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Society: Government

  • When was the Japanese flag first created? Who created it?
    There are various stories about when the hinomaru (meaning "sun circle"), now the Japanese national flag, was first used. Many historians think the flag, made up of a red circle on a white background, first appeared during a war in the twelfth century. The flag was officially adopted by Japan in August 1999, when the National Flag and Anthem Law was enacted by the Diet (Japan's national assembly).

  • What does the Japanese flag mean?
    The Japanese flag is made up of a red circle, symbolizing the sun, against a white background. It is known as the hinomaru in Japanese, meaning "circle of the sun." Because Japan lies at the far West of the Pacific Ocean, the sun rises spectacularly over the sea to the East. That is the inspiration for the design of the flag.

  • What is the Japanese national anthem called?
    The Japanese national anthem, which became officially recognized as such in 1999, is called "Kimigayo." The national flag was also just officially established in 1999 and is called the Hinomaru.

  • What are Japan's national animal and national badge (emblem/coat of arms)?
    Japan has no coat of arms, but the Japanese Imperial family's crest, the chrysanthemum, is used on the cover of passports for Japanese citizens. Japan does not have a designated national animal.

  • Does Japan have a national flower or bird?
    There is no official national flower or bird. Some people say the unofficial national flower of Japan is the chrysanthemum, which has long been a symbol of the Japanese Imperial Family. However, most say that the sakura (cherry blossom) is the national flower because so many Japanese love to watch and celebrate these flowers in the spring cherry-blossom season. There are also several candidates for Japan's unofficial national bird, such as the ibis. The crane is also a very popular bird in Japan and often appears in Japanese art. However, most people say the national bird is the kiji (green pheasant), shown above.

  • How did Japan get its name "land of the rising sun?"
    Japan lies to the east of the Eurasian continent, and beyond Japan lies the Pacific Ocean. So from the continental point of view, Japan is in the direction of the sunrise. This is why the Japanese began to call their country Nihon or Nippon, literally meaning "source of the sun" and often translated into English as "land of the rising sun."

  • How many prime ministers have there been since 1990, and what are their names?
    There have been 12 prime ministers since 1990. Starting with the most recent and the dates they came to office, they are: Aso Taro (9/2008); Fukuda Yasuo (9/2007); Abe Shinzo (9/2006); Koizumi Junichiro (4/2001); Mori Yoshiro (4/2000); Obuchi Keizo (7/1998); Hashimoto Ryutaro (1/1996); Murayama Tomiichi (6/1994); Hata Tsutomu (4/1994); Hosokawa Morihiro (8/1993); Miyazawa Kiichi (11/1991); and Kaifu Toshiki (8/1989) (updated in October 2008).

  • Who is the current prime minister of Japan?
    The current prime minister is Aso Taro, who was elected leader of the LDP, and hence Japan's prime minister in September 2008 (updated in October 2008).

  • What are the term limits for members of the Diet?
    Members of the House of Representatives are elected to four-year terms; members of the House of Councillors are elected to six-year terms. For more information about the Japanese system of government, go to Government.

  • What kind of health care system is in place in Japan?
    All Japanese citizens, as well as foreigners living in Japan, have the right to be covered under one of six health insurance plans. The main ones are the employees' health insurance (for private-sector employees) and the national health insurance (for people who don't qualify for any of the other plans). Members of these plans usually have to pay between 10% and 30% of their medical expenses.