December 22, 2012

Tennou tanjoubi

The Emperor of Japan, like the Queen of England, is a constitutional monarch and not the official head of government. However, he is still loved and respected by the Japanese people, who honor him on his birthday every year by visiting him at the Imperial Palace. The Emperor's birthday is a public holiday known as tennou tanjoubi (spelling may vary), which means "The Emperor's Birthday." The date changes every time a new Emperor ascends to the throne; the Japanese always celebrate tennou tanjoubi on their Emperor's real birthday. The current Emperor, Emperor Akihito, celebrates his birthday on December 23.

The Japanese believe that the first Emperor, Jimmu, descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, took the throne in 660 B.C. and that every Emperor can trace their lineage back to him. The official position of head of state has changed hands many times, but the ruler always seeks to be recognized by the Emperor; this legitimizes his position as ruler. In the 1860s, Emperor Meiji actually was head of state, though military officials were often the ones to implement policy. When Japan wrote its post-war constitution in 1946, it stated that the Emperor would only have symbolic power. In 1950, Emperor Hirohito, Akihito's father, started the tradition of making a public appearance on his birthday every year. More information on the history of the Japanese Emperors can be found at

Emperor Akihito has chosen to break with several traditions. He attended grade school with common children, married a woman of non-imperial blood, and raised his children at home. He is the 125th Emperor of Japan and has had the title since the death of his father in 1989.

The Emperor's birthday is one of only two days on which the gates to the Kokyo (the Imperial Palace) are opened. On the morning of the Emperor's birthday, visitors line up across the Nijubashi Bridge from the Palace and are escorted across the bridge by the police. Between 10:00 and 11:00, the Emperor and his wife, Empress Michiko, along with other members of the imperial family, appear on the balcony of the Imperial Palace and wave at the crowd. The Emperor usually gives a special address as well. The crowd responds by waving Japanese flags and shouting. Since there is a large number of visitors, the process usually repeats itself two or three times. However, the younger generation does not have much interest in the imperial family and most of the Emperor's tennou tanjoubi visitors are older Japanese or tourists, according to

Japanese greet their Emperor with the national flag: credits to

 Japan also celebrates several public holidays to honor the birthdays of former emperors. Emperor Hirohito's birthday, April 29, is known as Showa Day. Emperor Meiji's birthday, November 3, is known as Culture Day.

Birthday shoutouts to Nathan, Cam, and Ian

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post! But it's too bad that the younger Japanese aren't interested in celebrating the Emperor's birthday.