Swastikas as Design Elements in Japan/Asia

posted on 17 Oct 2008 in Almost Engrish

Throughout the years I have noticed a few submissions here and there that feature swastikas (or what appear to be swastikas) as design elements in various items. Some, like the first photo below, are scary, but many of them do not always represent the Nazi party from WW2.  

This t-shirt found in a sushi shop in Japan is a quite blatant logo representation from the 3rd Reich.  I suspect that the young person wearing this has no idea of the meaning behind his shirt: 

Conversely, this purse was carried by a woman on a scooter in Thailand, but to the Thai people the symbol has another meaning altogether (explanation below photo): 

The following is a quote from the person who submitted the photo:

Taken on Thanon Naebkehad, Amphur Hua Hin, Thailand on 4 January 2005 at 11:36 AM.  It should be noted that the swastika, which was co-opted by the Shicklegruber (Hitler) for his nationalistic madness, is actually an ancient symbol of peace which originiated in India.  You will see these on buildings as you go into Bangkok from Don Muang Airport, as well as on girls’ neck chains and other jewelry.  The term “swastika”, pronounced “SA WAS DEE KA” in Thai, is the term of greeting spoken by females.  Males would say “SA WAS DEE KRUP”. (Photo by Khun Bufo Toad)

This next symbol is a source of great confusion –  visitors to Japan are often horrified when they see it plastered on maps and signs: 


Japan Map Symbol for Temple

Japan Map Symbol for Temple

This is actually not a swastika, but the symbol for Buddhist temples most often used in maps (the symbol is the reverse of a swastika – it points the opposite direction). You can see the symbol on Wikipedia’s entry for Japanese map symbols. It is easy to see why anyone could be confused (including myself) when first visiting Japan.

  • coffeebot

    After reading en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika I am considering naming my next pet crayfish Manji Hakenkreuz.

  • Weejee Hehheh

    Didn’t that kid ever study history? Doesn’t he have grandparents. Ewwwww.

  • http://dontwannatell.com mista bob dobalina

    The Japanese temple sign for maps also comes from the ancient symbol of peace which originiated in India. Reverse Swastika mostly called. I had seen that sign in many Buddhist Temples around Japan.

    About the guy with the T-Shirt, in WW2, Japan was on the same side with Germany (although on different motives) so that the impact of the period on Japanese people is kinda different from European people for instance. Even his grandparents woulnd’t have known, let alone that kid.

  • Alex

    I buy a lot of noddle soups at chinatown and some come with the reverse Swastika, and my mom was horrified when she saw me opening the package at home so i had to explain it to her.

  • randy

    i’ve attended many teachings by tibetan lamas where they were seatd on a dais decorated w/beautiful silk banners on which was emblazoned a large, rainbow-colored swastika; a buddhist symbol.

    one point; if the swastika is ’tilted’, on a point, it’s NOT a buddhist one.

  • http://secretidentityasnon-superhero grumpy

    the oldest versions of the buddhist swastika type symbol have a large dot within each arm of the stmbol

  • Shinden

    I consider the hate for the manji to be culturally insensitive. Symbols don’t kill people, people kill people. As a new generation, we need to destroy the connotations with the hakenkreuz and bring back the manji.

  • Copperdomebodhi

    Jorma Kaukonen was the guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane, and he wore a swastika necklace at Woodstock. He’s had to explain that a few times, especially because he’s Jewish.

    “It is a piece on Navajo pawn silver that I bought at a trading post in the early sixties. That’s what it meant to me… The symbol of the four winds, four seasons etc. The overriding power of symbols is undeniable. Is it important what it meant to me as opposed to what you and others think when you see it? At the time, I would have said ‘Yes. I know what it means to me and it doesn’t matter what you think!’ Would I say that today. Absolutely not.”

    Full thoughts here:


  • http://www.www.com Pan-Nationalism

    The Swastika is also an ancient German symbol, an Israeli symbol, an ancient Greek symbol, an ancient Slavic symbol…it’s a global symbol. Get over it. And why would you doubt that Iron Eagle wearing Asian knows nothing about history? I’m non-white and have a similar shirt, fully aware.

  • http://www.proswastika.org/page.php?2 Jason Bonner
  • Martin Paulus

    To Pan-Nationalism: I seriously doubt that the swastika/reverse-swastika has western roots. Please quote your sources.

    I agree that questioning someone’s knowledge of history based on his attire is wrong. However, were this person aware of the nazi connotation of his shirt.. Let’s just say calling this person ignorant is giving this person the _benefit_ of the doubt.

    To your-nazi-shirt-owning-self: I hope you are proud of yourself, at least.

  • NeinNein

    In Asia the Nazi-era in Germany is not as well known as one might think. A Korean friend knew the name Hitler, but not who he was or what actually occoured here in Germany from 1933-45. And frankly he did not care. And why should he? The view that everybody on this planet needs to know about the 3rd Reich is a VERY Eurocentric pov. The history of mankind consist of more than just the history of Europe and the USA.

    Personally I like the swastika-symbol, but wouldn’t wear it walking around here in Germany. You can get into serious trouble, when wearing a swastika here. Besides that I don’t think banning the swastika makes any sense. The symbol has a long history and not just 12 years of Nazi-reign.

  • JC

    The swastika doesn’t have to be pointed backwards to be positive. Just about every culture used/uses the swastika as a positive meaning facing both ways. Many countries still use it and if it offends people, then it’s their ignorance.

  • http://reclaimtheswastika.tumblr.com JC

    A swastika doesn’t have to have a non-tilt or reverse to be good. The swastika is many millenia old. Before Hitler they did not differentiate between tilt or which way it turned and they don’t now. A swastika is a swastika is a swastika. It’s used in many places still, especially India (where some swastikas look exactly like the Nazi variant). Native Americans especially used it. Their swastika also looked exactly like a Nazi swastika… same tile, everything. reclaimtheswastika.tumblr.com

  • shidow

    To be fair it’s pretty obvious that it’s a Nazi swastika when it’s in a loop held by an eagle, but as mista bob dobalina said the Japanese view of this is different to the west. Also I don’t think that being offended by a swastika is necessarily ignorance; it is unfortunate that this symbol has become associated with the Nazis, but that’s life and think about how you would feel if you had lost your parents or ancestors to the gas chambers.

  • choyak yakatak

    I was in Penang Malaysia at Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple and there was a swastika sign mear the pagoda that you could climb up like 7 floors.

  • dizaster

    Swastika is ancient symbol of happiness, typical in India, Nepal, Buthan, Tibet etc.

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