Surprising Swastikas of the Far East


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Nazis in Kyoto?  I mean, my son and I joke about how most things bad or evil in the world today are, or can be traced back to roots in the Nazi party (at least in pop-culture and through mass-media), but seriously, what are these symbols doing everywhere in Japan’s cultural capital?

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The swastika (卐) is a symbol instantly recognizable worldwide.  In the West, this is predominantly due to Hitler, Germany, and their Nazi party of the 19th century.  However, in the Far East, as most things are, such preoccupations are quite a bit different….

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Symbol of the Gods…

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…and Samurai alike.

The earliest archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates to 3300-1300 BCE in the Indus Valley Civilization of modern day India & Pakistan, but can also be found with the ancient Greeks and Romans, the early Indians of North America, and throughout Paleolithic Europe.  Swastikas have been widely used in various ancient civilizations around the world, including Turkic, India, Iran, Nepal, China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea, and remains widely used in both Hinduism and Buddhism.  The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika – “su” (meaning “good” or “auspicious”) combined with “asti” (meaning “it is”), and originally translated as “it is good.”  It is not a German word, nor is it a German symbol; in German it is called the hakenkreuz, or “hooked cross,” in an odd attempt to tie it to perhaps to the more Christian traditions of the West.  As used in the Far East (primarily China and Japan) as a homonym for the number 10,000 (much like banzai, see my blog on that idea here), it more appropriately means “all,” “whole” or “eternity.”

Buddha with a Swastika

Buddha with a Swastika

swastikaswastika-flag2_thumbIn more modern times, however, following a brief surge of popularity as a good luck symbol in Western culture in the very early 20th century, the swastika was adopted as a symbol of the Nazi Party of Germany.  After Adolf Hitler came to power in the 1920s, a right-facing 45° rotated swastika was incorporated into the flag of the Nazi Party, which was then made the state flag of Germany during the Nazi era.  Hence, the swastika in the West has become almost impossibly associated with Nazism and related concepts such as anti-Semitism, hatred, violence, death, and murder, and is now largely and permanently stigmatized.  Not surprisingly, it has been outlawed in Germany and other countries (primarily EU) as a symbol of violence and hate.

Dumb-Ass Modern Neo-Nazis.  Be Glad they are Easily recognizable!

Dumb-Ass Modern Neo-Nazis. Be glad they are readily identifiable by their Nazi-inspired flags and tattoos.

How did a peaceful religious symbol used around the world become so perverted?  Easy:  Political Spin.

Nationalism at its Absolute Worst

Nationalism at its Absolute Worst

Heinrich Schliemann, a late 19th century German archeologist, discovered swastikas during digs at age-old Troy and associated it with ancient migrations of early Germanic peoples.  Making a rather egocentric and culturally-selfish leap, he connected the symbols in Greece with similar shapes found on ancient pots in Germany, and theorized that the swastika was a “significant religious symbol of our [Germanic] remote ancestors….”  Why everything to archeologists has to have a religious or ceremonial use or meaning is beyond me.  Don’t you think that maybe someone thought the symmetry of the swastika was, perhaps, just…pretty??

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Not a Nazi, but a Member of the Red Swastika Society 世界紅卍字會, a voluntary association founded in China in 1922 based in philanthropy and on moral education.

This proposed connection of ancient migrations across Europe with Germany helped to establish a long Germanic/Aryan history then demanded by growing nationalistic pride in an only recently unified Germany of the 1860s.  The swastika quickly became the symbol of the “Aryan race”, a Nordic (Northern Europe) master race, an idea perverted from its original meaning of “noble.”

Nothing Noble about this CosPlay Wedding in Japan.

Nothing Noble about this CosPlay Wedding in Japan.

Anime doesn't make it any better.  Quite the opposite.

Anime doesn’t make it any better. Quite the opposite.

