The Sunshine Flag vs the Rising Sun

24 Jul 2018 7:58 PM | Stephan Lewis (Administrator)

This post is not an official statement on behalf of the 107ist board.  However, it has been reviewed by the board before posting.  This is an attempt not to state opinion or prescribe the solution, but to frame the issue in a way that elevates the discussion constructively as we move forward.  While we continue to deliberate as a board, it is important that we continue to hear from you, our membership and community at large.

Well, as per usual, the Timbers’ participation in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has not been short on controversy. As we were hosted by LAFC in their first run at the Cup, a multitude of controversial things to talk about swept over our community. I’m going to be addressing one of these specifically, as it brings up some very valid issues that are being discussed within the membership and at the 107ist board level. While much of the discussion arose in social media circles, a lot of the deliberation at the board level is in response to a very well-thought-out email to the board from a member of the Tigers Supporters Group (TSG), the LAFC supporters group based in Koreatown. As many of you may know, when the Sunshine flag went up after the Timbers goals in LA, the recognizable similarity with the Rising Sun flag of Imperial Japan surprised those who know that the Timbers Army and the 107ist have an ethos that completely contradicts the embodied meaning in the Rising Sun flag for communities who suffered under the atrocities of Imperial rule.

The Rising Sun flag has been in use for hundreds of years in Japan and has always been a symbol of war. Rooted in use by warlords, it became a symbol of national military strength around 1870. Many atrocities have occurred under its shadow. As the first nation to truly embrace industrialization and its advantages in warfare, a sense of racial superiority grew out of Japan that led to the Imperial mindset as a colonial power in the region.

This perceived hierarchy of superiority allowed them to justify the subjugation of the occupied peoples as they expanded. This manifested itself in many ways, from the sexual enslavement of hundreds of thousands of young girls, to around 6 million people being forced into Japanese labor camps and mines from Korea alone, to thousands being forced to participate in torturous medical experiments (Maruta). In one gruesome example, hundreds of thousands of Chinese people were raped and/or brutally massacred in one particular campaign of savagery referred to now as the Rape of Nanking. An estimated 36 million casualties were created in the Asia Pacific during WWII under the shadow of the Rising Sun flag.  What’s noticeably missing from that statistic are Koreans, as they’d been occupied for over 20 years by 1931 and were considered a part of Japan at the time.  Some estimates put the total number of casualties from Imperial expansion much closer to 50 million.  While this is a similar number to the casualties in the European theater at the hands of Nazi Germany, we all (in the West) can recognize the inherent negative meaning of Nazi symbolism; yet it has become apparent that we know little of the meaning of the Rising Sun for those who were occupied in the Asia Pacific. Unlike Germany’s efforts to atone for this period in their history, Japan has largely failed to apologize, atone, or even wholly recognize the grievous acts that occurred at their hands over the same time.

With the sorrow of many, the Rising Sun flag is still in use in Japan.  It has become the flag flown for Japan’s defensive navy and, with slight variation, other branches of their defensive military. It has caused numerous controversies at sporting events through its use on uniforms, both flying free and being hung in the stands, and even as face paint.  The casual way it is incorporated in advertisements, fashion, media, etc., serves as a continual reminder to many millions of people. One specific current use is very troubling and can be directly correlated to conversations and reflections we have been having here in this country and in Portland in particular. Anti-Korean nationalism in Japan has been making a resurgence using the Rising Sun flag as one of its symbols. Some of the hateful language used is almost verbatim, after translation, to the hateful vitriol that has been growing like a cancer in the US. Watching video of protests and counter-protests on the subject is eerily similar to what we’ve been seeing here in Portland in recent years.  

We’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching as a community in recent decades as to our role in WWII, with much of this focusing on the internment of the Japanese-Americans living in our communities. What we haven’t focused on largely are the effects of Japanese Imperialism on the populations they invaded over this time. As a Pacific Rim city, we do have a sizable population of Koreans, Chinese, Pacific Islanders, and Japanese; however, they lack any real enclaves like what can be found in many of the other major cities along the West Coast, most notably for the Korean-American community, who have Koreatown in Los Angeles but no comparable community here. While many in these groups locally have gained growing cultural acceptance in this region over time, their assimilation with the wider population has been deep in some respects and lagging in others due to many factors.  A part of that is choosing your battles, and raising awareness about this symbol hasn’t been the chosen battle thus far. That’s kind of what brought us to this situation, regretfully. Something that is this important to so many people, and having the larger population be basically oblivious, is a true societal failure. There’s no other way to put it, really.

