National Foundation Day

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National Foundation Day
A mikoshi is carried during a parade
Official name建国記念の日 (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi)
Observed by Japan
TypeNational holiday
SignificanceCelebrates the founding of the nation
Celebrationsfamily reunions, parades, concerts
DateFebruary 11
Next time11 February 2022 (2022-02-11)

National Foundation Day (建国記念の日, Kenkoku Kinen no Hi) is an annual national holiday in Japan on February 11, celebrating the foundation of Japan, enforced by a specific Cabinet Order set in 1966.[1][2] February 11 is the accession date of the legendary first Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu, converted into Gregorian calendar of 660 BC which is written in Kojiki and chapter 3 of Nihon Shoki.[3] Coincidentally, February 11, 1889 is the day of the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution.[4][5][3]


Kigensetsu celebration, pre-1940.

The origin of National Foundation Day is New Year's Day in the traditional lunisolar calendar. On that day, the foundation of Japan by the legendary Emperor Jimmu was celebrated based on the Nihon Shoki, which states that Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne on the first day of the first month.[6] There is, however, no compelling historical evidence that the legendary Emperor Jimmu actually existed.[7] Emperor Ankō (401 - 456) is the earliest generally agreed upon historical ruler of Japan.[8] During the Kofun period (300 - 538), Yamato was the first central government of the unified state in the Kinai region of central Japan.[9]

In the Meiji period, the government of Meiji Japan designated the day as a national holiday due to the modernization of Japan by the Meiji Restoration. Under the bakufu, people in Japan 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.[10] 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.[10]

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 was 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.[11] 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.[11] 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.[11]

The new holiday was brought in to help promote the imperial cult that underlined the concept of the kokutai.[12] This coincided with the switch from the lunisolar calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1873. In 1872, when the holiday was originally proclaimed,[13] 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 was proclaimed in 1889.[4][5]

In its original form, the holiday was named Kigensetsu (紀元節), translated by one pre-war scholar as "Festival of the Accession of the First Emperor and the Foundation of the Empire".[14][15] 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.[12] Publicly linking his rule with the legendary first emperor, Jimmu, and thus the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the Meiji Emperor declared himself the one, true ruler of Japan.[16] 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.[17]

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.[12] Kigensetsu provided the model for school ceremonies, albeit on a smaller scale, as classes always began in Japan with the students bowing 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. 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.[18]

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. It was not until about 1900 that everyone in the rural areas of Japan finally understood the meaning of Kigensetsu. 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. Between the 1870s to the 1890s, all of the rural areas of Japan finally acquired a school, which allowed everyone to be educated. 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. 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.[19]

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 following World War II. February 11 was also the day when General Douglas MacArthur approved the draft version of the model Constitution in 1946.[20]

The holiday was re-established as National Foundation Day in 1966[21][1] following the creation by Prime Minister Eisaku Satō of an exploratory council that was chaired by civic reformer Tsûsai Sugawara. Of the ten members of the council, seven voted to advise the prime minister to adopt the holiday; economist Genichi Abe believed the commemoration should be absorbed into New Year's Day to lessen financial impact, author Seiichi Funahashi objected to governmental sponsorship of the holiday, and journalist Sōichi Ōya resigned from the group prior to its final meeting without contributing a vote. In addition, agronomist Azuma Okuda included a separate opinion that the holiday should celebrate the land of Japan rather than glorify its people.[22]

Though it was stripped of most of its overt references to the Emperor, National Foundation Day retained its association with patriotism and love of nation, sentiments which fell from favor following World War II.[23] When Japan became a member of the United Nations on December 18, 1956, the people regained much of their self-esteem and felt proud of their country.[23]

Current practice[edit]

National Foundation Day in a street of Tokyo, 2019


National Foundation Day was added as a national holiday by the revision of the Public Holiday Law in 1966 (Showa 41), and was applied from February 11, 1967 (Showa 42).[3] Article 2 of the Law Concerning National Holidays (Holiday Law, Law No. 178, July 20, 1948 (国民の祝日に関する法律) ) stipulates that the purpose of National Foundation Day is to:

Nourish a love for the country by commemorating the establishment of the country.[24][3]

This day is to commemorate the founding of the country, regardless of the day it was founded.[3] The Prime Minister of Japan makes speeches and statements about the importance of National Foundation Day.[25] For example in 2018, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an official statement:

National Foundation Day is a public holiday for the purpose of "recalling the founding of the nation and cultivating a mindset of love of the nation." It is a national holiday on which each Japanese person thinks about the efforts made by our forebears from ages past in bringing the country to where it is today, and renews his or her hopes for the further development of the nation.[25]


In contrast with the events associated with earlier Kigensetsu, celebrations for National Foundation Day are relatively moderate. During the post-war period and up to 2000, there were two opposing sentiments: a caution to prevent ultra-nationalism and a desire to revive cultural traditions. As such people generally didn't overtly express nationalism or patriotism in public.[26] As a public holiday, government offices, schools, banks, and many companies are closed.

