Showa Day (昭和の日): Remembering History, and Why It’s Important

The intention of Showa Day is to encourage reflection upon the years 1929-1989, otherwise known as the Showa Era – an intense time in Japan.

Posted by on April 29, 2018 – Life in Japan
Showa Day

Showa Day (Shouwa no Hi, 昭和のひ) is a public holiday observed annually on 29th April. For those of us who aren’t familiar with Japanese eras, Shouwa no Hi may be better recognised as the start of Golden Week – a series of national holidays in Japan. Officially speaking though, the purpose of Shouwa no Hi is to contemplate the profound events of the 20th century, or more specifically, the Showa era (1926-1989) which was governed by the late emperor, Hirohito.

Why Should We Reflect on the Showa Period?

Marcus Garvey once said that “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Much of the 20th century was tough – not just for the people of Japan, but for many other nations too. In the 63 years of Emperor Hirohito’s rule, Japan witnessed: devestation through the Second Sino-Japanese War and WWII, several attempted coup d’états, their first foreign occupation in history as well as the “Japanese economic miracle.” The hope is that by thinking about yesterday, we will learn for tomorrow.

Is this Holiday Somewhat Controversial?

Even 70 years later, the extent of Emperor Hirohito’s involvement in WWII is still debateable. Some argue that the increased militarisation of Japan left the Showa Emperor with little power at all, whereas others claim that he supported Japan’s invasion of Manchuria and attack on Pearl Harbour – albeit reluctantly. Whichever we choose to believe, the intentions of this holiday were supposed to be for the good – to encourage unity and peace.

Didn’t Showa Day Start as a Different Holiday?

The origins of Showa Day are relatively confusing because it is closely connected with two other holidays: The Emperor’s Birthday and Greenery Day. The date of The Emperor’s Birthday changes when a new emperor ascends to the Chrysanthemum Throne, and it was from these new enthronements that both Showa Day and Greenery Day were born.

If you liken The Emperor’s Birthday to a tree trunk, then Showa Day and Greenery Day are like the branches. When Emperor Showa passed away, his birthday – 29th April – remained a public holiday but was re-established as Greenery Day (in honour of his love of nature). Some time later, the government felt it was necessary to separate Greenery Day from the late Emperor and so 29th April became Showa Day, whilst Greenery Day moved to 4th May.

What Does the Japanese Word “Showa” Mean?

The kanji for “showa” are: 昭 (shou,しょう) meaning “shining” or “bright”, and 和 (wa, わ) which means “peace”. Putting them together makes “enlightened peace”.

How is Shouwa no Hi Celebrated?

The intention of Showa Day is for citizens of Japan to think about the Showa era, and as such, it doesn’t conform to the stereotypical style of celebration. With 29th April indicating the start of Golden Week, many people across Japan leave their hectic city lives behind to reunite with their family and friends somewhere more peaceful. For those of us who choose to remain in the cities though, there are often public lectures where we can learn more about the Showa Era and the history of WWII.

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