George W. Gish
The location of the National Foundation Day Ceremony in Tokyo on Feb. 11, 1983, was shifted from last year's site at the Meiji Shrine Hall to the National Theater Grand Hall in order to play down the religious character of the services. Japan's hawkish Prime Minister, NAKASONE Yasuhiro, had expressed his desire to attend if the religious tone was lessened and it gained wide public support.
Foreign Minister ABE arrives to greet foreign dignitaries
However, when he did not attend, the ultra-nationalistic sponsors of the ceremony still seemed pleased to receive a special congratulatory message from Nakasone, the first to be sent by a Prime Minister. It was explained that Nakasone's heavy diplomatic schedule prevented him from attending.
In spite of the change in location, the ceremony was identical with the one held in earlier years on the Meiji Shrine precincts. After the opening greetings, nearly 2,000 patriotic voices were raised in the unison singing of the "Imperial Hymn," Kimi ga yo. Although contrary in spirit to the present Constitution, this prewar anthem has been promoted by conservative hard-liners as Japan's national anthem and was so listed in the program. The Ministry of Education has promoted its use on national holidays since 1958, and in 1977 the Education Ministry's Curriculum Guide listed it as the "national anthem" for the first time.
Right-wing groups gathered at Meiji Shrine
The words of "kimi ga yo" were adapted from an ancient 31-syllable tanka poem in the Kokinshu anthology compiled in 905. Later in the program there was a recitation of a waka poem in the ceremonial court style used in the poetic recitations before the Emperor at New Year's. The words of the waka chosen for the Foundation Day Ceremony were written by Emperor Meiji in 1909, and praise the "venerated father who built the Shrine at Kashiwara." The present Kashiwara Shrine was constructed in 1889 at the spot in Nara Prefecture where according to legend the mythical Jimmu became the first Emperor of Japan. The literal translation of this waka reads: Our country has not been moved since the pillars of the shrine were first put up by our venerable father in Kashiwara.
After the singing of the "Imperial Hymn;' the English program listed "A Slight Bow." This, however, was much more than "a slight bow." In Japanese it is Hairei (lit. bowing in worship). The participants were led in this act with the explanation that "we are reverently bowing to the Mausoleum of Emperor Jimmu through the medium of our national flag" (which was prominantly hung as a backdrop in the center of the stage). A reverent silence prevailed as the audience (with the exception of this reporter) bowed in deep veneration towards the flag.
In the brief commemorative remarks by the celebrity-composer, MAYUZUMI Toshiro, who serves as chairman of the sponsoring executive committee, he referred to the mythical accounts of ancient Japan found in the Nihon Shoki as the basis for "the truth in our hearts upon which our history stands." He said that "even though these traditions were used by the militarists during the Great Asian War, this did not negate their true meaning."
Right-wing groups at Meiji Shrine
While calling for Japanese to contribute to world peace and prosperity, he cautioned them saying, "we have no guarantee that the present peace will continue." He declared, "we must work to defend the nation on such issues as education and textbooks, the Constitution, national defense and Yasukuni Shrine." In conclusion, he remarked that "due to the many dangers today we must love our country more than ever and work harder for the development and prosperity of our nation."
The loudest applause of the ceremony came when greetings were given on behalf of the 66 foreign delegations in attendance. The presence of foreign dignitaries has been used to publicize the "official" nature of the ceremonies. It was also used as pressure for the attendance of Japan's Foreign Minister at a reception for the diplomatic corps after the ceremony, this year attended by Foreign Minister Abe.
The National Theater is located directly across the inner moat that surrounds the Imperial Palace. The ceremony ended with three loud shouts of "Banzai," almost within earshot of the Emperor himself.
(George W. GISH, 1983, Kyodan Newsletter 172, 20. Februar 1983)