On the day of the event, festivals such as the "kenkoku-sai" (建国祭) are held at (Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples). There is no government-sponsored ceremony.[27][28] However, the "National Foundation Day Celebration Central Ceremony" sponsored by the "Japan's National Foundation Day Celebration" is held every year since 2020.[28][29] There is also an ambassador's attendance.[30] The "National Foundation Day Celebration" and the "Celebration Steering Committee" reorganized into "Japan's National Foundation Day Celebration" and hold their own ceremonies.[24]

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has full dressing of self-defense ships moored at bases and general ports.[31] They hoist the flag of the JMSDF and/or signal flags on MSDF ships and held for expressing good wishes on National Foundation Day.[31] There are also illuminated ships after sunset.[31]


The National Foundation Day Celebration Parade is held annually in Tokyo on February 11.[32]

Related Japanese celebrations[edit]

Several historic events and Japanese celebrations coincide with February 11.

  • Tenchosetsu was a holiday from 1873 (Meiji 5) to 1948 (Showa 23). It was one of the four major festivals (New Year (新年), Kigensetsu (紀元節), Tenchō-setsu (天長節), and Meiji-setsu (明治節)).[3]
  • The day of the imperial year of legendary Emperor Jimmu according to the Nihon Shoki, January 1, 660 BC was converted to the new calendar (Gregorian calendar), and February 11 was set as a holiday.[3] Initially it was January 29th, but it was changed from the following year to February 11th.[3] After the war, it was abolished because it did not fit the spirit of the Constitution of Japan (1947), but it was revived in 1966 as "National Foundation Day".[3]
  • February 11, 1937 (Showa 11), the Japanese Order of Culture was established.[3] The Order of Culture is presented to people in various fields who have made outstanding achievements in the development of culture.[3]
  • Three Cheers (万歳三唱), on February 11, 1889 (Meiji 22), the Three Cheers songs were performed for the first time at the commemorative ceremony of the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution.[5][3]
  • Emperor Seinei reigned from 11 February 480 – 27 February 484,[33] according to the traditional order of succession.

National Foundation Day Council[edit]

The National Foundation Day Council was established on July 11, 1966 (Showa 41) as an affiliated organization of the Prime Minister's Office, and abolished only on December 15, 1966 (within 10 members). A total of nine meetings were held from July 28 to December 8 of 1966, and a report to the Prime Minister on December 9 stating "February 11" (with individual opinions). The 5th meeting was held simultaneously on October 24th of the same year in Sendai, Tokyo, Osaka, and Hiroshima as a "public hearing on National Foundation Day" (two members each participated). In the report to the inquiry from Prime Minister Eisaku Sato (published in the official bulletin material version No. 453 dated December 28, 1966), he was appointed as chairman and deputy chairman. Regardless, the committee members described their individual opinions in alphabetical order.

Committee members[edit]

  • Tsûsai Sugawara (Chairman. attended all sessions. February 11)
  • Tadashi Yoshimura (Deputy Chairman. attended all sessions. February 11)
  • Genichi Abe (absent only at the 5th meeting. Holidays are not desirable. January 1 is safe if you force it)
  • Sōichi Ōya (attended only at the 2nd meeting. No individual opinion stated in the report due to resignation just before the final 9th meeting)
  • Azuma Okuda (attended all sessions. Spring day. Focus on the land, not the human society)
  • Shigeo Oketani (absent only from the first meeting. February 11)
  • Shigeru Sakakibara (attended all sessions. February 11)
  • Shigeko Tanabe (absent only at the 6th meeting. February 11)
  • Funahashi Seiichi (attended all sessions. February 11th, provided that it is not a government event)
  • Masatoshi Matsushita (absent only from the 1st, 2nd and 6th meetings. February 11)

Opinion poll on National Foundation Day[edit]

An opinion poll was conducted by the Public Relations Office of the Prime Minister's Office at the request of the National Foundation Day Council. Published in the official bulletin material version No. 449 dated November 30, 1966. Added each party proposal (Liberal Democratic Party: February 11, Socialist Party: May 3, Komeito: April 28, Democratic Socialist Party: April 3) to the options. From September 29th to October 6th of the same year, an interview was conducted by a researcher at the Central Research Services, Inc., targeting 10,000 men and women over the age of 20 (valid collection slip: 8,700). Reported to the 6th meeting on November 4, 1966. Nearly half of all respondents (47.4%) favored February 11 as the date of National Foundation Day similar to the original Kigensetsu.

