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The Japanese state is represented by its flag, the national anthem, and the emperor. Literature on the history of these symbols, including their use by the fascist Japanese Empire during the Second World War, is extensive, however, information on the impact of these symbols after the war is sparse, especially in English. As an outlier among former Axis nations, Japan continues to use the flag, anthem, and imperial system as national symbols similarly to the way they were used during the war. This paper seeks to understand how these symbols became acceptable in a nominally peaceful and democratic state. Extensive historical context from before the war to the present is provided, giving support to a tracking of policy positions towards the flag (hinomaru), the anthem (kimigayo), and the imperial system under the U.S. occupation of Japan between 1945 and 1952.

Through an analysis of primary and secondary sources in both English and Japanese, this study concludes that the U.S. government, in creating a Japanese state and people who would support democracy and U.S. military policy in the face of the Cold War, retained the symbols of the flag, anthem, and emperor because they were already part of a wartime united Japanese national identity. To this end, the U.S. removed these symbols from their wartime context in Asia and from contemporary Japanese history altogether to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance. As a result, Japanese born after the war have been far less exposed to the true history of their flag, anthem, and imperial system, therefore establishing a falsely constructed popular consensus that these symbols can be justifiably used to represent the current Japanese state despite protests from their Asian neighbors who suffered under Japanese imperialism.