Japan to celebrate new 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 new emperor’s birthday Feb. 23

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

While Americans celebrate the first President’s birthday on Feb. 17, a few days later Japan will also be celebrating their own emperor’s birthday on Feb. 23. Designated as one of the 16 Japanese national holidays, emperor’s Birthday falls on Sunday this year, so the following day will be the observation date.

Since former Emperor Akihito renounced on April 30 and the crown prince Naruhito was enthroned as the 126th Emperor of Japan last May, this will be the first 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 marks 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.


Emperor’s appearance in the Imperial Palace
Date: Feb. 23 / Location: Imperial Palace
Gates open: 9:30 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. 
1st appearance of Emperor: around 10:20 a.m.
2nd appearance: around 11 a.m.
3rd appearance: around 11:40 a.m.

* Emperor’s public birthday event canceled due to Coronavirus outbreak.

For more information, visit Imperial Household Agency web page at www.kunaicho.go.jp or call 03-3213-1111

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.

– Takahiro Takiguchi

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