What is the Buddhist Swastika in Japan?

Published February 11th, 2016

If you’ve been to an East Asian country, you’ve probably seen a swastika and thought, WHAT THE #$@& IS THAT DOING HERE? Well first of all, watch your language. But second of all, you should know that it’s not at all what you think. The word for this Buddhist swastika symbol in Japan is manji (まんじ)

manji swastika

As you can see here, the swastika points clockwise and the manji points counter-clockwise. Though technically both symbols are swastikas. The manji and the swastika are ancient, sacred symbols that date back to 2000 B.C. and usually represent auspiciousness. Auspiciousness is just a fancy word for good luck, or good fortune. The manji symbol can be seen many places in Asia, most frequently at temples. In fact, in Japan, the manji is still the symbol used on tourist maps to denote a temple. But that’s all about to change…

japanese swastika buddhist swastika

Japan is currently considering removing the manji from their maps and replacing it with a tiny icon of a pagoda to make things simpler. But why would they remove a sacred and auspicious symbol that has been a part of many religions for thousands of years? Because of the Nazis, of course.

Where Does the Buddhist Swastika Come From?

As it turns out, many people are actually unaware of the manji’s origins. And when they see the sacred symbol they can’t help but think of Hitler and the Holocaust. But even the name swastika comes from the Sanskrit word svastika (Devanāgarī: स्वस्तिक), meaning “lucky or auspicious object”. So why did the symbol become associated with something so evil?

Well apparently, back in the 2nd millennium B.C., Aryan nomads in India used the swastika as their symbol. According to Hitler, Germans were descended from these nomadic Aryans and the swastika was “eternally anti-Semitic.” Obviously, Aryan superiority is not the original intent of the widely used image, but once Hitler adopted it, it has sadly lost any other meaning as far as most of the world is concerned.

With Japan’s decision to remove the manji from their tourist maps, the issue has come back into the spotlight. On the one side, many tourists who see the symbol are confused and some are also offended by it. On the other hand, the symbol’s true origin comes from a place of goodness and positivity. Which do you think is more important? Avoiding controversy and keeping the tourists happy? Or preserving a sacred and ancient piece of your culture?

If you can’t tell, we tend to agree with the latter. While many people around the world may have never seen a manji before or even know where the swastika really comes from, that doesn’t mean Japan or Korea or India should stop using it. In fact, it is all the more reason to use it more! Show it to the world and take back the swastika as a positive symbol that many people revere. With Japan removing the manji from their tourist maps, even those tourists who visit Japan may not be exposed to it. And the fewer people that are exposed to this wonderful symbol, the more people continue to associate it with an awful, hateful regime.

So in that spirit, share this post and help spread the word about the beautiful, ancient, wonderfully auspicious swastika!

Image Credit: Michael Coghlan