Empire Day (Kigensetsu) (紀元節)
Empire Day was established as a national holiday on which, according to "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), Emperor Jinmu ascended the throne. In 1873 it was designated to be celebrated on February 11. It was formerly one of the four major festivals (shidaisetsu).
Before the Establishment of National Foundation Day
According to "Nihonshoki" which was compiled at the beginning of the eighth century, the accession of Emperor Jinmu was on 'the first day of the first spring month of the year Kanoto-Tori,' that is, the first of January.
But on November 15, 1872 the Meiji Government designated the accession of Emperor Jinmu as the beginning of the 'Japanese era' (kigen) (Proclamation no. 342 of the Grand Council of State, 1872) and on the same day declared 'January 29' a national holiday corresponding to the accession day of Emperor Jinmu (Proclamation no. 344 of the Grand Council of State, 1872). January 29 is the date on the Gregorian calendar in 1873 which corresponds to January 1 of the old lunar calendar. The Gregorian calendar was to become effective around that time, with December 3, 1872 becoming January 1, 1873.
On January 29, 1873 the accession of Emperor Jinmu was celebrated across the country by people offering prayers remotely to the Imperial Mausoleum of Emperor Jinmu. On March 7 of the same year it was decided to name the accession day of Emperor Jimmu 'Kigensetsu,' time of the beginning of the Japanese era (Proclamation no. 91 of the Grand Council of State, 1873). In January in the same year the accession day of Emperor Jimmu and the birthday of the reigning emperor (tencho setsu) were declared as national holidays.
Prior to these proclamations of the Grand Council of State there had been another proclamation on November 9, 1872 to adopt the solar calendar, and it was decided that festival dates from the old lunar calendar would be transferred to the same dates on the solar calendar (Proclamation no. 337 of the Grand Council of State, 1872).
This rule was implemented in order to fix the festival dates on the new calendar, so that the complexity of converting the dates of the old lunar calendar to the new calendar each year could be avoided. For example, Saitansai, a Shinto festival held on January 1 each year to celebrate the new year, would be held on January 1 of the new calendar, not on the date that January 1 of the old lunar calendar would be converted to.
Many people misunderstood Kigensetsu as a national holiday to celebrate January 1 of the old lunar calendar, or the lunar New Year, partly due to this regulation. The government saw the reaction of the people and thought that it would be difficult to have people understand that Kigensetsu was a day to celebrate the accession of Emperor Jinmu. Besides, it was inconvenient that January 29 was just one day before the death anniversary of Emperor Komei (January 30, 1867 Komei Tenno Sai).
Therefore on October 14, 1973 the government re-designated the accession day of Emperor Jinmu, selecting February 11 as Kigensetsu (Proclamation no. 344 of the Grand Council of State, 1873).
February 11 was selected after it was calculated by the Ministry of Education's Bureau of Astronomy and examined by Akitake TSUKAMOTO, scholar of calendar making.
Though the concrete calculation method was not disclosed, the explanation at that time was it was done 'by a simple method according to the Oriental zodiac cycle.'
In fact, since the Oriental zodiac cycle just repeats itself in cycles of 60 days without associating itself to any calendar, the calculation is very simple. The year of the accession of Emperor Jinmu, 'Kanoto-Tori,' was calculated as being 660 B.C. based on "Nihonshoki" (compiled 720), the month being the 'first spring month' meant it was sometime around the beginning of spring, and the Oriental zodiac sign of the date was 'Kanoe-Tatsu,' or the 17th day of the 60-day cycle. February 11 was designated by looking for a day of Kanoe-Tatsu which was closest to the first day of spring in 660 B.C.
The two Kanoe-Tatsu before and after this date fell on December 20 of the previous year and April 19 of the same year, but neither could be considered 'the first spring month.'
Therefore, no date other than February 11, 660 B.C. Could be considered 'the first day of the first spring month of the year Kanoto-Tori.'. "Nihonshoki" also states this day was 'tsuitachi' or a day of the new moon, but as this relies on calendar rules and could not be calculated by the 'simple method' employed, it is likely that the Meiji Government didn't consider it in their calculations. Also, when the moon cycle of the time is calculated based on current knowledge of astronomy this day falls on am astronomical new moon; it is thought that Kanoe-Tatsu was chosen for the accession in order to match it with the new moon.
From Establishment to 'National Foundation Day'
On Empire Day rites were conducted by the emperor in the Ancestral Spirits Sanctuary of the Imperial Palace and ceremonies to remotely pray to the Imperial Mausoleum of Emperor Jinmu were also held across the country. In 1889 the day was chosen to proclaim the Constitution of the Empire of Japan and since then it has become the day to commemorate the promulgation of the constitution. In 1891 Regulations for Elementary School Ceremonies on Festivals and Holidays were issued (Order of the Ministry of Education no. 4, June 17, 1891) and thus ceremonies at elementary schools were held with acts like making a deep bow in front of a portrait (picture) of the Emperor and the Empress, shouting "banzai" to wish for their long life and a reading of the Imperial Rescript on Education in a respectful manner by the principal. After 1914 Empire Day was celebrated in shrines all over the country. From 1926 National Foundation Festivals were held across the country, centered around young men's associations and veterans' associations at the core.
After World War II in 1947 the cabinet of Tetsu KATAYAMA proposed a bill on public holidays appropriate to the constitution of Japan including Empire Day as "Foundation Day" (kenkoku no hi), but this was dismissed by the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and the law came into effect in July 1948. A movement to revive the holiday started with the independence of Japan in 1952 – in 1958 a bill was submitted to Parliament, in 1966 the Public Holiday Law was revised, then the cabinet of Eisaku SATO issued a cabinet order (cabinet order no. 376, 1966) to re-establish the day as National Foundation Day (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi), which was enforced on February 11, 1967.