Sunday, February 19, 2012

On National Foundation Day

Kashihara Shrine was built in 1889 right after the restoration of imperial rule in 1868.   Despite its relatively recent founding, Kashihara Shrine is important shrine as a place where the first Emperor Jimmu ascended the throne.  


Last Saturday, February 11th, was 建国記念日 commonly known as  National Foundation Day in English.  The date is based on the description in Nihonshoki, or The Chronicles of Japan, that the first Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne at Kashihara Palace in Yamato on January 1st (of the lunar calendar) in 660 B.C.  The date was fixed on February 11th of the solar calendar and the Meiji government designated the day as 紀元節/Empire Day (Anniversary of Emperor Jimmu's enthronement as the beginning of the Empire)  in 1872. 

The signboard reads "the year 2672"

The Main Hall was donated on its construction by the Emperor Meiji from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. 

After the WWII, the observance of 紀元節 was discontinued because of no historical basis.  Historical researches show that the dates given by the Chronicle are not reliable until 603 A.D., when a calendar was adopted for the first time in Japan.  Farther, the majority of the stories in the chronicles written in the 8th century are mythological or legendary rather than real historical facts.  They would contain many fabrications to glorify the empire.  After a long animated controversy about the revival of the holiday, the government decided in 1967 to celebrate February 11th without giving any religious significance to this day.   It is called "建国記念日/Commemoration Day of the Founding of the Country".

These rocks are Calcareous Breccias (石灰質角礫岩), boulders formed from small pebbles (さざれ石) and sediments.  This shows the phrase "until the pebbles grow into boulders, lush with moss" in "Kimigayo", Japanese Anthem.

May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss

(English translation from Wikipedia: Kimigayo)

Some people say they dislike it because "Kimigayo" meaning "The reign of his Majesty" reminds them of pre-war emperor worship and wrong militarism which caused that destructive wars.  There has been a controversy about the interpretation of the lyrics and the status of the song as a national anthem.  (Read the Wikipedia above.)

I'm with this interpretation as is shown in the monument below.  "君/Kimi" is the country Japan, the Japanese people, and the Emperor as the "symbol of the country and the unity of the people", so "Kimigayo" means "Epoch of Japanese people".  "May the country thrive forever and ever by people's standing together like small pebbles becoming boulders.  May the country prosper forever in peace till pebbles grow into boulders and moss grow thickly on them." 

I like "Kimigayo" which is uniquely and distinctively Japanese.  The melody is of five-note scale and the lyrics is very short from a 10th century tanka poem.

People don't join families or friends for festivities on this day but just enjoy the day as one of national holidays.  Don't we love our country?   The love for the country is observed rather quietly through seasonal events celebrated and handed down from generation to generation at home or time-honored rituals or celebration at temples or shrines throughout the year.

Every year, a large votive tablet with Chinese Zodiac animal symbol is dedicated to the deity of the shrine.
   This year is the year of the Dragon, an auspicious and mythical creature.  I think our wish is one regarding the come-back of Tohoku and the coexistence of civilization and nature.

In the pale wintry precinct of the mid-January , "kan-zakura" (the first cherry-blossom of winter) were blooming  ahead of the season.  The windblown petals looked like snowflakes.

Ducks were joyed with feeding at Fukada-ike Pond. 

The shrine is located in a preserved forest sanctuary at the base of Mt. Unebi. The forest surrounding the shrine buildings is spacious, 500.000 square meters, and is a pleasant place for a walk to keep you fit and calm.

Kashihara Shrine is at the eastern base of Mt. Unebi.


