National Foundation Day

Last updated
National Foundation Day
Observed byFlag of Japan.svg  Japan
TypeNational holiday
SignificanceCelebrates the founding of the nation
Date 11 February
Next time11 February 2019 (2019-02)

National Foundation Day(建国記念の日,Kenkoku Kinen no Hi) is a national holiday in Japan celebrated annually on February 11, celebrating the mythological foundation of Japan and the accession of its first emperor, Emperor Jimmu at Kashihara gū on 11 February 660 BC. [1]

Public holidays in Japan were established by the Public Holiday Law of 1948. A provision of the law establishes that when a national holiday falls on a Sunday, the next working day shall become a public holiday, known as furikae kyūjitsu. Additionally, any day that falls between two other national holidays shall also become a holiday, known as kokumin no kyūjitsu. May 4, sandwiched between Constitution Memorial Day on May 3 and Children's Day on May 5, was an annual example of such a holiday until it was replaced by Greenery Day in 2007.

Japan Constitutional monarchy in East Asia

Japan is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.

Emperor Jimmu Emperor of Japan

Emperor Jimmu was the first Emperor of Japan, according to legend. His accession is traditionally dated as 660 BC. According to Japanese mythology, he is a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, through her grandson Ninigi, as well as a descendant of the storm god Susanoo. He launched a military expedition from Hyuga near the Inland Sea, captured Yamato, and established this as his center of power. In modern Japan, Jimmu's accession is marked as National Foundation Day on February 11.



The origin of National Foundation Day is New Year's Day in the traditional lunisolar calendar. On that day, the foundation of Japan by Emperor Jimmu was celebrated based on Nihonshoki , which states that Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne on the first day of the first month.[ citation needed ]

Japanese New Year January 1, a national holiday in Japan (the first day of the first month of the East Asian Lunar calendar prior to 1873)

The Japanese New Year is an annual festival with its own customs. Since 1873, the official Japanese New Year has been celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, on January 1 of each year, New Year's Day. However, some traditional events of the Japanese New Year are partially celebrated on the first day of the year on the modern Tenpō calendar, the last official lunisolar calendar which was used until 1872 in Japan.

A lunisolar calendar is a calendar in many cultures whose date indicates both the Moon phase and the time of the solar year. If the solar year is defined as a tropical year, then a lunisolar calendar will give an indication of the season; if it is taken as a sidereal year, then the calendar will predict the constellation near which the full moon may occur. As with all calendars which divide the year into months there is an additional requirement that the year have a whole number of months. In this case ordinary years consist of twelve months but every second or third year is an embolismic year, which adds a thirteenth intercalary, embolismic, or leap month.

In the Meiji period, the government of Meiji Japan designated the day as a national holiday because of the modernization of Japan by the Meiji Restoration. Under the bakufu, people in Japan had worshiped the emperors as living gods, but regional loyalties were just as strong as national loyalties with most people feeling an equal or a stronger loyalty to whatever daimyō ("lord") that ruled over their province as they did to the shōgun who ruled from distant Edo, let alone the emperor who reigned in the equally distant city of Kyoto. Moreover, Shintoism has a number of deities, and until the Meiji Restoration, the emperors were just one of many Shinto gods, and usually not the most important. During the Meiji period, the government went out of its way to promote the imperial cult of emperor-worship as a way of ensuring that loyalty to the national government in Tokyo would outweigh any regional loyalties. Moreover, the process of modernization in Meiji era Japan was intended only to ensure that Japan adopted Western technology, science and models of social organization, not the values of the West; it was a recurring fear of the government that the Japanese people might embrace Western values like democracy and individualism, which led the government to rigidly insist upon all Japanese were to hold the same values with any form of heterodoxy viewed as a threat to the kokutai. [2] The American historian Carol Gluck noted that for the Japanese state in the Meiji era, "social conformity" was the highest value, with any form of dissent considered a major threat to the kokutai. [3] Up to 1871, Japanese society was divided into four castes: the samurai, the merchants, the artisans and the peasants. The samurai were the dominant caste, but the sort of aggressive militarism embraced by the samurai were not embraced by the other castes, who legally speaking were not allowed to own weapons. One of the Meiji era reforms was the introduction of conscription with all able-bodied young men to serve in either the Army or the Navy when they turned 18, which required promoting the ideology of Bushido ("the way of the warrior") to people who historically speaking had been encouraged to see war as the exclusive concern of the samurai. [4] The imperial cult of emperor-worship was promoted both to ensure that everyone would be a part of the kokutai and to ensure that all men embraced Bushido, and would willingly serve in the military. [5] After conscription was introduced in 1873, a group of teenage rickshaw drivers and shop clerks were ordered to attend a lecture where they were informed that "Now that all men are samurai" that they were to show "manly obedience" by enlisting in the Army at once, which many objected to under the grounds that they did not come from samurai families. [6]