42691e9ff8ca5bee10eab8512be17be8f3df731bef05ce51d26f532fbaa342a1In 1920, a red flag with a while circle and black swastika became the official emblem of the Nazi Party.  In Mein Kampf, Hitler describe the new flag:  “In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalistic idea, in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man…as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic” (pp. 496-497).  What is it about sooooo many people hating the Jews (and I’m 1/4 Jewish, passed from my Grandfather’s side, so it COUNTS!)?

I'm not sure this is valid, special (get it), or...RELATIVE.

I’m not sure this is valid, “special” (get it?!), or even…RELATIVE.

It’s interesting to note that an abbey school that Hitler attended as a child had a swastika of medieval origin chiseled into the monastery portal (main entry) and also on the stone wall above a spring grotto in the abbey’s courtyard.  Makes one think how much of an impact, conscious or other, this rather random intersection of man and symbol may have had on what has become one of the most infamous brands ever devised by humankind.

Copycat and All-Around General Asshole.

Copycat and All-Around General Asshole.

google-maps-kyoto-shrinesThe Buddhist swastika however lacks such strong association with things bad.  In Asia, it became standardized as a Chinese character “卍萬” (wàn), and from there entered other East Asian languages, including Japanese, “卍字” (manji).  And while the swastika remains a core symbol of Neo-Nazi groups in the West, it is used today in the East as a symbol for Buddhism and marks the site of Buddhist temples, both in stone and on modern tourist maps!  To help differentiate East and West, please note that in Asian a flat or squared counter-clockwise (left-facing) swastika is most often used, allowing for some relief and distinction from the oppressive clockwise-rotated, right-facing symbol of the Nazis.  In a rather absurd and humorous thought, I wonder during the Japanese alliance with Germany and the other Axis powers during World War II if any Japanese official ever intimated about the Germans have it backwards…and crooked!

Swastika Banner at a Buddhist Temple

Swastika Banner at a Buddhist Temple

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It’s time for us in the West to understand and disassociate pop-cultures of fear and pervasive paranoia with fact, tradition, and history.  Much like the re-establishment of the Rising Sun flag in Japan in 1954 after that symbol was similarly conjoined with the brutally violent Japanese conquest and occupation of much of the Pacific and East Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, it’s time to reclaim and take back this proud ancient symbol of more reasonable meaning.  Be slower to react, judge and label, especially without all the facts.  If you do these things, you and the world will be better for it.

And please, don’t confuse the monks in Japan with Nazis!!

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14 thoughts on “Surprising Swastikas of the Far East

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  4. The NAZI swastika flag is NOT inherently evil.

    You only regard it as such because you can’t help making a mental connection with an abhorrent regime. No symbol can possibly be evil, because to commit evil in thought or deed requires malicious intent. It is utterly absurd to impute this capability to an inanimate object. Your graphic is therefore absurdly silly.

    Get real, people.

    • Peter, thanks for your response!

      Actually, I believe you missed my whole point of the blog I posted. I was, I thought, pretty clear in the concluding thoughts that I was and am able to see past the “mental connect with an abhorrent regime.” But I will continue to, respectfully, disagree with you about symbols not being inherently evil.

      At one time I would have agreed. In a philosophical sense, you could argue the same about guns, nuclear weapons, neutron bombs or napalm. It’s not the science or the machine that’s evil, but the guise of the human behind it that gives it, in your words, “malicious intent.” But that simply isn’t the case. Nuclear weapons are designed for mass destruction, and nothing else. They in and of themselves can be easily regarded as evil…even though they too are inanimate objects as they sit in bunkers and atop missiles awaiting to be used. BTW, I flew in the Navy and used to carry tactical nukes, so you can’t say that I’m just an anti-nuke pacifist! Point, some things, like technology or even flags, are not or can never be “morally neutral.” In my opinion, to assume the counterpoint is flawed thinking.

      The point is, that for millennia, perhaps as long as mankind as be scribbling art on banners, people have read intent into such flags. Backed mostly by legend or at least exacerbated stories (loosely based on fact), national symbols have been sources of pride, nationalism, patriotism, and communism. All these feelings come, mostly, with intent – good and bad. It is exactly this relevancy that makes such symbols so inanely powerful.