I personally applaud the Tiger Supporters Group for bringing this to our attention. The strength of the Korean community in LA as a true part of the diaspora is a great asset to the overall region there, and to this country, for that matter. Brought together often through adversity sometimes more than cultural similarity, their community identity and solidarity with other minorities was formed through fire. Following the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Koreatown was reformed from an enclave of immigrants to a community that is deeply engaged as an active part of the cultural and political landscape, advocating not just on behalf of Korean-Americans, but for all minority populations.  Through this strength as a community and their place in the wider region, they are more able to bring issues like this to the broader consciousness. This does deserve our support and does align with the ethos of the 107ist.

In comparison to much of this country, we all, as supporters of the beautiful game, have an above-average comprehension of the subtleties between flags. Every four years we’re reminded of this via the World Cup. The slightest variations between flags can mean completely different things. One example is the banter the Timbers Army has been trading with one of our rivals using marine signal flags (“Your ship is sinking; abandon ship”). Another example is the use of a sunburst, the shared element between our Sunshine flag and the Rising Sun flag. The sunburst is not limited to these two, as it’s used in the Nepali peace flag (red and gold) and has been used in Ireland (green and gold) for about as long as it has represented the national military of Japan. The green and gold sunburst in Ireland traces back to use by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and has been used as a symbol of their fight for independence for well over a century. Irish regiments who fought in our nation’s Civil War for the Union carried with them versions of the green and gold sunburst. It has also made its way into the terraces through the supporters culture behind Celtic FC, a group that largely shares our ethos.

Now, I’m not going to deny that our Sunshine flag wasn’t influenced at all by the Rising Sun, but the meaning behind the flag couldn’t be more divergent. The original Sunshine flag was conceived out of our tradition of being led by Timber Jim with his daughter’s favorite song, You Are My Sunshine. But, while the song has a lot to do with the Spread the Love part of our ethos, another aspect is the strength of our convictions, and ignorant of the larger implications above, the Rising Sun had that inherent strength. The making of that first incarnation was the largest single tifo display item we had created at that point. While small compared to the spaces we’ve used to paint our displays since then, it seemed big at the time. Its creation wasn’t like slapping a bunch of paint around like our other displays; this was hand-sewn, and the sounds of the sewing machines will still bring a smile to the faces of those that were there. During the planning stages, the flag got the nickname BAF (Big-Ass Flag) due to the relative size, and the name stuck. It made its debut on July 14, 2004 in, oddly enough, a US Open Cup match against the San Jose Earthquakes. The Open Cup for us back then was a huge deal. It was our one entry point into the CONCACAF Champions League and a chance for us to prove our heart and passion when facing clubs above our league, not only on the field as a club, but in the stands as supporters. Our passion and heart that we gave to our team to embrace led to some of the most epic moments of that era in club history. Even though we always fell short, Our Boys frequently did us proud.

Only a few weeks after the debut of the BAF, Timber Jim’s daughter passed away in a car crash. The resulting outpouring of emotion was codified though the singing of the song and the messages of love, hope, passion, joy, and strength were embodied in that flag -- all things that were needed for us to heal as a community and to give Jim the support he needed then and still does to this day. Truly, it became more than just a tifo display. When it goes up over the North End after we score a goal, its message of pure joy washes over us. Hope is one of the strongest characteristics of the human condition. Through literally the worst of times (well outside sport), hope can get people through. When hope is lost, one’s ability to cope is lost too, and any downward spiral is near impossible to get out of. We look to the Sunshine flag as a symbol of that hope in the darkest times and we use it as a symbol of our convictions. As a result, it is one of the most ubiquitous symbols in our iconography: shirts, hats, patches, scarves, stickers, banners, large tifo displays, tattoos, all inspire these very pure emotions through the incorporation of the sunburst, so much so that it’s a key element in the Timbers Army crest and the 107ist logo. This is the symbol we put on youth kits when we sponsor a team. This is the symbol that we use to take our message into our communities.

After the original flag saw such an abundance of use over the years, it definitely showed its age and was falling apart, so it was retired shortly after our move to MLS. Feeling its loss, a couple of supporters with master sewing skills decided to make a new one, again by hand, and that is the one used in the North End of our stadium now which has some obvious variances from the original. Later, they decided to create another one specifically for away days which is closer in design to the original BAF. This is the element that travels with us so the regional and traveling supporters can be washed over by it, and helps our support for the team transcend geographical space.

Now, given the knowledge brought forth about the meaning for many when they see symbols like our Sunshine flag, we are at a crossroads. The only thing agreed upon at this point is that we can’t do nothing. This is far from placating another supporters group’s concern; this is about recognizing an issue in our own community much broader than our flag. Knowing that members of our community are affected in this way by the Rising Sun flag cuts right to the heart of who we are as an organization. Any simple solution we choose will be a disservice to many of those among us. It must be more broadly and deeply addressed. In the days since this conversation started, we have started a dialogue on this with Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), who are fellow members of the Portland United Against Hate (PUAH) coalition, and will be taking this issue together to the wider coalition to discuss what can be done moving forward.

