The Japanese flag symbolizes a rising sun. The official name of the flag is Nisshoki, which means "sun marked flag." The red circle on the flag is called Hinomaru or "circle of the sun." Scholars believe the flag has existed in some form since the 12th century, though it did not become the de facto flag until 1870 and was not legally adopted as the national flag until 1999, the same year Japan's national anthem became official. .
There is some scholarly debate about the reasons for the origin of the flag. Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun due to its location in East Asia, and many believe the flag is based upon this idea. The sun is also a very important symbol in Japan. In fact, Japan's royal family is said to be descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu. "Nippon," the Japanese name for Japan, literally translates to "source of the sun." Previous versions of the flag included rays around the sun, and the white surrounding the red sun is believed to symbolize purity. Between the end of World War II and 1947, laws heavily restricted the public display of the flag due to the occupation of Japan during that time.