1. The national symbol of Japan

Japan's Sino-Japanese name, Nippon, literally means "origin of the sun," but is more often glossed as "Land of the Rising Sun." This name originally comes from a communique from Prince Shotoku to the Chinese imperial court, where Shotoku referred to himself as "the emperor of the land where the sun rises." If you imagine looking at Japan from China's perspective, you can see where this expression comes from: since Japan lies to China's east, it really does appear to be the land where the sun rises.

2. The Japanese flag

The Rising Sun flag of Japan is a red disk on a white field, called Hinomaru in Japanese. It has been Japan's flag since 1870, but after World War II, the government decided not to recognize it as a national flag. For the next fifty years, Japan was officially flagless. In 1999, the Hinomaru regained its official sanction with the support of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, amid the vocal protests of opposition parties who believed it to be an outdated symbol of the Japanese Empire. Now, the Rising Sun can be seen flying over buildings all across Japan.

This flag is not to be confused with Japan's naval ensign, which was seen most extensively during World War II and features red and white sunbursts emanating from the disk in the center. Displaying that flag is very politically incorrect in modern Japan, although some people are still fond of it.

3. A novel-turned-movie by Michael Crichton

Crichton wrote Rising Sun at the height of Japan's bubble economy, when it seemed as though Japanese mega-corporations were on the verge of taking over the world. The novel is narrated by an LAPD cop who works as the department's liaison to the Japanese: after a murder takes place in the new Los Angeles headquarters of a Japanese corporation, he and his Japan-savvy sempai have to crack the case together. Philip Kaufman directed the 1993 movie, which starred Wesley Snipes as the narrator, Sean Connery as the sempai, and Harvey Keitel as a hard-boiled, Japanophobic detective in the department. Mako and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa played megacorp goons, and Tia Carrere played the token smart 'n' sexy heroine.

Crichton, as always, put a great deal of research into his novel: elements of Reischauer and The Japan That Can Say No are easy to spot in both the book and movie. It's easy to say that Rising Sun is a piece of literary Japan-bashing, but Crichton also makes the case that Japanese companies overtook American companies in the late 80's and early 90's simply because they made better products, and because they had a better work ethic. In the age of the Heisei bust, it's interesting to read Rising Sun and see exactly how nervous Americans had become of their competitors on the other side of the Pacific Rim.

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