There is current talk about altering the flag or even removing it from our iconography. Removal isn’t really possible, as its breadth within our culture runs too deep. Even if we tried, it would only have the opposite effect, as any existing reference would invoke the specific negativity we’re trying to address. Altering it by simply adding elements runs the risk of sweeping the issue under the rug and could be taken as just putting lipstick on a rat.  Even if you get into the specifics of the sixteen rays or something (our number always varies), it discounts the fact that alterations to the Rising Sun are presently being used as representations of the original. As it stands currently, the away day Sunshine flag is the closest representation, especially when it is displayed with left side justification of the sunburst. The very least we could do is be very specific about orienting the flag so the justification of the sunburst is to the right, which would both turn the reference upside down in the international signal of distress and provide us with a constant opportunity to discuss the why, just like many of our other traditions. Maybe that flag simply retires with the other.

Again, there is no real solution at this point. The important thing is we’re started processes, are having the dialogue, and we look forward to hearing from and working with more of our members and others in our community to address the issue.

Please feel free to comment.


  • 24 Jul 2018 9:08 PM | Jay Underwood
    Well written and informative. Funny, after living in Tucson for over a decade, it always reminded me of the AZ state flag which also depicts sunshine.
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    • 24 Jul 2018 9:15 PM | jerry langan
      I'm definitely not for completely destroying the culture behind our flag, but I would be more then cool if a new one is created that more closely resembles the rising sun on the State of Oregon flag.
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  • 24 Jul 2018 10:23 PM | Nancy Song
    Thank you this is very well written and researched and thought out. As a Chinese person I appreciate the fact that is being acknowledged and addressed. This is why I love the TA. I don't know what the right answer is or the right solution but this is a step forward and I really deeply appreciate that.
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  • 24 Jul 2018 11:50 PM | Anonymous
    A thoughtful, well-written piece. Thank you for taking the time to illuminate this matter.

    If a replacement flag is created, the retired version should not be destroyed. Rather, we should consider donating it to a museum for display. Ideally the TA could work with an appropriate agency (such as APANO) to draft text for an adjacent plaque that details the problematic history of the Imperial flag along with our resolution. This both preserves the intention of the TA flag and also our most important tradition— inclusiveness.

    I see this as another opportunity for the Timbers Army to shine. By reflecting, acknowledging, and sharing our mistakes, we can mend send a powerful message to supporters worldwide: "You can always learn. You can always grow."
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  • 25 Jul 2018 8:28 AM | Michael Cruz
    Give me a fckn break! My island was attacked and occupied by the Japanese. My family members tortured, killed and other atrocities from the Japanese. We have moved on, opened dialogue and forgiven. Use the flag or don’t. My family has made our peace and the flag is the least of our worries! Our worries are being stopped by police and getting shot when my brother / sister in law are officers themselves, being harassed because people who don’t know that we are born US citizens, or being stabbed on a MAX / BART train because of our skin color or being gay. That’s what worries me. So fly the flag or don’t! But give me a break!
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  • 28 Jul 2018 2:03 PM | John Acerbi
    How about adding the rose and axes or a sunflower to the center of the sunburst to ALL goal flags (home and away).
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  • 28 Jul 2018 4:01 PM | Lindsey Burdett
    The only thing empirical about the Sunshine Flag is that the PTFC are good at soccer.
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  • 28 Jul 2018 7:09 PM | Chris Lindsley
    Reposted from Facebook:
    (Refers an image of the 2011 Jock Tag)

    I went to South Korea for work in 2013 and wore some of my Timbers gear one evening when I went to meet a co-worker at the hotel bar. It was a big hotel. I walked past dozens of people on my way. Being a white guy in Seoul always gets a few glances, but I was getting stares this time and they weren't pleasant. The shirt was a FO shirt that had a big version of the attached image. This was the Jock Tag on the 2011 primary kits.

    I got to the bar and my colleague quickly had me rush to the restroom to turn my shirt inside out. I knew about the Japanese invasion of Korea (and most of East Asia) and I knew about the atrocities committed (Which, like Holocaust deniers, continue to be denied).

    What I didn't know was all of that was represented by the shirt I was wearing. They knew it wasn't a Japanese symbol and I'm not Japanese, but it was close enough to invoke a reaction. Think about wearing the Buddhist reverse-swastika in Isreal. Yeah, it's different but it's close enough that a compationate person wouldn't do it.

    I had no problem changing my shirt. I went to my room and got a new one. My love for the Timbers is not so great that I need to offend others.