Meiji period Japanese era 1868–1912

The Meiji period, or Meiji era, is an era of Japanese history which extended from October 23, 1868, to July 30, 1912. This era represents the first half of the Empire of Japan, during which period the Japanese people moved from being an isolated feudal society at risk of colonisation by European powers to the new paradigm of a modern, industrialised nationstate and emergent great power influenced by Western scientific, technological, philosophical, political, legal, and aesthetic ideas. As a result of such wholesale adoption of radically-different ideas the changes to Japan were profound, and affected its social structure, internal politics, economy, military, and foreign relations. The period corresponded to the reign of Emperor Meiji and was succeeded upon the accession of Emperor Taishō by the Taishō period.

The Government of Meiji Japan was the government that was formed by politicians of the Satsuma Domain and Chōshū Domain in the 1860s. The Meiji government was the early government of the Empire of Japan.

Meiji Restoration restoration of imperial rule in Japan

The Meiji Restoration, also known as the Meiji Renovation, Revolution, Reform, or Renewal, was an event that restored practical imperial rule to the Empire of Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji. Although there were ruling Emperors before the Meiji Restoration, the events restored practical abilities and consolidated the political system under the Emperor of Japan.

The new holiday was brought in to help promote the imperial cult that underlined the concept of the kokutai. [7] This coincided with the switch from the lunisolar calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1873. In 1872, when the holiday was originally proclaimed, [8] it was January 29 of the Gregorian calendar, which corresponded to Lunar New Year of 1873. Contrary to the government's expectation, this led people to see the day as just Lunar New Year, instead of the National Foundation Day. In response, the government moved the holiday to February 11 of the Gregorian calendar in 1873. The government stated that it corresponded to Emperor Jimmu's regnal day but did not publish the exact method of computation.[ citation needed ] February 11 was also the day when the Constitution of the Empire of Japan in 1889 with the enforcement on November 29, 1890.

The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used civil calendar in the world. It is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582. The calendar spaces leap years to make the average year 365.2425 days long, approximating the 365.2422-day tropical year that is determined by the Earth's revolution around the Sun. The rule for leap years is:

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap years, but the year 2000 is.

The Constitution of the Empire of Japan, known informally as the Meiji Constitution, was the constitution of the Empire of Japan which had the proclamation on February 11, 1889, and had enacted since November 29, 1890 until May 2, 1947. Enacted after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it provided for a form of mixed constitutional and absolute monarchy, based jointly on the Prussian and British models. In theory, the Emperor of Japan was the supreme leader, and the Cabinet, whose Prime Minister would be elected by a Privy Council, were his followers; in practice, the Emperor was head of state but the Prime Minister was the actual head of government. Under the Meiji Constitution, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet were not necessarily chosen from the elected members of the group.

In its original form, the holiday was named Empire Day(紀元節,,Kigensetsu)[ citation needed ]. [9] The national holiday was supported by those who believed that focusing national attention on the emperor would serve an unifying purpose, holding the kokutai together with all Japanese people united by their love of the god-emperor. [10] Publicly linking his rule with the mythical first emperor, Jimmu, and thus the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the Meiji Emperor declared himself the one, true ruler of Japan. [11] The claim that the emperors of Japan were gods was based upon their supposed descent from Amaterasu, the most important of the Shinto gods and goddesses. With large parades and festivals, in its time, Kigensetsu was considered one of the four major holidays of Japan. [12] The holiday of Kigensetsu featured parades, athletic competitions, the public reading of poems, the handing out of sweets and buns to children, with the highlight of the Kigensetsu always being a rally where ordinary people would kowtow to a portrait of the emperor, which was followed up by the singing of the national anthem and patriotic speeches whose principal theme was always that Japan was a uniquely virtuous nation because of its rule by the god-emperors. [13] Kigensetsu provided the model for school ceremonies, albeit on a smaller scale, as classes always began in Japan with the students kowtowing to a portrait of the emperor, and school graduations and the opening of new schools were conducted in a manner very similar to how Kigensetsu was celebrated. [14] When students graduated in Japan, the principal and the teachers would always give speeches to the graduating class on the theme that Japan was a special nation because its emperors were gods, and it was the duty of every student to serve the god-emperor. [15]

