The Japanese Flag of *The Mysterious Island*
February 19, 2013 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Which Japanese flag is described in the first chapter of part three of Jules Verne's *The Mysterious Island*?

"Japanese?--it is yellow and black ..."
posted by slowlikemolasses to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was hoping it was a translation issue, but the original is
japonais ? il est noir et jaune… tandis que celui-ci… 
It may be just a racist joke.
posted by zamboni at 2:31 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I cannot find a specific flag of the time that has a black background, but might it reference the yellow Imperial seal?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:32 PM on February 19, 2013

In the Japanese translation published by Fukuinkan, a major children's books publisher, this part says 「日本のは?……黒と黄だったかな……」 , which suggests that the speaker isn't sure what the Japanese flag looks like. This is an interesting question.
posted by misozaki at 3:17 PM on February 19, 2013

The book was published in 1874, at a time when Japan was still transitioning from the semi-feudal Tokugawa shogunate to a more Western-oriented "modern" society, so it's hard to say whether or not the country even had a widely-recognized national flag at that time. However, according to Wikipedia anyway, the Hinomaru (red circle on white background) had been used by merchant ships for at least the previous twenty years.

It's tempting to think that the quote is indicative of Japan's place as a non-white "race" (not black or yellow, but somehow superior to both, an off-white that comes close to European culture), but Japan wouldn't achieve nominally honorary European status for at least 30 years, after its defeat of Russia.

So who knows what it means?
posted by KokuRyu at 4:01 PM on February 19, 2013

Wikipedia has a list of flags used in Japan, including historical flags. Not much there to go on. Apparently the Tokugawa shogunate used a black and white flag, but it's hard to imagine it had much currency outside Japan.

Perhaps Verne is using information that readers should be able to recognize as wrong (though I don't know how much of his audience would know what the Japanese flag did look like) to convey to the reader that the speaker doesn't know what he's talking about…?
posted by adamrice at 7:15 PM on February 19, 2013

Yeah, from 1870 on any Japanese merchant vessels would have used the familiar Hinomaru flag still used today. I think it's just an error on Verne's part -- given the isolationism of Japan he may not have had the opportunity to see any Japanese ships in France. But we know he was a sailor himself and one can assume he would want to get such details right.
posted by dhartung at 12:17 AM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: Are there other examples of Verne slighting a people?
posted by slowlikemolasses at 10:22 AM on February 20, 2013

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