  1. That is a beautiful shrine! Those lanterns all in a row are just delightful!

  2. The analogy of pebbles growing into boulders is a brilliant way of showing how united people become strengthened not only for war but more importantly for power to influence government within ones own borders. The temple is a marvel of architecture and illustrates the ingenuity of mankind throughout the ages. History and legend often merge and muddy the waters between fact and fiction. Sometimes all we can know is what we see in the present. The ducks floating, splashing and diving in the pond look extremely joyful, stardust! Thanks as always for sharing your wonderful world. :)

  3. Hope that the world recognises the meaning behind "Let pebbles grow into boulders". It basically means that we must remain united, then we are strong.
    Beautiful pics, especially of those ducks.
    Have a wonderful Sunday:)

  4. This is a really lovely place. Lanterns, preserved forest sanctuary, history...what's not to love? I think the best part is that it stands out as a gem for all to look upon. Great photo tour!

  5. Dzięki tej wyciecze znowu coś nowego wiem o Twoim pięknym kraju. Dziękuję za to i za piękne zdjęcia. Pozdrawiam.*** With this cruise again, I know something new about your beautiful country. Thank you for this and for the beautiful pictures. Yours.

  6. i really like the idea of people (pebbles) standing together to become boulders. :) beautiful scenes. loved the ducks splashing!

  7. me gusta mucho visitar tu blog,enriquece de sobremanera,la historia ,la arquitectura ,su cultura ,y su geografía,es interesantisima
    saludos desde la patagonia

  8. Beautiful photos, and the history is all new to me. I enjoyed reading this very much.

  9. Interesting post
    lovely photos.

    Love the duck pic it oould be a postcard, it has such a happy feel to it.

    x Fiona

  10. Such a pleasure to follow you on these trips with all the history attached.
    Blossom out aleady, inspite of the snow.

  11. A very interesting post, and the photos are beautiful!
    I like the "pebbles standing together to become boulders", it is such a nice idea.
    And the cherry flowers are in bloom already, how delightful :)

    Thanks for your nice comment at my blog. Have a wonderful new week, Yoko :)

  12. such lovely pictures! I am very happy to have found your blog...I loved Japan when I came bisiting in March 2008!

  13. What a beautiful place again! I'm in love with these first cherry - blossom! They are so delicate and beautiful!
    Have a great new week:)

  14. I enjoy reading of your holidays and celebrations. The photo of the lanterns leading to the doorway is wonderful (the red bands also direct the eye). Enjoy those cherry blossoms for me, too!

  15. Informative post, as usual. Nothing wrong with loving one's country and people. Perfectly natural, but let's distinguish between the country and the state.

    Personally, I'm very happy being a human being, and have no wish to merge with the anonymous glop.

  16. Thanks for the pictures and story about the shrine. I love the cherry blossoms too, and I love the way the petals fall and look like snow. Another lovely post.

  17. Marc – Thanks for the comment. I have used "country", "nation", and "state" interchangeably. Now I understand that “the state” means “the government of a country” to think about your words “let’s distinguish between the country and the state.” Right? I'll correct my writing.

    I’m interested in the words “merge with the anonymous glop”. I can’t enter the website from the link you made. Maybe Hyperlink wouldn't work in the comment form of the Blogger. I'll be glad if you put just URL.

  18. ”建国記念日”の意味を改めて考えさせて下さってありがとう。「君が代」「日の丸」は何かと論議を引き起こすようですが、海外に住んだりすると自国の国歌や国旗に愛着を感じるという事を聞きます。国民として自然な感情だと思います。

  19. Here's the link to a YouTube clip from the Monty Python movie "The Life of Brian": "Yes! We are all individuals!"

  20. Great Blog! Especially I get interested in Japanese Anthem,"Kimigayo" which has been interpreted in many ways.
    According to one theory, Kimi君means you. Not particular person, but each of us. As you wrote, I also love my country very much and most of us do so.

    When I travelled Australia, I saw all audience standing up and proudly singing Australia Anthem before football game. I was moved with this beautiful scene!! In Japan, singing the anthem of Japan in public has been controversial.

    I think we should discuss about this issue in open debates or something. As a result, if it is decided to change the anthem, it will be OK. Because Kimigayo was officially established as national anthem in 1893. I do not see any special significance in this anthem.

