On February 23rd, Japan will celebrate the 63rd birthday of Emperor Naruhito. Unlike most national holidays, the Emperor’s Birthday falls on the birthdate of the current ruling emperor, meaning every time a new ruler comes into power, the holiday moves to reflect his birthday.
As a result of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate was toppled and Emperor Meiji was installed as head of state. By virtue of the Meiji Constitution, the Emperor held sovereign power, while his military and political power was close to absolute. It was in 1866 when the Emperor’s Birthday (Meiji) was celebrated for the first time on November 3rd. For the more significant emperors like Meiji and Hirohito, their birthdays remained national holidays after they passed, but recognized under different names (Culture Day and Shōwa Day respectively). As a result of the postwar constitution of 1946, the emperor no longer holds authoritative power and serves mainly in a symbolic and diplomatic role. Nowadays, the emperor has no effective political power, and the country is governed using the parliamentary system.
During the week leading up to the big day, many Japanese people write letters to the emperor. Generally, these messages are generic, but on occasion the messages can be quite personal, especially if the emperors’ actions have directly impacted the individual. On the Emperor’s Birthday, a public ceremony takes place at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. It is customary for the emperor, empress and the rest of the Imperial family to make three appearances at the Chōwaden Reception Hall, which is located in the East Gardens. Known as Ippan-sanga, this event, along with New Year’s celebrations are the only occasions where members of the public are allowed to enter the inner grounds of the palace. Admission is free, and those who attend are given a small Japanese flag to wave. Once the Imperial Family makes its way out onto the veranda, the crowd below wishes the emperor a long life by repeating the word “banzai” in chorus, which means ten thousand years in Japanese. After the emperor concludes his thanks and public greetings, the Imperial Family retires from the balcony, and the process is repeated several more times so that as many people as possible can pay homage. In 2021, the ceremony was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its place, a recorded video message from Emperor Naruhito was broadcasted to the people of Japan.
As February 23rd quickly approaches, the country of Japan is gearing up to celebrate this momentous occasion. If you cannot make it to Tokyo to join the festivities, our extensive selection of sake and shochu will make you feel one step closer to waving the Japanese flag and chanting banzai!