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"Japanese National Festivals" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on Japanese national festivals and holidays was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 27, June 17, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Since 1937 there has been a great increase in the number of Japanese days of commemoration and celebration, but most of them have been made the excuses for special drilling, assemblies, or labor effort, rather than for relaxation.

A distinction should be drawn between (a) national holidays which are officially designated and observed with appropriate flag display throughout the empire, and (b) festivals which are observed by popular custom by some or all of the people but have no official government recognition.

Before the war (1937) there were 12 official national holidays. Since then there has been an increased emphasis upon military celebrations, and all events relating to the Imperial family, such as birthdays, death days, etc.

The following is a list of the more important Japanese national holidays:

January 1, New Year's Day

January 3, Emperor celebrates opening of New Year - the event being called Genshisai

January 8, Beginning of the Army year

February 11, Anniversary of accession of the Emperor Jimmu, and the founding of the Empire (Kigen Setsu) (this date as well as the year to which the founding is assigned--660 B.C.--has, of course, no foundation as an anniversary in fact)

March 6, Birthday of the Empress

March 10, Army Day (anniversary of Battle of Mukden, 1905)

March 20 or 21, Spring Equinox Festival

April 3, Anniversary of the death of Emperor Jimmu

April 29, Emperor's Birthday (this day is always especially associated with the Army; in peacetime it was marked by elaborate military reviews in Tokyo)

April 30, Festival of Yasukuni Shrine

May 27, Navy Day (anniversary of the Battle of Tsushima, 1905)

September 23 or 24, Autumn Equinox Festival

October 17, Kannamesai, or Imperial Thanksgiving of Autumn

November 3, Commemorative festival for the Emperor Meiji

November 23, Niinamesai, or Autumn offering to the Imperial ancestors

December 8, Great East Asia Day

December 25, Anniversary of the death of Emperor Taisho

Since September 1939, the Japanese have been required to observe "Greater Asia Commemoration Day" (Koa Hoko bi--Koa Hoko bi) on the first day of each month, a day of national self-denial in honor of the men fighting for Greater Asia. On this day there was to be no smoking, drinking, etc. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the day for commemoration was altered to the 8th day of each month.

The Yasukuni ceremonies have assumed major importance, because on these occasions the soldier dead are enshrined and deified. This is the great reward which makes all the sacrifices seem bearable to the people at large. This is the only occasion throughout the year when the Emperor bows to the tablets and spirits of dead subjects who have become minor gods in the spirit world. The actual ceremonies last 3 days, beginning April 30; the relatives arrive from all parts of Japan throughout the preceding week, during which entertainment is provided for them. The second, less important of the semi-annual Yasukuni Shrine Festivals takes place on October 22 or 23.

It may be worthy of note that the public is never told of the true extent of Japanese losses, but that the announcements of names to be enshrined at Yasukuni are designed to give popular impression of low losses. Furthermore, announcements include the names of soldiers who died in the Meiji and Taisho periods as well (1868-1926), thus making the announcements obscure and uncertain, and impossible to check.


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