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“Quick Reference to International Protocol - 12 Chapters”Excerpt From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson’s Edition – Published by Sekai no Ugokisha

For 2 National Flags

 In principle, your own national flag takes preference. However, in Japan today, generally the Japanese national flag is placed to the right. In other words, when raising 2 national flags, the foreign flag is hung facing the wall or pole on the left, which shows respect to the foreign country.
When raising the flags on crossed poles, the foreign flag crosses on top, so please take care to follow this protocol.

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For 3 National Flags

When raising 3 national flags, the Japanese flag is normally in the middle, with the other 2 flags in alphabetical order as per UN protocol. The first country in alphabetical order will be to the left of and facing the Japanese flag, and the other to the right.

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 When flags are attached to a wall, and flags cannot be displayed either side due to the amount of space available, it is possible to raise them vertically. In this case, for flags which have a canton in the upper left of the flag, like the USA’s Stars and Stripes or Australia etc., the canton must be in the upper right (facing the flag in the upper left).

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For 4 Flags or More

 Normally the order follows the UN protocol, and placed in alphabetical order. For poles or walls, normally the order is from left to right. If there is an odd number of flags, one protocol is having the Japanese flag in the center, and the foreign flags are in alphabetical order starting from the left, then right in that order.

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For flags placed on a table

 The protocol is the same as mentioned above. However, the following order may be considered.

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Raising a National Flag and Group Flag Together

 A national flag represents a single country, and being raised together with a flag representing a group or party should be avoided. However, if it is unavoidable, the national flag should be larger than the group flag, and be raised higher than the group flag. This method is possible indoors, or on a wall, but when raised on a flagpole or outdoors would result in the group flag being at half-mast, therefore in reality not possible. Either way, raising a national flag and a group flag together should be strictly avoided.

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Hoisting a Flag at Half-mast

 As a symbol of mourning, the flag is raised at half-mast. There is no set rule in particular for half-mast, but for state funerals or events equivalent to a state funeral, the Cabinet will issue a directive and government offices will fly flags at half-mast. If a foreign head of state passes away and a national funeral is held in that country, the flags at the Prime Minister’s Residence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will fly at half-mast. The protocol for hoisting a flag at half-mast is first raising it to full-mast, then lowering it to half-mast. When lowering a flag at half-mast, first it must be raised to full-mast before lowering it completely. If half-mast is not possible due to structural impediments etc., a black ribbon can be attached to the tip of the flagpole.

“Quick Reference to International Protocol - 12 Chapters”Excerpt From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson’s Edition – Published by Sekai no Ugokisha

How to raise a national flag

 A national flag is the symbol of a country. When greeting a foreign visitor, raising their national flag shows respect. However, if you make a mistake in protocol, not only will it disrespect the country, but it will throw cold water on the chance to deepen international friendship.
There are generally accepted international codes and protocols for raising flags so care is required.

Basic codes for raising national flags
  • A national flag is the symbol of a nation and its people so it must not be used if soiled or damaged.
  • When raising a national flag on a flagpole, the flag must reach the tip of the flagpole. When using a tripod etc. the flag must not touch the ground.
  • When the Japanese flag is raised together with a foreign country’s flag, they must be the same size and the flagpoles must be the same height. (Same protocol for flags attached to a wall.)
  • When the Japanese flag is raised with a foreign flag, care must be taken as part or all of a flag may change with a revolution or change of leadership. You must check the size (proportions and dimensions) and pattern prior to use.
  • A foreign flag must not be raised without hoisting nation’s (Japanese) flag.
  • Two or more national flags must not be raised on one flagpole.
  • When raising the national flags of two countries, the top corner of the flag must be on the right looking from behind, in other world, on the left when observing the flag from in front.
  • In general, national flags and group flags are not raised together, However, if they are, the national flag must be larger and be raised higher than the group flag.
  • When multiple national flags and group flags and the like are raised together, the flag with the highest rank is raised first, and when lowering the flag with the highest rank is lowered last.
  • National flags are customarily raised at sunrise (or when activities start), and lowered at sundown (or when activities finish).
  • Flags are not usually raised outside when it rains.
  • As a symbol of mourning, the flag is flown at half-mast. The protocol for hoisting a flag at half-mast is first raising it to full-mast, then lowering it to half-mast. When lowering a flag at half-mast, first it must be raised to full-mast before lowering it completely.
  • When national flags are raised, it is the international custom to stand to attention, lower heads or remove hats to show respect.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website