      People are willing to die for their flags. People are willing to go to war and kill (without much question) for their flags. People rally behind symbols, be them national banners or sports’ teams mascots. Whole countries (and their more fanatical peoples) proclaim and even hide behind their religions by flag. Look at the flags and their place in the world in Israel (and the Jewish culture), or with the Arabic writing on the flag of Saudi Arabia: “There is no god but God, Mohammed is His Messenger.” “God is Great” can also be found on the flag of Iraq…. Both countries can claim many fanatical Islamic militants to their credit…much like the British flags of the long-ago Crusades.

      In any case, I like to try and avoid absolute proclamations and particular extreme positions, no matter the subject. Little good usually derives from assuming a radical viewpoint; life is much more about compromise and understanding. Characterizations like “utterly absurd” and “absurdly silly” are absolutes that leave too little maneuver room. For anyone.

      So, Peter, to so easily dismiss the inherent power and symbolism in the Nazi flag is itself questionable. BUT, my blog was designed to incite a level of critical thought and reflection, and in that regard, I do thank you for your opinion. I still doubt that you would walk around with a swastika on your t-shirt…because to do so, most would consider you – your very person, to be evil.

  5. The problem is that most of the American population has NO education when it comes to other countries, history’s, and believes. All Neo-Nazis who carry the flag with the swastika are actually showing the Buddhist symbol of good, therefore nothing to do with their idiotic believes. The moment we (who know the true meaning) take the power away from them by showing and talking about the real meaning of the swastika, make them weak and non-existing therefore reestablishing the true meaning of goodness, calm, and spiritually.
    I am sick and tired as a born Jew and chosen Buddhist having to defend a symbol of good to some idiots who have no education, and a group of misguided morons how perverse a thousands year old symbol of GOOD.

    • Christine, I agree to a large extent with you comment. The point of my article was to help educate those who are ignorant to history and deeper truths, and to help illuminate that what we see and experience on the surface is often rooted somewhere much further away from and much older than the truth, legend or myth that we all think we know. Thanks for the Far East Fly-by, and good luck with living a life well-lived.

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  7. Unfortunately, this article reeks of bigoted sensationalism. The swastika is an ancient symbol in all cultures, germanic ones included.

    Additionally the Nazi party was not ‘anti-semetic’ that is english propaganda from the war, which you should know better than to repeat. The idea that they were anti-semetic is preposterous for many reasons, not the least of which being that Shem lived so long ago that many germans are related to him as well.

    Rather the Nazi party was anti-bankers, and were focused on wiping out the institutions that the French used to crush their country after WWI, that group was coincidentally Jewish.

    The propaganda booklet you have a picture of, was never printed in Germany, which would be obvious if you paid attention to the fact that it is printed in english. It was commissioned by Winston Churchhill.

    Finally, the romanticizing of a proud nordic racial history is in no way a bad thing. Everyone should be proud of their cultural history.

    • Hey “Anonymous,” I find it fascinating that people like you, who hold fringe beliefs, hide on the internet while preaching their bad religion.

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter who ridiculous it may be. In America (I have a feeling you are, say, German or perhaps an American prepper/survivalist/skinhead), we value free speech above almost anything else. Hence, your comment is approved and posted. But it goes without saying that you and I are diametrically opposed when it comes to the Nazi Party….

      If my article “reeks of bigoted sensationalism,” your comment is bathed in ignorant stereotype. Yes, the swastika is an ancient symbol, but not in all cultures. And I’m sad to report that it is not, as I wrote about in this blog, indigenous to long-ago Germanic tribes. The symbol was adopted relatively recently in a stretch of the imagination for nefarious reasons, not based on some archeological finding. And because of its association with Germany and the Nazis, it has been indelibly stained.

