitimacy issue of the national flag, some even claim the need to adopt a different national flag to replace Hinomaru (Haga 2000). Considering these circumstances in Japan, it may be reasonable to predict that Hinomaru undermines a sense of national pride among citizens. Accordingly, it is possible to hypothesise a negative relationship between exposure to the national flag and patriotism/nationalism.
Hypothesis 1: Exposure to the Japanese national flag will undermine patriotism and nationalism.
Although the first hypothesis envisages a negative impact of Hinomaru on patriotism and nationalism, it is possible that Hinomaru affects Japanese citizens in a different manner. In recent years, observers of Japan have repeatedly suggested that Japan has been exhibiting more nationalistic tendencies, gradually deviating itself from its pacifist stance (Nakano 2014; Matsunaga 2014; for a more cautious view, see Horie 2014). McCormack (2002) contends that some of the organisations in Japan, such as the Nippon Conference, have been trying to foster a more positive outlook of Japanese history among citizens, demonstrating their strong commitment to search for a new identity that marks a clear break from World War II. Consistent with this motion, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has attempted to implement a series of nationalistic measures in a bid to “rewrite” the history of World War II (Nakano 2014). Abe has been vigorously pushing through reforms in the educational arena, making it mandatory for schools to teach children patriotism (Fujii 2014). These policies reflect Abe’s ambition to revive Japan as a strong country by reinstilling a sense of national pride among the Japanese (Reuters 2014).
Along with Abe’s ongoing efforts, the atmosphere among the public is also changing. Sasada (2006) contends that younger generations in Japan feel more comfortable with expressing a sense of pride in their country. Although explicitly revealing national pride was almost taboo in the past, some scholars claim that the modern youth of Japan would not hesitate to show their nationalistic tendencies. For instance, Sasada (2006) indicates that the younger population in Japan is more likely to support a hawkish defense policy. Others suggest that nationalistic appeals tend to gain more popularity among youth through the wide use of the Internet (Tsuji & Fujita 2011). There is a possibility that these nationalistic feelings may be directed toward other countries in the region. Results from surveys seem to confirm that an increasing number of citizens in Japan express hostility toward China, South Korea, and North Korea (Horie 2014). In extreme cases, these feelings could turn into an outright expression of animosity against foreigners, making the issue of “hate speech” highly controversial (Yamaguchi, 2013). Certainly, it is important to be cautious in interpreting these tendencies since the expression of nationalism among the youths can be superficial, which is essentially different from nationalism during World War II (Kayama 2002). However, it is clear that attitudes among the wider population are slowly changing with increasing signs of patriotism and nationalism. After more than seven decades since the end of World War II, the Japanese have become more outright in expressing their national sentiments.
These changes may suggest critical implications on the relationship between Hinomaru and citizens in Japan. Considering the increasing levels of patriotism and nationalism in Japan, it is possible for Hinomaru significantly to boost citizens’ affections toward their country. Indeed, Abe Shinzō has been attempting to enhance patriotism among citizens by widely utilising the power of the national flag (Itoh 2001). If his bid is successful, the Japanese will experience an enhanced level of patriotism and nationalism when they see Hinomaru.
Hypothesis 2: Exposure to the Japanese national flag will enhance patriotism and nationalism.
Finally, it is important to consider the highly contentious circumstance surrounding Hinomaru. One of the main reasons why the issue of Hinomaru has been so controversial is because it inevitably reminds Japanese citizens of World War II. In order to understand the controversial nature of Hinomaru, it is essential to analyse this from a historical perspective. Yet, dealing with historical issues in Japan is always difficult due to disagreements in interpreting the history of World War II (Sneider 2013). The dispute over history textbooks in schools summarises the tension in this matter. The Japanese government has adopted a system of certifying history textbooks before they could officially be used in schools. The process of approving textbooks has sparked a series of intense controversies because various groups have attempted to influence the content of history education. One of the first debates over this matter surfaced in 1982 when the Japanese media began to criticise the MOE’s alleged effort to influence history textbooks. It was widely reported that the MOE required that publishers change the term “aggression” (shinryaku) to “advance” (shunshutsu) in textbooks (Saaler 2005, p. 20). Although this report turned out to be false, this issue exacerbated the tension between Japan and its neighbouring states, thus highlighting the critical importance of historical issues in the region (Shibuichi 2008).