    About two years ago, in the opening ceremony of 1300th anniversary of the relocation of the capital of Nara, one incident happened. The announcement said, "Stand up to sing the anthem." But before this, Emperor and Empress arrived and entered the ceremonial site. Usually in such a case, "Stand up to welcome his Imperial Majesty." is announced, but no announcement. People welcomed Emperor and Empress sitting down and sang the anthem standing up. I think this inident expresses very well how badly people of Japan are confused about Anthem, National flag, and Emperor. I am not right-wing nor left-wing at all.

    I was going to visit Kashihara Grand Shrine on February 11th. But I checked Utube showing the day of February 11th last year. I changed my mind. You can guess why.
    Thanks a lot for posting this.

  21. How interesting this is. I was reading a book about Japan which said that the imperial rule was re-established in the late 19th century in Japan because Japan was emerging from its many centuries isolation and felt it should have a royal and religious system that was more similar to the West. (The book said that the one which existed at that time in Japan was not "national" but was more personal and individual).

    As I understood it, this was a clever and successful idea on the part of the Japanese politicians who felt that they would be more likely to do good trade with Western countries if they outwardly adopted some Western ideas, while keeping the Japanese ideas too.

    I don't know if my understanding of the book was correct. In any case I think it is a nice idea to have a national day and I wish that we have one in England. Here the four countries of the UK have their own national days and st. George's day (for England) is not that widely celebrated.

    We just don't seem to have the many beautiful and interesting ceremonies that engage people and communities throughout the year in Japan.

    I was interested in your pictures of the stone. This is such a coincidence because it is the third time I have had this unusual type of stone drawn to my attention in the last 10 days! In Spain the palace of Charles V at the Alhambra has a large circular arena built of this stone. In the British Museum some of the most striking Assyrian statues were built of this stone.And now here it is in your post. In England it's called "pudding stone" because it looks like a pudding, with lots of things to eat squashed up inside it.

  22. The analogy of pebbles turning into boulder to describe how people become united is excellent.
    Great photos especially these ducks!

  23. This post is very interesting with beautiful photos! It is so nice to learn something about a different culture!
    Thank you Yoko! :-)

  24. How beautiful! Your angle of photos is so great that the photos have power.

    I don't dislike Kimigayo but I don't agree that everyone must sing at public places such as school.Anyway your interpretation is good to know about it. :)

  25. Snowwhite – So many right-wing propaganda trucks, I suppose this is the reason why you didn’t go on Feb. 11th. Right? The serene and sacred woods become one of the most politically controversial places about religion and nation on that day – it’s so disturbing. I saw another YouTube video, which reminded me of the snowfall on Feb. 11th for the first time in the last winter season. I think this video wouldn’t bother you. Thank you for the precious opinions.

    Jenny – I’m glad you deepen your understanding of Japan. One of “individuals” loved by many people as a hero before the Meiji Restoration is Ryoma Sakamoto. Born into a low ranking family of samurai, he was a visionary and advanced bloodless revolution which transformed the feudal Japan to a united nation by modernizing the nation and catching up with the West. He was inspired by the idea that all men are created equal. Unfortunately, he was assassinated before he could see his dreams realized.

  26. Speaking of national anthem, I remember the movie "Casablanca". They sang "La Marseillaise" as you know. I felt their patriotism in that scean.
    Lately I saw the Japanese Self-Defense Forces or volunteers working hard in the contamination area in Tohoku and felt their love to people,country.

  27. How beautiful you present the history of your country. Lovely photo's
    gr. Marijke

  28. Every time I look through your posts, I am filled with so much tranquility, seeing so much beauty and so many new sights.

  29. Great entry regarding the foudation of our country. It was a bit unfortunate that the holiday hit on Saturday...
    I like Kimigayo but it's so hard to sing! Or is it only me?
    Have a wonderful day.

  30. I'm not sure I can add anything to what has already been written, but I must say that every one of your posts is like a beautiful poem as you explain about your country and its shrines and beliefs and beautiful flora and fauna.

