Japan to celebrate emperor’s birthday Feb. 23

Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Official Residence
Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Official Residence

Japan to celebrate emperor’s birthday Feb. 23

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

While Americans celebrate the first President’s birthday on Feb. 20, a few days later Japan will also be celebrating their own emperor’s birthday on Feb. 23 as one of the 16 Japanese national holidays. Employees in Japan will have the day off and government offices will be closed on this day so plan ahead if you have official business.

Since former Emperor Akihito renounced on April 30 and the crown prince Naruhito was enthroned as the 126th Emperor of Japan in 2019, this will be the fourth time to celebrate the newly enthroned emperor.

Called “Tenno Tanjobi,” the people of Japan celebrate the birthday of reigning emperor every year. Emperor Naruhito was born in 1960, and 2020 marked the first year where Feb. 23 will be a holiday for years to come.

Although the current designations of emperor’s birthdays as national holidays was only legislated in 1948, the celebrating their emperor has been a custom since the ancient ages.

Birthdays of former emperors are no longer celebrated today except for the birthdays of the Meiji Emperor and the Showa Emperor. Today, the country observes Bunka-no-hi (Culture Day) on Nov. 3, the Meiji Emperor’s birthday, and Showa Day on Apr. 29, the Showa Emperor’s birthday.

Rare opportunity 
To celebrate the birthday of the reigning emperor, the public is invited to partake in the rare opportunity to see the emperor and inner garden of the Imperial Palace.

For the occasion, around 30,000 gather to greet the Emperor, Empress and other members of the Imperial Family as they take their place on a balcony to receive the congratulations. This is one of only two chances each year where citizens are allowed to enter the inner garden; the other is Jan. 2.

During the appearance, the Emperor will often say a few words of gratitude while the visitors wave miniature Japanese flags and shout out birthday salutations.

This year will be Emperor Naruhito’s first birthday public appearance since the event was canceled the past three years due to the pandemic. This year the Imperial Household Agency is still taking precautions and is limiting the number of attendees with a lottery system. Out of 61,031 applications only 4,826 were chosen to attend the emperor’s birthday appearance, officials said.

Ex-emperor’s birthday still celebrated
Like the birthday of Japan’s current Emperor Naruhito (Feb. 23), April 29 was originally celebrated as the birthday of his grandfather, Emperor Hirohito. He reigned before, after and – most notably – during World War II. After his death in 1989, he was renamed Emperor Showa, and Japan’s parliament kept his birthday as a national holiday.

His birthday, along with Constitution Memorial Day (May 3), Greenery Day (May 4) and Children’s Day (May 5), form the string of holidays that comprise Golden Week.

The Showa Era is the longest and most dramatic reign of an emperor in Japan’s history. Emperor Showa was the longest living emperor. He died at age 87 after reigning for 63 years. In fact, the Showa Era literally covers some of modern Japan’s brightest and darkest hours.

Japan’s national holidays associated with Emperor’s Birthday
Feb. 23 - Emperor’s Birthday - Emperor Naruhito (current emperor)’s Birthday 
Apr. 29 - Showa Day - Showa Emperor (Emperor Hirohito 1901- 89)’s Birthday
Nov. 3 - Culture Day - Meiji Emperor (Emperor Mutsuhito 1852-1912)’s Birthday

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