Even after the dispute in 1982, some groups attempted to “rewrite” the negative history of Japan. One of the most powerful organisations that adhere to this perspective was the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (Tsukurukai), which began to promote its textbook in 1996 that glorified Japanese heritages while downplaying the negative aspects of Japanese history associated with World War II (Schneider 2008, pp. 110-111; Nelson 2002). The MOE’s decision to approve this textbook in 2001 triggered strong resistances both at domestic and international levels, and the intense debate on this textbook reflected the sensitiveness of this matter (Yi 2009; Koo 2009, p. 23; Saaler 2005, p. 65). Yet, less than 1% of all schools in Japan actually adopted the Tsukurukai’s textbook (Bukh 2007, p. 686). As the low adoption rate reflected, most of the school administrators were not ready to accept the historical view that the Tsukurukai presented. To date, Tsukurukai’s vision still remains a small minority in the educational arena.
While some groups tried to enhance national pride among the Japanese, others argued that it was essential to teach negative aspects of history in schools. Ienaga Saburo, a Professor at the University of Tokyo, authored a history textbook that incorporated a large volume of descriptions about the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. While the MOE requested that Ienaga tone down these descriptions, he refused to follow this request and filed a series of lawsuits against the government in 1965 (Ienaga 1993). Ienaga has argued that the system in which the government certifies history textbooks violates the constitution that guarantees freedom of expression (Ienaga 1993). While most of Ienga’s claims were dismissed by the courts, these lawsuits surrounding history textbooks underscore the highly controversial nature of this matter in Japan (Bukh 2007). Regarding this point, Sneider (2013, p. 41) notes:
The content of Japanese textbook is a product of the absence of a postwar consensus on how to interpret the war in Japan. The battle to shape the memory of the war is an ongoing one in Japan—in contrast to China, Korea, and the United States, where the grounds of contention about the past are much narrower.
Just as the interpretation of history in Japan has been polarised, the status of Hinomaru has been equally contested. As Japan went through a series of drastic reforms following the end of World War II, many of the Japanese became rather apathetic toward Hinomaru as a national symbol (Haga 2000; Ko 2013). Regarding this point, Kitano Hirohisa, a professor emeritus at Japan University, suggested that the Japanese failed to forge a consensus about the status of Hinomaru due to its close association with the war (Sankei Shinbun 2009). A quantitative study also supports this proposition. Conducting factor analysis using the survey data, Karasawa (2002) found that the Japanese citizens’ view of Hinomaru is not an important item that comprises of the dimension tapping into patriotism, which indicates a fundamentally different tendency from the American samples. The lack of consensus about the status of Hinomaru is an important factor, making citizens in Japan almost indifferent to the national flag. Given the contested status of Hinomaru among the Japanese population, it may be reasonable to predict that exposure to the Japanese national flag will not affect citizens’ feelings toward their country. Accordingly, the third scenario presents the null hypothesis regarding the relationship between Hinomaru and patriotism/nationalism.
Hypothesis 3: Exposure to the Japanese national flag will not influence patriotism or nationalism.
Reflecting the complex natures of Hinomaru as a national symbol, it is possible to establish these three hypotheses. Given the importance of the issue of Hinomaru in Japan, it is imperative systematically to test the validity of these hypotheses. The next section explains the research design that makes it possible to test these hypotheses.
The main goal of this study is to examine how exposure to the Japanese national flag affects patriotism and nationalism in Japan. In order to address this question, the present research adopts the method of a survey experiment. In recent years, survey experiments have been widely employed in the field of political science (Gaines et al. 2007). One of the major strengths of this experimental method is its ability artificially to control stimuli to the subjects in different groups (McGraw 1998). By comparing the outcomes between the treatment group and control group, researchers can draw an inference regarding how the stimuli influence the subjects.
