National Foundation Day

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

National Foundation Day
A mikoshi is carried during a parade
Official name建国記念の日 (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi)
Observed byJapan
SignificanceCelebrates the founding of the nation
Celebrationsfamily reunions, parades, concerts
Date11 February
Next time11 February 2024 (2024-02-11)

National Foundation Day (建国記念の日, Kenkoku Kinen no Hi) is an annual public holiday in Japan on 11 February, celebrating the foundation of Japan, enforced by a specific Cabinet Order set in 1966.[1][2] 11 February is the accession date of the legendary first Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu at Kashihara-gū, converted into Gregorian calendar of 660 BC which is written in Kojiki and chapter 3 of Nihon Shoki.[3] Coincidentally, 11 February 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 Kinmei (539–571) 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] The first historical records did not appear until the 8th century, with the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki.[10][11]

In the Meiji era, 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 era, 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.[12] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[13] 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.[13]

The new holiday was brought in to help promote the imperial cult that underlined the concept of the kokutai.[14] This also coincided with the switch from the lunisolar calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1873. The holiday was proclaimed on the Lunar New Year of 1872, which coincided with the accession of Emperor Jimmu according to the Nihon Shoki.[15] The date was 29 January 1873 of the Gregorian calendar,[16] but later that year it was changed to 11 February,[17][18] probably to avoid conflict with the celebrations of Lunar New Year. 11 February 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".[19][20] 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.[14] Publicly linking his rule with the legendary first emperor, Jimmu, and thus the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, Emperor Meiji declared himself the one, true ruler of Japan.[21] 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.[22]

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.[14] 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.[23]

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 Emperor Meiji'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 Emperor Meiji'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.[23]

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.[24]

Postwar transition[edit]

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. In a 1948 memorandum, the chief of the occupation authorities' religious and cultural resources division, W. K. Bunce, recommended the abolition of Kigensetsu to General Douglas MacArthur's chief of staff, writing that:

This holiday, based entirely on Shinto mythology, has been an occasion for propagandizing the divine origin and superiority of the Japanese race. Due to its official recognition of historical absurdities, it has served as a stumbling block to honest research into the early history of the Japanese people.[25]

Although some other prewar religious holidays were retained in a secular form, such as the Niiname-no-Matsuri holiday in November (which became Labor Thanksgiving Day), the Kigensetsu holiday was effectively abolished when Japan enacted a new national holiday law in 1948.[26][27]

Even after the occupation ended, there was widespread opposition to reviving the holiday within Japan due to its association with militarism.[26] However, there was also a movement to revive the holiday, in which the Association of Shinto Shrines played a major role.[28]

The holiday was re-established as National Foundation Day in 1966[29][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.[30] Two new national holidays were established at the same time: Respect for the Aged Day on September 15, and Sports Day on October 10.[27]

In a 1966 public opinion poll conducted by the Public Relations Office of the Prime Minister's Office at the request of the National Foundation Day Council, nearly half of the 8,700 respondents (47.4%) favored 11 February as the date of National Foundation Day, with the next most popular choices being 3 May (Constitution Memorial Day, the anniversary of the Constitution of Japan of 1947) and 3 April (the anniversary of the Seventeen-Article Constitution of 604).[31]

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 (Shōwa 41), and was applied from 11 February 1967 (Shōwa 42).[3] Article 2 of the Law Concerning National Holidays (Holiday Law, Law No. 178, 20 July 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.[32][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.[33] 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.[33]


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.[34] 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.[35][36] However, the "National Foundation Day Celebration Central Ceremony" sponsored by the "Japan's National Foundation Day Celebration" is held every year since 2020.[36][37] There is also an ambassador's attendance.[38] The "National Foundation Day Celebration" and the "Celebration Steering Committee" reorganized into "Japan's National Foundation Day Celebration" and hold their own ceremonies.[32]

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has full dressing of self-defense ships moored at bases and general ports.[39] They hoist the flag of the JMSDF and/or signal flags on MSDF ships and held for expressing good wishes on National Foundation Day.[39] There are also illuminated ships after sunset.[39]


The National Foundation Day Celebration Parade is held annually in Tokyo on 11 February.[40]

