Japan National Foundation Day

National Foundation Day 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.

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. The holiday is still relatively controversial, however, and very overt expressions of nationalism or even patriotism in public are rare.

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.

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 kokutaiThe 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. 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. 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. 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.


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