In conducting a survey experiment, samples must be collected in Japan. In recruiting samples, I utilised the service provided by SurveyMonkey, which is an online survey company that is becoming increasingly popular in different fields.2 SurveyMonkey has a pool of panels from which they can assign a survey, and this study collected samples through this service. In order to participate in this survey, respondents had to meet the following two criteria: (a) They are Japanese citizens who currently reside in Japan; and (b) They are at least 19 years old. All of the survey questions were written in Japanese. The number of total participants in this study is 696, and all of the data were collected during July 2015. The proportion of male respondents is 49.56% while that of female respondents is 50.44%. In terms of education, 45.09% of the respondents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Although the exact mean age among respondents is not clear because of the coding method, the respondents are well balanced in terms of their ages.3
In conducting an experiment, I combined the methods taken by Kemmelmeier and Winter (2008) and Naoi and Kume (2011).4 Since the goal of this experiment is to examine the impacts of the national flag on patriotism/nationalism, the stimulus in this study is the visual image of Hinomaru. While the subjects in the treatment group are presented with this image, those in the control group receive no stimulus. If Hinomaru has a symbolic impact on patriotism/nationalism, the subjects in the treatment group should react to the stimulus, which consequently evokes a significant difference in levels of patriotism/nationalism between these two groups. However, if Hinomaru lacks a symbolic power, one would not observe a significant difference between these two groups.
In order to test the hypotheses suggested above, it is necessary to measure citizens’ attitudes toward their country. Regarding this point, Kosterman and Feshbach (1989) suggest that it is possible to extract primarily three dimensions by factor analysis: patriotism, nationalism, and internationalism. Factor analysis conducted by Karasawa (2001) verified that it is possible to analyse samples in Japan based on these three dimensions. Since the main goal of this study is to explore the relationship between the national flag and citizens within the framework of the nation-state, I focus on patriotism and nationalism.5
According to Kosterman and Feshbach (1989), patriotism refers to citizens’ feelings toward their country without any regard for other countries. Unlike patriotism, however, nationalism involves a sense of superiority to other countries (Kosterman & Feshbach 1989). In measuring these two concepts, I adopted the following four questions from Karasawa (2002) with some modifications of the wording.6 To measure levels of patriotism, I employed the following two questions.
I am proud of being a Japanese citizen.
I would like to continue to live in Japan in the future.
These two questions tap into the respondents’ pure affection to Japan without referring to other states, thus making it appropriate to use them as indicators of patriotism. For measures of nationalism, this study utilised the following two questions:
Japan should have more power in the United Nations.
Japan should be a leader in Asia.
Since nationalism is supposed to entail a sense of superiority to other countries, these two questions can effectively capture Japanese citizens’ views of Japan in relations to other countries. Those respondents who feel that Japan should exert more influence in the world should respond to these questions positively. Respondents were asked to answer these questions by choosing one of the following answers: “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “somewhat disagree,” “strongly disagree,” or “don’t know/ refuse to answer.”7 I coded the answers so that higher values indicate stronger patriotism and nationalism.
In conducting a survey experiment, the subjects were divided into the two groups: the treatment group and control group. Since SurveyMonkey has the function randomly to assign the stimulus to the subjects, it is possible to create these two groups without any bias. The number of observations in the treatment group is 358 while that of the control group is 338. Both of these groups were asked the same set of questions regarding patriotism and nationalism.8 I arranged the Web-based survey so that the subjects in the treatment group were constantly exposed to the image of Hinomaru on the screen while the subjects in the control group were not exposed to any stimulus. In analysing the impacts of Hinomaru, one of the critical factors that needs to be considered is the generational effect. Since Hinomaru is inevitably associated with the memories of the war, its impacts on the subjects can vary across age groups (Hoshino 1980). Although none of the respondents directly experienced World War II, individuals have different kinds of experiences with Hinomaru depending on the time period in which they internalised its substantive meanings in society. For this reason, I ran identical analyses by further dividing the respondents into two age groups: (1) 19-39 years old and (2) 40-69 years old. Consequently, this study conducts a survey experiment by employing the following four groups: (a) the treatment group (age: 19-39); (b) the treatment group (age: 40-69); (c) the control group (age: 19-39); and (d) the control group (age: 40-69).
|Mean (higher values indicate higher pride)||3.30||2.96|
|T-test (Degrees of freedom=160, one-tailed)||Significant (p<0.01)|
Source: Survey experiment (July, 2015). Stimulus refers to the image of Hinomaru.