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]. 12 May 2019. Archived from the original on 18 January 2017. Retrieved 8 October 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 11 February 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e "今日は「建国記念の日」". Tajima Express. 11 February 2021. Archived from the original on 11 March 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Evolution of the Meiji State : Outline". National Diet Library. Japan. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  5. ^ a b 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. ^ Hoye, Timothy (1999). Japanese Politics: Fixed and Floating Worlds. p. 78. ISBN 9780132712897. According to legend, the first Japanese Emperor was Jimmu. Along with the next 13 Emperors, Jimmu is not considered an actual, historical figure. Historically verifiable Emperors of Japan date from the early sixth century with Kimmei
  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. ^ Smits, Gregory J. (1991). Political Thought in Japanese Historical Writing: From Kojiki (712) to Tokushi Yoron (1712). Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 30–32. ISBN 9780889209978.
  11. ^ Vogel, Ezra F. (2019). China and Japan: Facing History. Harvard University Press. pp. 15–17. ISBN 9780674240766.
  12. ^ a b Gluck 1985, p. 38.
  13. ^ a b c Gluck 1985, p. 248.
  14. ^ a b c Gluck 1985, p. 85.
  15. ^ Aston, William G. (1896). Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697. London: The Japan Society of the UK. ISBN 9780524053478. Spring, 1st month, 1st day.
  16. ^ Yuk Tung Liu (2018). Conversion between Western and Chinese Calendar.
  17. ^ Shillony, Ben-Ami (2021). Enigma of the Emperors: Sacred Subservience in Japanese History. p. 9. ISBN 9789004213999.
  18. ^ Ruoff, Kenneth J. (2021). Japan's Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945–2019. BRILL. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-68417-616-8.
  19. ^ Ruoff 2001, p. 22.
  20. ^ "Japanese Holiday Traditions". American School in Japan. Archived from the original on 24 November 2005. Retrieved 21 November 2005.
  21. ^ "Emperor JINMU". Hiragana Times. Archived from the original on 19 June 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2005.
  22. ^ Bix 2000, p. 384.
  23. ^ a b Gluck 1985, p. 86.
  24. ^ Gluck 1985, p. 87.
  25. ^ Bunce, W. K. (1966) [27 May 1948]. "MEMORANDUM FOR THE CHIEF OF STAFF: Abolition of Certain Japanese National Holidays". Contemporary Religions in Japan. 7 (2): 154–165. ISSN 0010-7557. JSTOR 30232991.
  26. ^ a b "【主張】建国記念の日 国家の存続喜び祝う日に". 産経ニュース (in Japanese). 11 February 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2023.
  27. ^ a b "屈指の「祝日大国」日本、ちゃんと休めていますか". 読売新聞オンライン (in Japanese). 8 May 2021. Retrieved 3 January 2023.
  28. ^ "皇室と神社本庁の関係 皇位継承問題で歴史の岐路に". NEWSポストセブン (in Japanese). Retrieved 3 January 2023.
  29. ^ Lange 1992, p. 172.
  30. ^ "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 4 February 2021.
  31. ^ "建国記念の日に関する世論調査". Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  32. ^ a b "What is national foundation day? (建国記念の日とは)". The Committee to Celebrate Japan's National Foundation. 11 February 2019. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  33. ^ a b Abe, Shinzo (11 February 2018). ""Message from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Occasion of National Foundation Day"". Cabinet Public Relations Office. Archived from the original on 30 August 2020. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  34. ^ Hutchinson & Smith 2000, pp. 1889–1880.
  35. ^ "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. 17 November 1987. Archived from the original on 24 January 2021. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  36. ^ 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. 13 February 2020. Archived from the original on 11 April 2021. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  37. ^ "建国記念の日奉祝中央式典/神社本庁". 宗教新聞. 18 March 2021. Archived from the original on 10 October 2021. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  38. ^ ティムラズ・レジャバ駐日ジョージア臨時代理大使 [@TeimurazLezhava] (11 February 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 12 February 2020. Retrieved 10 October 2021 – via Twitter.
  39. ^ 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). 1 August 2021. Archived from the original on 5 August 2021.
  40. ^ a b c d e "National Foundation Day Celebration Parade". real Japan on'. 11 February 2019. Archived from the original on 14 December 2020.

General references[edit]