  1. February 11-Original Kigensetsu day: 47.4% (4,124 people)
  2. Anytime: 12.1% (1,053 people)
  3. May 3 --1948 (Showa 23) May 3: Constitution Memorial Day: 10.4% (909 people)
  4. I don't know: 7.5% (651 people)
  5. April 3-Prince Shotoku's Seventeen-Article Constitution promulgated: Empress Suiko April 3, 2012 (Julian calendar May 6, 604): 6.1% (529 people)
  6. April 28-April 28, 1952: San Francisco Peace Treaty Effective Date: 5.8% (507 people)
  7. Those who answered the season, month, etc. instead of a specific day (spring, autumn, April, September, etc.): 3.1% (271 people)
  8. Those who answered inconsistently with the purpose of the question ("(Government) opposes setting National Foundation Day (as a national holiday)"): 2.1% (186 people)
  9. August 15: 2.1% (183 people)
  10. Other days (Lunar New Year, April 1, November 3, etc.): 1.4% (124 people)
  11. New Year's Day: 1.3% (109 people)
  12. Lichun Day: 0.5% (43 people)
  13. Genshisai (shinto festival of origins) (元始祭): 0.1% (11 people)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "建国記念の日となる日を定める政令" [Cabinet Order to set the date of National Foundation Day]. May 12, 2019. Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved October 8, 2020. 1966 Cabinet Order No. 376, Promulgation: December 9, 1966, Enforcement: December 9, 1966, The first application example is February 11, 1967.
  2. ^ "「国民の祝日」について" [About "national holiday"]. Cabinet Office (Japan). Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "今日は「建国記念の日」". Tajima Express. February 11, 2021. Archived from the original on March 11, 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Evolution of the Meiji State : Outline". National Diet Library. Japan. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Kokaze, Hidemasa (2011). "The Political Space of Meiji 22 (1889): The Promulgation of the Constitution and the Birth of the Nation". Japan Review. 3 (23): 119–141. JSTOR 41304926.
  6. ^ Keene 1999, p. 80.
  7. ^ Ruoff 2001, p. 160.
  8. ^ Kelly, Charles F. (April 27, 2009). "Kofun Culture". Japanese Archaeology. Archived from the original on October 10, 2021. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
  9. ^ Henshall, Kenneth (2012). A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0-230-34662-8.
  10. ^ a b Gluck 1985, p. 38.
  11. ^ a b c Gluck 1985, p. 248.
  12. ^ a b c Gluck 1985, p. 85.
  13. ^ Rimmer & Gessel 2005, p. 555 n1.
  14. ^ Ruoff 2001, p. 22.
  15. ^ "Japanese Holiday Traditions". American School in Japan. Archived from the original on November 24, 2005. Retrieved November 21, 2005.
  16. ^ "Emperor JINMU". Hiragana Times. Archived from the original on June 19, 2006. Retrieved November 21, 2005.
  17. ^ Bix 2000, p. 384.
  18. ^ a b Gluck 1985, p. 86.
  19. ^ Gluck 1985, p. 87.
  20. ^ Dower 1999, p. 373.
  21. ^ Lange 1992, p. 172.
  22. ^ "National Foundation Day (建国記念の日)". Japanese-English Bilingual Corpus of Wikipedia's Kyoto Articles. National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  23. ^ a b Neary, Ian (1996). Leaders and Leadership in Japan. p. 239.
  24. ^ a b "What is national foundation day? (建国記念の日とは)". The Committee to Celebrate Japan's National Foundation. February 11, 2019. Archived from the original on February 14, 2019. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  25. ^ a b Abe, Shinzo (February 11, 2018). ""Message from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Occasion of National Foundation Day"". Cabinet Public Relations Office. Archived from the original on August 30, 2020. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  26. ^ Hutchinson & Smith 2000, pp. M1 1889–1880.
  27. ^ "衆議院議員滝沢幸助君提出國史と國語に關する質問に対する答弁書". 衆議院. November 17, 1987. Archived from the original on January 24, 2021. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  28. ^ a b "政府主催の奉祝式典を要望/日本の建国を祝う会/憲法改正への訴え相次ぐ". 機関紙連合通信社. February 13, 2020. Archived from the original on April 11, 2021. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  29. ^ "建国記念の日奉祝中央式典/神社本庁". 宗教新聞. March 18, 2021. Archived from the original on October 10, 2021. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  30. ^ ティムラズ・レジャバ駐日ジョージア臨時代理大使 [@TeimurazLezhava] (February 11, 2020). "日本の建国を祝う会に出席致しました。日本の皆様、心よりお祝いを申し上げます。また、末永いご繁栄を願っております🇯🇵" (Tweet). Archived from the original on February 12, 2020. Retrieved October 10, 2021 – via Twitter.
  31. ^ a b c "Flags of Japan-Self Defense Forces (JSDF) and the Full-Dressing Ship of the Maritime Self-Defense Force". Ministry of Defense (Japan). August 1, 2021. Archived from the original on August 5, 2021.
  32. ^ a b c d e "National Foundation Day Celebration Parade". real Japan on'. February 11, 2019. Archived from the original on December 14, 2020.
  33. ^ "Genealogy of the Emperors of Japan" at; retrieved 2013-8-28.

General references[edit]