The neighbourhood is very quiet today. At 7:45 this morning, the street wasn’t filled with noisy school children on their way to class. The garbage truck with it’s announcement blaring didn’t stop below our window a little later on to collect the trash and around 9:00 a.m. there was no huddle of mothers and preschoolers waiting for the kindergarten bus on the next corner. There are no machines digging up the streets anywhere nearby. Today is a national holiday known as National Founding Day.
Celebrated annually on February 11, this day was originally called Empire Day. Perhaps in order to bolster its own legitimacy, the holiday was an invention of the Meiji government. It commemorated the founding of the nation and the imperial line in 660 BC by the legendary first emperor, Jimmu. Abolished after World War II because of its association with the imperial system, the holiday was resurrected in 1966 as National Founding Day but was stripped of any overt references to the Emperor. It is Japan’s most controversial holiday often sparking protest rallies held by those who claim that it is unconstitutional because it links the country’s foundation with the imperial institution. I assume that they look more favourably upon Constitution Memorial Day on May 3. Established in 1948, that holiday celebrates the day on which the current Japanese constitution came into effect one year earlier.
February 11 is, at best, a subdued celebration with few overt expressions of national pride or patriotism. In fact, for most Japanese, it appears to be nothing more than a day off work or school. Most of my adult students weren’t even able to tell me why it’s a holiday. Some guessed that it might be the emperor’s birthday which is actually celebrated on December 23 while others surmised that it had something to do with Japan becoming a country. For us, it’s a day like any other and we’ll soon be off to school as usual.