      Saying the Nazi party wasn’t ‘anti-semetic’ (curiously your quotes and misspelling, not mine, leading me to believe that you in fact do hold anti-Semitic beliefs of your own while disavowing that it’s ever happen throughout the last 6,000 years), is like saying the Pope isn’t Catholic. But let’s take your preposterous claim that the Nazis where instead anti-bankers to its illogical conclusion. Really, they were just after the French bankers? Was every French banker a Jew? Oh, and all those kids that were murdered…and their mothers…and grandmothers? Bankers too? What about the Jews shipped wholesale from the rest of Europe and Eurasian, including say from Russia or the Balkans or Romania? No, I’m sorry my friend, you should know better. The “Final Solution” of Hitler and his party was not about a market correction or an adjustment of the federal banking rate. It was about genocide, a fact well documented across the globe, not just in “English” speaking countries.

      But you’re right on one account – the Nazis were not just about anti-Semitism. Rather, then were purging the Germanic people of ALL undesirables, including gypsies, and those who were deemed to be not of proper Germanic standard, such as the disabled, deformed, and the mentally challenged. I don’t these people had much to do with banking…in France…during WWI.

      As far as the booklet featured in the blog, I never claimed it was printed in Germany. Rather, it was pictured to help make a point: that unchecked Nationalism helped lead to the destructive Fascism of WWII Europe, bringing on another round of world war. There’s little doubt that Hitler and his henchmen in charge were assholes of the worst order, and that Germany – almost alone – bears responsibility for many tens of millions of deaths between 1939 and 1945.

      And while it’s okay to be proud of your heritage, “romanticizing” the insane elements of one’s past is dangerous. Not to mention in exceedingly poor taste. If you read my other commentary, you would know that I am able to separate the German people form their state; when the rich and powerful wage war, it’s always the poor and uneducated that suffer and bear the consequence. But almost without exception, those same poor and uneducated people can see the landscape for what it really is: Hitler was a despot and his party was taking Germany down a path of self-extermination. There’s nothing for anyone to proud of there, except for a couple of cool uniforms and some really good weapons engineering.

      In contrast to your stance, Japan remains a very proud and traditional country, but clearly has fully accepted responsibility for their tragic and horrific missteps in the 1930s and 1940s. I’m not sure the same can be said about modern Germany….

      In any case, thank you for taking the time in reading my blog and challenging me on my positions. Too bad radicals like you continue to hide in the shadows, because you know otherwise you would be shunned and ostracized by the cleansing light of the world at large.

  8. The Swastika is from Hindu and Buddha in India in Japan its called Manji,The Nazi Swastika is totally different so i hope this article could really help

    • Yes, it’s amazing still how many Americans I hear talk about the “Nazi” symbol being used in the Far East. Some way, some how, they equate it to WWII when Japan and Germany were common Axis powers (the Bad Guys). Thanks for the Far East fly-by!!

    • Freedommanus, on the surface I agree – both examples you give are certainly a “misappropriation.” But there’s a serious flaw, in my opinion with your argument. What makes the Confederate Battle flag “honorable” while the Nazi flag is not? Both groups actually share many similarities, more than they have differences. They were fighting for ideals, flaunting societal norms, bordered on ultra-nationalism (facism), and engaged in a sustained war when clearly the outcome was decided. No, it’s hard to label one of those flags “honorable” while the other gets a tag of “murderous.” The Civil War, when all the word-play is said and done, boils down to slavery: the Confederacy wanted to keep enslaving one human, and specifically one race, for another. You can argue states rights all day long…. You can debate that southerners were fighting off an aggressive invasion…. But at the end of the day, the fight was over whether every human being on the planet shared certain inalienable rights, or not. Further, there was nothing originally or inherently peaceful about the Confederate Battleflag, like there was for the swastika In fact, it’s a BATTLE flag. In that regard, it was taken up by another group as a symbol of their fight. The same fight, in fact, of racism which was the genesis of the flag to begin with. I’m sorry, I can’t agree with your statement. In my opinion, it is an erroneous conclusion, much too simply stated. Personally, I try to avoid speaking in absolutes and concluding anything so one-sided. For what I like to say, is that the truth is always somewhere in the middle, and every story has 3 sides: yours, mine, and the truth. Thanks for the comment and your Far East Flyby! Cheers, Kevin.

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