Amaterasu goddess of the sun in the Shinto faith

Amaterasu (天照), Amaterasu-ōmikami (天照大神/天照大御神/天照皇大神), or Ōhirume-no-muchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神) is a deity of the Japanese myth cycle and also a major deity of the Shinto religion. She is seen as the goddess of the sun and the universe. The name Amaterasu is derived from Amateru and means "shining in heaven". The meaning of her whole name, Amaterasu-ōmikami, is "the great august kami (deity) who shines in the heaven". According to the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in Japanese mythology, the Emperors of Japan are considered to be direct descendants of Amaterasu.

Reflecting the fact that for most Japanese people under the bakufu regional loyalties were stronger than national loyalties, in the 1880s and 1890s, there was some confusion in the rural areas of Japan about just what precisely Kigensetsu was meant to celebrate, with one deputy mayor of a small village in 1897 believing that Kigensetsu was the Meiji Emperor's birthday. [16] It was not until about 1900 that everyone in the rural areas of Japan finally understood the meaning of Kigensetsu. [17] Aizawa, the same deputy mayor who in 1897 who thought the holiday was the Meiji Emperor's birthday, later become the mayor, in 1903 gave his first Kigensetsu speech at the local school, and in 1905 he organized a free banquet to go along with Kigensetsu, which become an annual tradition in his village. [18] The slow penetration of Kigensetsu in the rural areas was due to the fact that the children of most peasants did not attend school or at least for very long, and it was only with the gradual establishment of a universal education system that the imperial cult caught on. [19] Between the 1870s to the 1890s, all of the rural areas of Japan finally acquired a school, which allowed everyone to be educated. [20] It was only about 1910 that Kigensetsu finally started to serve its purpose as a holiday that united the entire Japanese nation in loyalty to the emperor over the length and breadth of Japan. [21] However, the government in Tokyo was as late as 1911 still chiding local officials in rural areas for including in Kigensetsu ceremonies to honor local Shinto gods, reminding them the purpose of Kigensetsu was to unite the Japanese nation in loyalty to the god-emperor in Tokyo, not honor local gods. [22]

Given its reliance on the State Shinto, the nationalistic version of Shinto which is the traditional Japanese ethnic religion and its reinforcement of the Japanese nobility based on the Japanese nationalism and militarism, Kigensetsu was abolished following the surrender of Japan in the World War II. Coincidentally, February 11 was also the day when General Douglas MacArthur approved the draft version of the model Constitution in 1946. [23] The commemorative holiday was re-established as National Foundation Day in 1966. [24] Though stripped of most of its overt references to the Emperor, National Foundation Day was still a day for expressing patriotism and love of the nation in the 1950s. [25]

Current practice

In contrast with the events associated with earlier Kigensetsu, celebrations for National Foundation Day are relatively muted. Customs include the raising of Japanese national flags and reflection on the meaning of Japanese citizenship.[ citation needed ] The holiday is still relatively controversial however, and very overt expressions of nationalism or even patriotism in public are rare. [26]

See also


  1. Hardacre, Helen. (1989). Shinto and the State, 1868–1988, pp. 101–102.
  2. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 38.
  3. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 38.
  4. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 248.
  5. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 248.
  6. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 248.
  7. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 85.
  8. Rimmer, Thomas et al. (2005). The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, p. 555 n1.
  9. American School in Japan: Japanese Holiday Traditions Archived 2005-11-24 at the Wayback Machine . retrieved November 21, 2005
  10. Gluck, Carol. (1985) Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, p. 85.
  11. Hiragana Times: Emperor JINMU Archived 2006-06-19 at the Wayback Machine , retrieved November 21, 2005
  12. Bix, Herbert. (2000).Hirohito And The Making Of Modern Japan, p. 384
  13. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 85.
  14. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 86.
  15. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 86.
  16. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 86.
  17. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 86.
  18. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 86.
  19. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 87.
  20. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 87.
  21. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 87.
  22. Gluck, Carol Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985 page 87.
  23. Dower, John. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, p. 373.
  24. Lange, Stephen. (1992). Emperor Hirohito and Shōwa Japan: A Political Biography, p. 172.
  25. Neary, Ian. (1996). Leaders and Leadership in Japan, p. 239.
  26. Hutchinson, John et al. (2000). Nationalism: Critical Concepts in Political Science, pp. 1889–1880.

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