The Story Behind National Foundation Day

Just what is the meaning behind our Thursday off this week? Read on…

What is National Foundation Day?

Almost 100 countries around the world celebrate their own version of a “National Pride” day, “Independence Day” or “Founding Day.” In Japan, “National Foundation Day” (Kigensetsu, 紀元説) occurs annually on February 11. There is a sharp difference between Japan’s national holiday and those of other nations, though, in that there is little fanfare and minimum public celebration.

National Foundation Day commemorates the date when Japan’s very first emperor, the semi-mythical Emperor Jimmu, ascended the throne in 660 BCE.

emperor-jimmu
A 19th century depiction of Emperor Jimmu (Wikimedia Commons)

Udo Shrine in Miyazaki Prefecture preserves original documentation of the established holiday in a small museum. However, it wasn’t until during the Meiji Restoration that it was enacted as a national holiday by the government, as a way to boost pride for citizens of Japan. The only time it hasn’t been recognized as a holiday was the period following the end of WWII until 1966, when it was re-instated.

A Forgotten Holiday

Although it was initially considered one of Japan’s four largest annual holidays, complete with parades and flag-waving, it has received little attention in recent years. There is a tendency among Japanese nationals to be more reserved about celebrating their own country – last year, the Junior Chamber of Commerce International Japan conducted a survey of 10,000 Japanese adults, and found that only 19% (or, about 2 out of 10) knew that February 11 was National Foundation Day at all.

Keeping the Memory Alive

This week, most of us will breathe a deep sigh of relief over getting to sleep in a bit, and enjoy a day off of work, not really realizing there is cause for celebration. Those who do chance to wander downtown may see a few more flags raised than usual, and even a few sales or deals going on at the local department stores. Some crowds may gather near the Emperor’s residence in Tokyo, or a short parade may march down Omotesando Dori in the morning, for the curious who want to catch a glimpse of rare patriotism. However you choose to celebrate National Foundation Day, quietly remember what February 11th is all about for Japan.

–Natalie Jacobsen

Image: Cyril Bele/Flickr, used under CC

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