|Mean (higher values indicate stronger desire to live in Japan)||3.55||3.49|
|T-test (Degrees of freedom=168, one-tailed)||Not significant|
Source: Survey experiment (July, 2015). Stimulus refers to the image of Hinomaru.
|Mean (higher values indicate stronger desire to have more influence in the UN)||3.18||3.25|
|T-test (Degrees of freedom=150, one-tailed)||Not significant|
Source: Survey experiment (July, 2015). Stimulus refers to the image of Hinomaru.
|Mean (higher values indicate stronger desire to have more influence in Asia)||3.00||3.03|
|T-test (Degrees of freedom=140, one-tailed)||Not significant|
Source: Survey experiment (July, 2015). Stimulus refers to the image of Hinomaru.
In order to compare respondents’ answers between treatment and control groups, I conducted a t-test on each of these questions. If the stimulus were to affect the respondents, the t-tests should detect a significant difference between these two groups. The results among the subjects who are under 40 years are shown in Tables 1 through 4. Table 1 represents the result of the t-test on the question about national pride, which is one of the measures of patriotism. As we can see in the table, the subjects in the treatment group tend to display lower levels of patriotism than those in the control group. The t-test indicates that the difference between these groups is statistically significant at the level of p<0.01 (one tailed). Accordingly, this result supports Hypothesis 1 predicting the negative impact of Hinomaru on patriotism. Although Table 1 shows a statistically significant effect, the analysis on another question of patriotism did not show a significant result. Table 2 exhibits the result of a t-test on the question tapping respondents’ desire to live in Japan. The subjects in the treatment group are less likely to express their desire to reside in Japan than those in the control group. However, the difference is not statistically significant, and it is not possible to reject the null hypothesis in Table 2. Accordingly, this result lends support to Hypothesis 3 predicting no impact of Hinomaru on citizens.
The next two tables display the results of the t-tests examining the difference in the levels of nationalism among the subjects who are under 40 years old. Table 3 exhibits the outcome of a t-test in the question asking their opinions of Japan’s role in the UN. As we can see in the table, the subjects in the treatment group tend to be more supportive of Japan’s stronger role in the UN than those in the control group. However, the difference between these two groups is not statistically significant. In the same vein, Table 4 compares the respondents’ opinions about Japan’s leadership in Asia. While the respondents in the treatment group are more likely to favour Japan’s stronger leadership in Asia, a t-test does not indicate a significant difference between these two groups. Since it is not possible to reject the null hypotheses on these two survey questions, evidence suggests these two groups tend to behave in the same manner. Therefore, these results support Hypothesis 3, which predicts no impact of Hinomaru.
|Mean (higher values indicate higher pride)||3.18||3.15|
|T-test (Degrees of freedom=493, one-tailed)||Not significant|
Source: Survey experiment (July, 2015). Stimulus refers to the image of Hinomaru.
|Mean (higher values indicate stronger desire to live in Japan)||3.56||3.48|
|T-test (Degrees of freedom=510, one-tailed)||Not significant|
Source: Survey experiment (July, 2015). Stimulus refers to the image of Hinomaru.
|Mean (higher values indicate stronger desire to have more influence in the UN)||3.30||3.32|
|T-test (Degrees of freedom=482, one-tailed)||Not significant|
Source: Survey experiment (July, 2015). Stimulus refers to the image of Hinomaru.
|Mean (higher values indicate stronger desire to have more influence in Asia)||3.11||3.08|
|T-test (Degrees of freedom=482, one-tailed)||Not significant|
Source: Survey experiment (July, 2015). Stimulus refers to the image of Hinomaru.
Following the analyses on the subjects who are under 40 years old, it is important to examine the subjects in the age group of 40-69 years old. Table 5 and Table 6 represent the results of the analyses on patriotism among these respondents. In Table 5, the analysis shows that the subjects in the treatment group tend to indicate lower levels of national pride. However, a t-test does not detect a significant difference between the treatment group and the control group. Table 6 shows the relationship between Hinomaru and the respondents’ desire to live in Japan, which is another measure of patriotism. Although the subjects in the treatment group express a lesser desire to live in Japan, the t-test fails to indicate a significant difference between the treatment and control groups. These outcomes are consistent with Hypothesis 3 envisioning no relationship between Hinomaru and patriotism.
