Better Know A Holiday: Showa Day

Formerly: The Emperor’s Birthday, Greenery Day

When? April 29

Public holiday in: Japan

Part of: Japan’s Golden Week, a series of four public holidays in the span of a week that sees offices closed, trains and planes packed and a mass exodus from the major cities like Tokyo.

Who died? Former Japanese Emperor Hirohito, posthumously referred to as Emperor Showa.

They changed his name? Showa refers to the era of Hirohito’s reign. After death, Japanese emperors were referred to by the name of the era during which they ruled. The Showa Emperor’s reign lasted from 1926 to 1989, the longest era in Japanese history. Showa can be translated as “enlightened peace.”

… wasn’t he the ruler during WWII? Hirohito chose the name “showa” for his era after returning from the post-WWI battlefields in France and witnessing the devastation there. His anti-war sentiment seems to have been legitimate, but he ended up reigning over a period of unprecedented military brutality. However, he also reigned over a period of unprecedented economic growth in the years after the war.

How is the holiday celebrated now? Officially it’s a time to reflect on the era of Hirohito’s reign, Japan’s turbulent past and subsequent recovery, and where the country is headed. In reality, as the start of Golden Week, it’s when most Japanese take off for a vacation.

Other ways to celebrate: Public lectures talking about Japan’s participation in the war, to pass on the memories to future generations.Why was it Greenery Day before? Until 1989, the April 29 holiday was still referred to as the Emperor’s Birthday. But when Hirohito died, the Emperor’s Birthday was necessarily moved to December, when his son and successor Akihito was born. Hirohito loved nature, so April 29 became Greenery Day, which allowed people to acknowledge Hirohito without expressly using his name. This actually isn’t the first time this has happened in Japan. The Meiji Emperor’s birthday was celebrated on November 3 until his death in 1912, and after November 3 became Culture Day.

What happened to Greenery Day then? In 2005, Japan passed a bill that turned April 29 into Showa Day. Greenery Day was moved to May 4.

This pissed off: China, South Korea, North Korea

Why? They see the holiday as honoring Hirohito, who reigned during an era of Japanese war crimes and occupation of their countries. Japan argues it that the holiday is a time to reflect on those turbulent times, not celebrate them.

What else is going on during Golden Week? Besides Greenery Day, there is also Constitution Memorial Day on May 3, which is meant to have people reflect on the Japanese government. May 5 is Children’s Day, a day to celebrate the happiness of being a kid. Traditionally, families fly carp-shaped flags to bring good luck to their boys. Girls don’t get any flags, fish-shaped or otherwise.

These aren’t really “party time” holidays, are they? Last time, we covered Songkran, Southeast Asia’s annual drunken water fight. This time, we have a series of holidays that encourage reflection on, chronologically, a nation’s past and future, man’s place in nature, the meaning of democracy, and the innocence of children. They are decidedly not party time holidays, but that’s hardly a bad thing. You can have a party anytime. But when’s the last time you thought about the importance of effective governance and the dictates of post-war economic recovery? That’s what I thought.

Check out more holidays around the world here

[Photo Credit: Flick user Summon Baka]

Big in Japan: Happy Birthday Emperor Hisahito

Last week I was moving into a new apartment here in Tokyo, which is why I completely forget to wish a big ‘Happy Birthday!’ ( ?????????????????, tanjoubi omedetou) to the future Emperor of Japan, Prince Hisahito.

By the way, before I get a lot of angry postings on this column, let’s clear up some nomenclature. Hirohito, the infamous Emperor Showa who thrust an imperialistic Japan into an expansionist campaign during World War II, is not the cute and cuddly toddler, Prince Hisahito, pictured to the right.

Truth be told however, Emperor Hirohito was the great-grandfather of Prince Hisahito, so there’s a good chance that the persimmon might not fall too far from the tree.

Needless to say, the media coverage regarding the first birthday of the prince was something akin to the Superbowl meets Wimbledon. The Imperial Household Agency released video footage of the birthday party, and every major Japanese newspaper published pictures of the boy on their front pages, somewhere between articles on the Japanese economy and the Iraq War.

According to the papers, the drooling toddler wore a white shirt and blue overalls for his meeting with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. His mother, Princess Kiko, told reporters that Hisahito was as an active baby who simply couldn’t stop walking and talking.

“His Highness Prince Hisahito is walking with support and crawling on stairs, and his activity has grown vigorous particularly in the past month,” the Princess said in a statement. “He likes picture books and turns the pages himself.”

The Imperial Household Agency also released a rare statement: ‘Prince Hisahito has been growing up in good health without getting sick. On sunny days his mother often strolls around the palace garden with him.’

For those of you not versed in the politics of the Chrysanthemum Throne, Japan’s controversial (to say the least) royal family, it is important to know that Hisahito was the first male born into the royal family for 41 years. His birth averted a succession crisis in Japan, where only men can be monarchs.

Emperor Akihito has two sons, Naruhito and Akishino. Prince Hisahito is the son of Prince Akishino, the emperor’s younger son. The little boy has two older sisters, Princess Mako and Princess Kako. The emperor’s elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito, and his wife Princess Masako have a young daughter, Princess Aiko, who is pictured below.

So, to make things simple, if Naruhito died without a male heir, Akishino would become emperor. His baby son, Hisahito, would then become next in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Here is where things get interesting.

Prior to the birth of Hisahito, Japan’s former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had been advocating constitutional reform to allow women to ascend to the throne. If passed, this legislation would have allowed Princess Aiko to become Japan’s first empress. However, although the reform was supported by the general public, Japan’s conservative politicians were up in arms.

Of course, the much-needed debate was shelved entirely when news of Princess Kiko’s pregnancy was announced.

Politics aside, Hisahito is a cute little kid, so hopefully you can all join me in wishing the pudgy little guy a very happy first birthday.

** All photos courtesy of the Associated Press (AP) **