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Japanese flag

 
author and iconoclast
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My daughter asked a complicated but ultimately interesting question today.

In Western art and culture, the color black often symbolizes death. We wear black to funerals. The "Grim Reaper", death personified, wears black robes. We speak of "black magic", a "black mood."

My understanding is that in Japanese culture, the color white is the color of death. You'd never wear white to a wedding.

And yet, the Japanese national flag is a white field with a red sun. In Western culture, only pirates have black flags; the black field is literally meant to strike fear into the viewer's heart. The question -- which can only be answered by someone truly immersed in Japanese culture -- is something like this: how does the white field of the Japanese flag make you feel? Is it any sense warlike and fearsome?
 
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My understanding is that in Japanese culture, the color white is the color of death. You'd never wear white to a wedding


The traditional Shintoist bride dress is as white as snow
 
Ernest Friedman-Hill
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Indeed, Google confirms it. Well, you can just ignore my question then, as there was apparently a communications breakdown somewhere between the social studies teacher, Danielle, and me.
 
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I've read that sort of thing too, so I think the misunderstanding originated before the social studies teacher. I believe I've heard it more often in reference to Chinese culture, not Japanese, but I'm sure I've heard it about both. Possibly about some other Asian cultures as well. Perhaps it's actually true for one of these cultures, say Chinese, and it's been misattributed to other neighboring cultures in error?

Then again, symbolism often has multiple interpretations even within one culture. What does red symbolize? Anger? Love? Danger? Passion? It's possible that white means death, and also means something else. I tend to distrust sources that simply say X means Y, when usually X may mean Y, or Z, or P, or Q...
 
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Mike Simmons wrote:It's possible that white means death, and also means something else.


The Indian flag has white as one of the colors and here, the white signifies peace and truth.
 
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In Indian culture, it is de regueur (though not mandatory) to wear white for funerals. I feel it is because other colors are representative of happiness or joy. There is also another theory for white.
In ancient times, the raw material mostly used for clothing was white. It was later on that man figured out how to add a splash of color using natural pigments and dye. I remember reading once about the togas worn by Roman senators. It had a line of purple (I think) at the border, which was a dye extracted from some Mediterranean mollusk. Obtaining this dye was a costly affair because of the number of mollusks required for one toga. The Roman toga was still predated by the attire of temple priests in Jerusalem. Their clothing too had similar lines, indicating their special status, viz. the right to enter the holiest premises inside the temple and pray.

 
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I think every color is precious and beautiful. It is human who made this kind of significances it is also with some symbols just like "swastik" which is a bad symbol for all the europeans, americans and jews but in hindu culture this is a symbol of spiritual peace......... So love every color.......

kaustubh
 
Kaustubh G Sharma
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By the way Ernest the picture of you and your daughter is very beautiful...
 
Maneesh Godbole
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Er. kaustubh sharma wrote:.. like "swastik" which is a bad symbol for all the europeans, americans and jews but in hindu culture this is a symbol of spiritual peace.........


I think you are misinformed or confused.
The Nazi swastik which you alluding to is a mirror image of the Indian Swastik. They are not the same.
 
Christophe Verré
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I was surprised to see a lot of them once on a local Japanese map !! They are actually used to annotate temples
 
Mike Simmons
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Maneesh Godbole wrote:

Er. kaustubh sharma wrote:.. like "swastik" which is a bad symbol for all the europeans, americans and jews but in hindu culture this is a symbol of spiritual peace.........


I think you are misinformed or confused.
The Nazi swastik which you alluding to is a mirror image of the Indian Swastik. They are not the same.


I wouldn't be so sure. Try googling "Jain Swastika" for example. Not Hindu, perhaps, but certainly Indian. And it's not clear that all Hindu usages face the same way, though it's true that most seem to be left-facing rather than right-facing. The Nazi use was consistently right-facing.

But, with respect, so what? They are clearly close variations on the same theme, from a graphical point of view. (The fact that the same name is used for both is also a clue.) They have hugely different interpretations, true, but that was Kaustubh's point. Would you argue that the Nazi and Jain versions are the same symbol, but the Hindu left-facing use is completely different? That seems silly to me. The Wikipedia article on Swastika shows plenty of other examples from other cultures, both left-facing and right-facing. The symbol has a long history in many cultures. Unfortunately in modern times this is overshadowed by the Nazi usage which is all too well-known now. But that doesn't mean that all the right-facing swastikas throughout history had the same significance. Nor the left-facing ones.

Note that depending on how you interpret "left-facing" or "right-facing", you may decide that all my usages here are backwards. That's fine. We could talk about clockwise and counterclockwise instead. Except that's still not clear, since we might be talking about the direction that the ends are pointing, or the direction a spinning wheel is turning, dragging the ends behind in the opposite direction. So I picked one interpretation that made intuitive sense to me, and went with it. Again, from a purely graphical perspective, the differences seem trivial to me. Evidently, some folks in the Indus Valley long ago would have agreed.
 
Maneesh Godbole
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Kaustubh mentioned Hindu culture, which prompted my reply. I agree there are subtle differences but overall look the same. My point was though they look the same, the Nazi swastik and other swastiks are conceptually different. I also agree for a person not coming from Indian culture, there would be a point of confusion.

Looks like Dan Brown was indeed correct in saying the symbols were corrupted over the years.
 
Mike Simmons
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Ah, crap - Dan Brown got into this? And here I've been studiously ignoring his work all this time. Now it's ruined as a topic.

Yes, the comment started about Hindu culture - but you were the one who generalized it to Indian culture. I mentioned Jains since they seem to have more consistently preferred the right-facing style. But there seem to be numerous right-facing Hindu examples as well if you look for them.

Maneesh Godbole wrote:My point was though they look the same, the Nazi swastik and other swastiks are conceptually different.


Which was Kaustubh's point. Which echoed my point. I see no reason to think Kaustubh is either misinformed or confused about this. The same graphic symbol can map to vastly different concepts. Just as the same color can have very different symbolic connotations.
 
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I can't search for it now, but I have seen a picture of a floor of a Jewish temple with a swastika in the mosaic on the floor.
 
Kaustubh G Sharma
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The only point i want to make it here is no symbol or color is bad if in one culture it relates to bad on the other hand some find it as a good symbol for them. It's just a dofferent ways of thinking nothing else....


kaustubh
 
Mike Simmons
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Going back to the original topic, a Chinese co-worker of mine confirms that yes, in China white really does signify death, and it would be seen as unusual to attend a wedding in white. At least, for a traditional Chinese wedding. Western styles are becoming more common however, so this is not an absolute rule by any means.

So it sounds like this was a true fact about Chinese culture that someone somehow misapplied to Japanese culture instead.
 
Ernest Friedman-Hill
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Probably my daughter mixed them up. I thought the observation about the flag was an interesting one, but looks like it was based on bad information.
 
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