Table 7 shows the relationship between Hinomaru and one of the measures of nationalism among those subjects in the age group of 40-69. The result shows that those subjects in the treatment group tend to indicate a higher level of nationalism, suggesting that they are more likely to support Japan’s stronger influence in the UN. However, the t-test does not indicate a statistically discernible difference between the treatment and control groups. In the same manner, Table 8 represents the result of a t-test concerning respondents’ opinions of Japan’s influence in Asia. Although the subjects in the treatment group show a lower level of support for Japan’s stronger role in Asia, the t-test does not detect a statistically significant difference between these two groups. These results support Hypothesis 3 since there is no evidence indicating a significant effect of Hinomaru on the respondents of the age group of 40-69.
Among these results, it is important to consider why Hinomaru exerts a negative effect on national pride only among the subjects who are under 40 years old (Table 1, p<0.01). One of the main factors accounting for this finding is lower levels of support for Hinomaru among younger generations in Japan. Findings from other surveys studies indicate that younger generations in Japan tend to display more negative stances regarding Hinomaru’s roles in Japanese society than their older counterparts (Itoh 2001). As noted above, only approximately 13% of the high school students reported that they were proud of Hinomaru (Japan Youth Research Institute 2005). In the same manner, a study focusing on college students found that only one-fourth of the students knew the meaning of Hinomaru, with about half of the students being indifferent to this matter (Hosaka 2008, p. 154). Along with these findings, evidence indicates that youth in Japan are highly sensitive to the heritages of World War II. According to one survey, the percentage of the youths who feel responsible for Japan’s atrocities is higher than that of older respondents (Saaler 2005, p. 142). Contrary to the argument that younger generations in Japan tend to be more hawkish since they have never experienced war directly, research conducted by Arai and Izumikawa (2012, p. 7) indicates that younger citizens are less likely to support military actions. The results from the statistical analyses here resonate with these studies. Since younger citizens in Japan tend to be more conscious of historical issues while being cynical or indifferent to the Japanese national flag, one can speculate that exposure to Hinomaru prompted negative perceptions of Japanese history, thus undermining national pride among these subjects. The situation surrounding the older subjects is somewhat different. Since older cohorts tend to be more attached to Hinomaru, its visual image does not erode national pride among them. Consequently, the survey experiment in this study generates divergent outcomes across age groups in the analyses of national pride.9
As we have seen, these results suggest a rather complex relationship between Hinomaru and citizens in Japan. The statistical analyses have demonstrated a negative impact of Hinomaru on patriotism in one of the questions, while this relationship holds only among the younger subjects who are under 40 years old. Also, it is important to emphasise that other analyses in patriotism/nationalism have failed to indicate a significant effect on the subjects. One of the main reasons for this is because the subjects in Japan remain ambivalent toward Hinomaru due to intense controversies about the national flag, thus diluting the emotional link between Hinomaru and citizens. These findings suggest that Hinomaru critically lacks symbolic power influencing citizens’ mindsets due to the negative images that it evokes among Japanese citizens.10 Since these implications are rather different from those obtained in the United States, it is possible to verify the uniqueness of the Japanese context in which the status of the national flag has been constantly contested.
In recent years, an increasing number of studies have paid a significant amount of attention to the power of national symbols that can effectively strengthen the foundation of nation-states. Scholars have examined how national symbols shape citizens’ attitudes on a variety of issues (Butz et al. 2007; Ferguson & Hassin 2007; Kemmelmeier & Winter 2008; Hassin et al. 2007; Sibley et al. 2011; Becker et al. 2012). Building upon the insights from these studies, the main goal of this study has been to examine the impacts of the national flag on citizens in the context of Japan. More specifically, the present research has examined how exposure to the Japanese national flag (Hinomaru) affects patriotism and nationalism. Since the end of World War II in 1945, the Japanese population has been deeply divided on the issue involving Hinomaru due to its close association with the war. This situation provides a unique setting in which researchers can examine how the national flag influences citizens’ national sentiments.
