National Foundation Day (建国記念の日): A Patriotic Holiday for Japan

Due to its somewhat controversial origins, National Foundation was abolished following the post-war constitution, but it subsequently bounced back 20 years later. We wonder, does it still hold the same meaning?

Posted by on February 11, 2018 – Life in Japan
National Foundation Day

National Foundation Day (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi, 建国記念の日) is a public holiday which occurs annually on 11th February. If ever there was a day to be patriotic in Japan, it should be on National Foundation Day, which celebrates the foundation of Japan, and the ascension of Japan’s first emperor, Emperor Jimmu.

“Kenkoku Kinen no Hi” Explained

  • “Kenkoku” (建国) means “founding of a nation”
  • “Kinen” (記念) means “commemoration”
  • “no” (の) is the possessive particle (similar to “of”)
  • And “Hi”(日) means “day”.

Putting those together, we have the direct – albeit fairly messy – translation “founding of a nation, commemoration day”!

The Beginnings of the Holiday

The origins of National Foundation Day are bound tightly to the Meiji Restoration (Meiji Ishin, 明治維新) – a pivotal period in Japan’s history. Though, this fact alone doesn’t make the holiday contentious, rather, it was the government’s intent for the holiday at that time…

Joys of modernisation came with the Meiji Ishin, but so did massive political, social and economic changes – including the government’s attempt to connect Shintoism to the State. The national holiday “Empire Day” (Kigensetsu, 紀元節) was a direct product of these efforts, and from 1873 until 1945, Kigensetsu was used to commemorate the Emperor as the “one true ruler of Japan”. This holiday was deemed to be nationalistic in nature, so it was abolished in Japan’s Post-war Constitution. However, after numerous complaints, it was reinstated as National Foundation Day in 1966.

Why the 11th February?

The legend states that Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne on the first day of the new year, but until 1873, Japan used the lunisolar calendar. It was during the modernisation of Japan that the Meiji Emperor deemed it necessary to switch from the Lunisolar Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar which is used in Japan today. Hence, the first day of the Lunisolar Calendar corresponds to the 11th February in the Gregorian Calendar.

How is National Foundation Day Celebrated?

The original holiday, Kigensetsu, was once a big occasion in Japan. It was considered to be one of the four most famous holidays, and so the day was marked with celebrations and large parades. These days however, the day is much more understated. During this time, many businesses and government buildings are closed, and you will probably see more Japanese flags, but there aren’t many overt displays of patriotism.

Vocabulary

To commemorate Japan on this day, here are some kanji connected to this holiday, in order of difficulty (based on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test).

How many did you already know?:

JLPT Level 5: Japan, 日本, reading: にほん, or more formally: にっぽん
JLPT Level 4: Company, 社, onyomi:しゃ, kunyomi: やしろ
JLPT Level 3: Holiday/absence from work , 休暇, reading: きゅうか
JLPT Level 2: History, 史, reading: し
JLPT Level 1: National Flag, 旗, onyomi: き, kunyomi: はた

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