Monday, February 20, 2006

建国記念の日

So last Saturday - the 11th of February to be exact - was Japan's National Foundation Day. It's essentially analogous to Independance Day (for my American readers) or Dominion Day (officially, 'Canada Day', but god what a silly name ... I hear the same party that unilaterally ditched 'Dominion Day' back in the 70s now wants to replace Victoria Day with 'Heritage Day', 'cause, y'know, nothing says 'Heritage' like systematic erasure of same. Sorry, rant done.)

National Foundation Day (or kenkoku kinen no hi) originally commemorated the crowning of the (probably fictional) Emperor Jimmu as Japan's first Emperor, in 660 BC. The holiday dates to the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century, during which period it was known as Kigensetsu (紀元節), or Empire Day. The holiday was abolished after WWII, and reinstated in 1966, shorn of Imperial baggage and repackaged in the warm fuzzies of contemporary politics (hmm ... seeing a parellel here between Japan and Canada, now that I think about it....)

Anyhow, one thing I noticed was that, if I hadn't known about the holiday in advance, well, I never would have noticed it. I saw no Japanese flags on display; no celebrants waxing enthusiastic over their country's birthday; in fact, no overt sign of celebration at all.

This is a stark contrast to what I'm used to. In North America, the first week of July cannot pass without fireworks, flag-waving, and drunken hordes with their respective country's flags painted on their faces or plastered on T-shirts descending on city centers. Where I'm from, your country's birthday is a Big Deal. Not so, here.

I can think of two reasons for this:

1. Lingering hangover from the malignant nationalism of the first half of the 20th century.
2. The Japanese people don't feel they need a flag and a nation-state to bind them as a people. You could rip out all the political wiring, replacing it with something better, worse, or simply different, and Japan would still be, well, Japan. So, no sense in getting all excited over a bit of 19th century propaganda.

What I usually here from outsiders is number 1; number 2 is something I've heard from students, so I tend to give it a bit more credence.

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