    I'm impressed that people were able to recognize the mythological pieces of the past and treat them as such and that you understand love of country (or what we might call patriotism) does not consist of loud celebrations or waving flags but of honoring quietly and in daily life those factors which best express the highest ideals of the land.

    Thank you for your wonderful commentary and your gorgeous photos!

  31. Hi,Stardust.

    I can not help showing my respect to those people.

    Have a good day.

  32. Beautiful shots and story from a beautiful place!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Have a great day.
    Greetings Mette

  33. My deerest friend Yoco
    Many thanks for the history of this interesting place!!!
    Your photos are so beautiful!
    Thank you!
    Best regards

  34. Beautiful post of history and pride in ones country. I feel the gentleness and gracefulness of the people of Japan, in the books I read, movies I pick to see and in your and Tomoko's blogs, Yoko. I love traditions, can hardly keep from tearing up, when I hear our own National Anthem.

  35. Congratulations on your holiday.
    We should all love our own country.
    Japan is a fabulous country for its ancient history and culture. Now I see through your photos that Japan is also very beautiful.
    Greetings from the ancient Kingdom of León.

  36. Greetings, Yoko! I wanted to respond to your comment on our Stone Creek blog. The sign which bans pedestrians and bicycles is there because the road leads to a large shed where heavy equipment is the Stone Creek authorities want to keep people off the road so they are not run over by steamrollers and bulldozers, etc.

  37. A most wonderful post filled with interesting information and spectacular photographs! You have captured the beauty of the shrine in your images. I enjoyed reading about its history. Bird lover that I am, I especially took pleasure in seeing your stunning duck photographs. Another magnificent post! Thank you for sharing.

  38. Now it makes even better sense why the Japanese people behaved like they did, after the terrible disaster you had to cope with in Tohoku area...
    It's about this "standing together" strong and adamant as a boulder grown out of the small pebbles that we are. Beautiful!
    At the same time, I see it as a metaphor applied to each of us, individually. Until we are not fully grown, strong and spiritually enriched so that no matter what we lose we can rebuilt from the ashes, we remain forever doomed to fight with the others for anything that can give us back a small feeling of "what we were and what we had".

    I read the link on Wikipedia about the debates on your national anthem and it reminded me of ours... It's sad that such valuable, profound things are always used as political means to manipulate public opinion in a way or another.

    I'm happy to have received such precious information, and thank you very much, Yoko, for allowing me to discover more of your beautiful country and of mine as well, through your constant interest and curiosity about the things I write on my blog! It's a real joy for me to read your posts and comments every time.
    I hope your people wish will come true and the year of the Dragon will give back Tohoku to its people, especially since I'm sure so many are striving to rebuilt it!

  39. It's such a beautiful time of year in Japan to celebrate this important national day. It's amazing that Japan has been a nation for so long!

  40. Preciosas fotos, precioso santuario... Gracias por compartir. Bss

  41. This post flowed in a wonderful way, tying together the individual with the "country". Sometimes people resist being tied together. Sometimes bits of rock fall from the boulder.

    But in my mind I have a wish for the world. My wish for the world is that we all thrive and stand together like small pebbles becoming boulders. Sometimes a bit moss covered but together and strong.

    I love the dialogue you created in the comments. You have given people a place to explore their thoughts about country and belonging. Thank you once again for your wonderful post.

  42. Strangely these interesting rocks reminded me of Russian sweets made of nuts and sugar. They look pretty similar, I swear (^.^)

    Ah, and the ducks - their cheecks are so round, so cute ^^

  43. Wat a beautiful post. Japan has such a long history and so many buildings that date back a long way. I like your emphasis on peace and coexistence - with others and with nature. If only the world functioned that way!

  44. Your blog is always so pretty to look at and at the same time you have also so much information on Japan. I did not know about this celebration and I like the symbolism in the verses you wrote. I liked the duck picture showing them playing in the water.


Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I will visit your blog shortly. Have a nice day!