In order to address this research question, this study has conducted a web-based survey experiment. By dividing the subjects into a treatment group and control group, I examined how the visual image of the Japanese flag affects patriotism/nationalism. This study adopted two survey questions in order to measure patriotism and nationalism respectively. I measured patriotism in terms of national pride and respondents’ desire to live in Japan. Similarly, this study gauged nationalism by asking the respondents’ views regarding Japan’s influence in the UN and Asia. Considering the possibility of the generational effect, the experiment investigated how the impacts of Hinomaru vary across the two age groups: (a) 19-39 years old, and (b) 40-69 years old (Hoshino, 1980). The main findings of the survey experiment are twofold. First, the analyses found that the visual image of Hinomaru undermines one measure of patriotism (national pride); however, this relationship only holds among the subjects who are under 40 years old. Second, the survey experiment failed to find a significant impact of Hinomaru on the subjects in other measures of patriotism/nationalism for both age groups. These findings reflect the highly controversial status of the national flag in Japanese society.
In interpreting the first finding, the negative impact of Hinomaru (p<0.01) on national pride was found only among younger subjects who are under 40 years old. One of the possible factors accounting for this finding is lower levels of support for Hinomaru among younger citizens in Japan (Itoh, 2001). While public opinion polls indicate that the majority of the Japanese accept Hinomaru as the national flag, surveys focusing on the younger population show significantly low levels of interest in Hinomaru among them (Japan Youth Research Institute 2005; Hosaka 2008). Other studies show that younger generations in Japan are more sensitive to the historical issues regarding Japan’s responsibility during World War II than older generations (Saaler 2005, p. 142). Along with these findings, evidence indicates that the youths in Japan are more likely to be pacifists rejecting the use of force against foreign states (Arai & Izumikawa 2012, p. 7). These findings are consistent with the results from the statistical analyses in this study. Since younger citizens are more critical of Hinomaru while being more sensitive to the historical issues, the visual image of Hinomaru induced negative feelings, thus eroding national pride among them.
Regarding the second finding above, it is important to consider why the significant impact of Hinomaru is absent in seven out of eight analyses of patriotism and nationalism. These results reflect the highly contested nature of Hinomaru in Japan. To date, the Japanese have failed to establish a consensus in interpreting the history of World War II. This situation has made most of those citizens deeply ambivalent toward the issue of Hinomaru, which seriously erodes its legitimacy in Japanese society. While there are citizens who are passionate about the national flag, there are a number of individuals who perceive the issue of Hinomaru from negative aspects due to its close association with the war. In the same manner, one can speculate that a high percentage of the citizens in Japan are simply indifferent to Hinomaru.Therefore, its visual image failed to elicit reactions from the respondents in these questions.
The main contribution of this study has been to isolate the impacts of the national flag by the use of a survey experiment in the context of Japan. Beyond the anecdotal evidence from previous studies, the present research has demonstrated a highly contested picture of Hinomaru. The findings from the present research suggest that public perceptions of Hinomaru are fundamentally different from those of the American national flag. While citizens in the United States can easily associate their national flag with a sense of pride, the Japanese tend to remain deeply polarised in the issues surrounding Hinomaru due to its critical roles during World War II. Citizens in Japan are still struggling to overcome the heritages of World War II, thus displaying mixed feelings toward Hinomaru. Consequently, the analyses indicated that Hinomaru critically lacks a symbolic power over the citizens in Japan, thus highlighting the uniqueness of the Japanese context.
These findings are important in understanding the current situation of Japan. The results of the survey experiment have verified the highly controversial nature of the Japanese national flag. As the Japanese have tried to cope with the legacies of World War II, they have realised the imperative need to redefine and reinterpret the history of the war. Along with these struggles over history, the status of the Japanese national flag has been intensely contested, making it difficult for political elites to foster a consensus over the status of Hinomaru. However, one should not assume that this tendency will last forever. In recent years, Japan has begun to go through a number of changes in different fields. As more and more citizens in Japan become comfortable with expressing a sense of pride in their country, public perceptions of Hinomaru may also change. The process of nation-state building is not static by any means. With changing situations in Japan, the symbolic power of the national flag will also change. In order to understand the underlying dynamics in Japan, it is essential closely to observe the delicate relationship between the national flag and citizens in Japan.
