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National Foundation Day (建国記念の日 kenkoku kinen-no-hi ?) is a national holiday in Japan celebrated annually on February 11.[1] On this day, Japanese celebrate the founding of the nation and the imperial line by its legendary first emperor, Jimmu, who established his capital in Yamato.[2]



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 (日本書紀), which states that Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne on the first day of the first month.

In the Meiji period, the Japanese government designated the day as a national holiday. This coincided with the switch from the lunisolar calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1873. In 1872, when the holiday was originally proclaimed,[3] it was January 29 of the Gregorian calendar, which corresponded to Lunar New Year of 1873. Contrary to the government's expectation, this led people to see the day as just Lunar New Year, instead of National Foundation Day. In responce, the government moved the holiday to February 11 of the Gregorian calendar in 1873. The government stated that it corresponded to Emperor Jimmu's regnal day but did not publish the exact way of computation.

In its original incarnation, the holiday was named Empire Day (紀元節, Kigensetsu ?).[4] It is thought that the Meiji Emperor may have wanted to establish this holiday to bolster the legitimacy of the imperial family following the abolition of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The national holiday was supported by those who believed that focusing national attention on the emperor would serve a unifying purpose.[5] Publicly linking his rule with the mythical first emperor, Jimmu, and thus Amaterasu, the Meiji Emperor declared himself the one, true ruler of Japan.[6]

With large parades and festivals, in its time, Kigensetsu was considered one of the four major holidays of Japan.[7]

Given its reliance on Shinto mythology and its reinforcement of the Japanese nobility, Kigensetsu was abolished following World War II. Ironically, February 11th was also the day when General MacArthur approved the draft version of the model Constitution which was to be presented to the Japanese in 1946.[8]

The commemorative holiday was re-established as National Foundation Day in 1966.[9] Though stripped of most of its overt references to the Emperor, National Foundation Day was still a day for expressing patriotism and love of the nation in 1950's.[10]

Current practice

In contrast with the events associated with earlier Kigensetsu, celebrations for National Foundation Day are relatively muted. Customs include the raising of Japanese 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 are rare.[11]

See also



  • Bix, Herbert P. (2000). Hirohito And The Making Of Modern Japan. New York: HarperCollins. 10-ISBN 0-060-19314-x; 13-ISBN 978-0-060-19314-0 (cloth) 10-ISBN 0-060-93130-2; 13-ISBN 978-0-060-93130-8 (paper)
  • Dower, John. (2000). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 10-ISBN 0-393-04686-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-393-04686-1 (cloth) 10-ISBN 0-393-32027-8; 13-ISBN 978-0-393-32027-5 (paper)
  • Gluck, Carol. (1985) Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 10-ISBN 0-691-05449-5; 13-ISBN 978-0-691-05449-0 (cloth) 10-ISBN 0-691-00812-4; 13-ISBN 978-0-691-00812-7
  • Hardacre, Helen. (1989). Shinto and the State, 1868-1988. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 10-ISBN 0-691-07348-1; 13-ISBN 978-0-691-07348-4 (cloth) 10-ISBN 0-691-02052-3; 13-ISBN 978-0-691-02052-5 (paper)
  • Hutchinson, John and Anthony David Smith. (2000). Nationalism: Critical Concepts in Political Science. London: Routledge. 10-ISBN 0-415-20109-8; 13-ISBN 978-0-415-20109-4
  • Lange, Stephen. (1992). Emperor Hirohito and Shōwa Japan: A Political Biography. London: Routledge. 10-ISBN 0-415-03203-2; 13-ISBN 978-0-415-03203-2 (cloth) 10-ISBN 0-415-15379-4; 133-ISBN 978-0-415-15379-9
  • Neary, Ian. (1996). Leaders and Leadership in Japan. London: RoutledgeCurzon. 10-ISBN 1-873-41041-7; 13-ISBN 978-1-873-41041-7 (cloth)
  • Rimmer, Thomas and Van C. Gessel. (2005). The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press. 10-ISBN 0-231-13804-0; 13-ISBN 978-0-231-13804-8
  • Van Wolkeren, Karel. (1989). The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Stateless Nation. New York: Knopf. 10-ISBN 0-394-57796-5; 13-ISBN 978-0-394-57796-8 (cloth) [reprinted by Vintage Books, New York, 10-ISBN 0-679-72802-3; 13-ISBN 978-0-679-72802-3 (paper)


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