    When I got back to the US I asked some of my Korean and Chinese friends how they felt. I felt kinda stupid for asking, but wanted to know if this was just a one time thing or more prevalent. The summary of their responses was that they wish it wasn't used. They understand that it isn't meant as an endorsement, but it is difficult to explain to their families. They didn't want to bring it up because no one likes a SJW.

    In the years since, I've brought it up a few times. It pops up on Twitter, Reddit, ect whenever we play somewhere or someone new. This is the first time it's gotten a lot of attention.

    It's also easy to forget about. Last year I carried the little BAF to Montreal. It'd been a couple years since it came up and I forgot. Most of the time when I see it I think "Goal!" It doesn't affect me, personally.

    I was reminded this week. I was in LA for the weekend match. The LAFC stadium is really close to Koreatown. There's a large Korean fanbase there. We ate lunch at a Korea mall the day before. I didn't think about this at all until Wednesday when I was reminded again.

    To those who think this is silly, I invite you to go walk around Seoul or Koreatown in LA in this shirt. See what kind of reaction you get. I'm guessing you'll want to take it off. If you just like offending people, I'm sorry you find so little joy in the world.

    It's pretty simple people.
    1) Is the symbol found offensive by a class (race, nationality, gender, sex, ect...)?
    2) Do you believe them?
    3) Is its meaning to you less important than how you value the feelings of that class?

    If they're all yes, find a different symbol.
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  • 28 Jul 2018 8:17 PM | Anonymous
    Stating the obvious, but if it’s not red and white, it’s not the rising sun flag. If there aren’t 16 sun rays, it’s not the rising sun flag. I guess we’ll start seeing PCFC two sticks again.
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  • 02 Aug 2018 12:31 PM | John Dunagan
    Well written, fair, and reasonable. It's why I pay my money every year to go to a match every other year.

    I don't know the answer to this, either.

    My heart is angry and disappointed, and worried that as the evil of this world co-opt symbol after symbol, over time we won't have any more to stand behind.

    My mind understands what triggers are, and that other people have different ones. And that I haven't lived your life, or anybody else's.

    Football's political. So's the Olympics, and every other professional sport.
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  • 03 Aug 2018 3:03 PM | Dan Crawford
    From the very moment I first noticed the green and yellow sunsrays on TA-Stuff, I always associated it with the flag of Japan. And I always thought that was pretty cool; aesthetically it's a striking design. I had no idea it had negative connotation for some.

    When I was a kid I remember thinking the General Lee was pretty badass on the Dukes of Hazard. I mean they jumped that stupid car and it's confederate flag paint job over every-damn-thing, and that was awesome. I had a Hot Wheel or Matchbox or whatever, I think I had a lunchbox too. When my age was a single digit, I had no functional understanding of slavery and racial oppression, nor symbolism for that matter.

    I also remember coming to the realization that the General Lee paint job was kind of horrible. It's kind of amazing now to realize that anyone thought that was a good idea. I don't have the little die cast car anymore, and I've since upgraded my lunchbox to Scooby-Doo; when you get into your 40's, you have to make some adult decisions.

    And now it's 2018, and I feel a certain defeat in finding that the sunray design on certain TA-Loots is reminiscent enough of the Japanese war flag to cause discomfort for some. Maybe it's not the painstaking precise replication of the General Lee's stars-and-bars. But from the first instant that I saw the green and yellow sun rays I was reminded of the Japanese war flag, so I don't believe there's much wiggle room there.

    If the design goes away I might miss it a little, but if it somehow sticks around I think I'll feel pretty embarrassed about it surviving in the face of recent revelations.
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  • 08 Aug 2018 3:28 AM | Anonymous
    We do want to be sensitive to other peoples feelings of course. This all seems like a fairly simple misunderstanding that should have been easy to clear up. I've always seen misunderstands as an opportunity to have a conversation. In this case, those who were offended seemed to be unwilling to listen to and/or understand our explanation. Does anyone really think we supported the empire of Japan? We fought a war to eliminate the oppression and misery that they were spreading. Rising sun flag? Nope. It's inspired by the sunset on the Oregon flag. The sunset that settlers used to navigate here. It should be clear that there is no connection, especially philosophically, between the Imperial Japan and the TA. If however, after explaining the meaning behind a chant or scarf or flag someone chooses to still be offended and assign their own meaning then fine. That's their choice and unlike them I'm not going to tell them what they should think or do. Go ahead, be offended if that is what you are after. It's a free country. But I'm not going to change it because others are assigning meaning to it that is just plain incorrect. That is just allowing someone else to usurp our symbology/culture and assign a meaning to it that was not intended. In other words, it's allowing others to say they have the right to speak for us/tell us what to do. I say we stand our ground since we know the association is a false one. Orin Hulin, I respect your opinion and you're right, reflection is in order. However, I don't believe a mistake was made in this case. I do think this is a chance for us to shine, by showing some backbone.
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