While this study has dissected the relationship between Hinomaru and citizens of Japan, it is also important to recognise some limitations. First, while this study relies on a theoretical framework focusing on the heritages of the war, critics may deny the effectiveness of this framework; they may claim that it is possible to interpret the negative relationship between Hinomaru and national pride by other factors. For instance, some may contend that a long period of economic downturn in Japan can account for the result from the statistical analyses here. Although it is questionable to assume that the Japanese closely associate the Japanese economy with Hinomaru, it is certainly important further to analyse the relationship between the national flag and economic nationalism. The second limitation of the present research is that it did not pay enough attention to contextual factors. Although this study tested the impacts of Hinomaru on patriotism and nationalism, the result may vary under different contexts. For instance, it is imperative to explore how the Japanese react to Hinomaru in the face of foreign threats. Previous studies have widely documented that threat perceptions can enhance citizens’ support for the country or a current leader (Baker & Oneal 2001; Skitka 2005). Although the status of the national flag has been highly contested in Japan, foreign threats can significantly boost political elites’ ability to manipulate the power of the national flag in Japan. As China gains more power in the region vis-à-vis Japan, there is a possibility that the symbolic power of the national flag may generate excessive levels of nationalism among the Japanese. In order to understand the comprehensive dynamics surrounding the national flag of Japan, researchers need to examine the contexts in which Hinomaru can exert a significant influence on citizens by incorporating the balance of power among states in the region. Future studies need to address these questions.
I would like to thank Cassandra Schachenmeyer for her research assistance.
This study was supported by the Research Service Council (RSC) Summer Scholarly Activity Grant at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
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 Article 19 (Chapter III) of the Japanese constitution states: “Freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated” (Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet).
 The following is the age distribution among the respondents: 6.27% (age: 19-29), 18.37% (30-39 of age), 31.34% (age: 40-49 of age), 32.51% (age: 50-59 of age), and 11.52% (age: 60-69). SurveyMonkey filtered the subjects based on their profiles, which include their demographic data. In the same manner, SurveyMonkey verified respondents’ locations by their IP addresses.
 Kemmelmeier and Winter (2008) conducted two experiments. In study 1, they physically displayed the American flag in the room for the treatment group. In study 2, they assigned the stimulus to the subjects in the treatment group by printing the image of the American flag on questionnaires. In a similar manner, Naoi and Kume (2011) implemented a web-based survey experiment in which they presented visual images to the subjects in the treatment group while they did not assign any stimulus to the subjects in the control group. I chose to combine these insights by conducting a web-based survey experiment by presenting the image of the Japanese flag on the computer screen.
 In a preliminary analysis, I analysed the impact of the national flag on internationalism, but the result failed to indicate a significant result.
 Karasawa (2002) adopts more questions to measure patriotism and nationalism based on the work of Kosterman and Feshbach (1989). While using a large number of questions can grasp comprehensive aspects of patriotism/nationalism, this method always entails difficulty of constructing a reliable index. Therefore, I chose to employ only two questions for each concept by summarising the main ideas of the questions in Karasawa’s study.
 The answer, “don’t know/ refuse to answer,” was coded as a missing value.
 The subjects in the treatment group were asked two extra questions regarding Hinomaru at the beginning of the survey. The first question asks if they ever display the flag, and the second question inquires if they are proud of the national flag. Since the subjects in the control group were not exposed to the stimulus, these questions were not asked to them.
 Some may contend that those respondents in their 30s cannot be considered as “youths.” However, the Japanese government tends to define “youths” as those who belong to the age group of 15-34 years old (Cabinet Office, Government of Japan 2014). For verification, I ran identical analyses by creating the following age groups: (a) 19-29 years old and (b) 30-69 years old. The results were essentially the same as the above analyses although the significance level dropped slightly in the analyses of national pride among the subjects under 30 years old (p<0.05).
 I ran the identical analyses by combining the samples from these two age groups. The analyses of the t-test between treatment and control groups indicated a negative impact of Hinomaru on national pride (p<0.05). Although the significant effect of Hinomaru on national pride holds for the entire samples, it is the youths in Japan that drive this relationship. Analyses on other measures of patriotism and nationalism failed to reveal a significant effect of Hinomaru, which is consistent with the above analyses.
Article copyright Satoshi Machida.