The design is similar to the flag of Japan, which has a red circle in the center signifying the sun. The difference compared to the flag of Japan is that the Rising Sun Flag has extra sun rays (16 for the ensign) exemplifying the name of Japan as "The Land of the Rising Sun". The Imperial Japanese Army first adopted the Rising Sun Flag in 1870. The Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy both had a version of the flag; the naval ensign was off-set, with the red sun closer to the lanyard side, while the army's version (which was part of the regimental colors) was centered. The flag was used until Japan's surrender in World War II during August 1945. After the establishment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces in 1954, the flag was re-adopted and approved by the GHQ. The flag with 16 rays is today the ensign of the Maritime Self-Defense Force while the Ground Self-Defense Force uses an 8-ray version.
The Rising Sun Flag appears on commercial product labels, such as on the cans of one variety of Asahi Breweries lager beer.
The design is also incorporated into the logo of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Among fishermen, the tairyō-ki (大漁旗 Good Catch Flag) represents their hope for a good catch of fish. The flag is also used at sporting events by the supporters of Japanese teams. Some extreme right-wing groups display it at political protests. The flag is also used by non-Japanese, for example, in the emblems of some U.S. military units based in Japan, and by the American blues rock band Hot Tuna, on the cover of its album Live in Japan.
Due to the flag being used by the Imperial Japanese military and Japan's actions during World War II, many Koreans, whose country had been oppressed under Japanese rule, and Chinese find the flag to be offensive. Because of this, the use of the flag is considered to be controversial. Although they protest the rising sun flag, no country prohibits from using it by law. Moreover, the South Korean Navy's position is that there are no problems with the carrying of the rising sun flag by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force warships. It would be an infringement of sovereignty if the Korean Navy requested to not carry the rising sun flag. An analysis indicates that Korean reactions to the rising sun flag stem from the complicating emotion of excessive nationalism and nationalistic complex toward Japan.