Ein Shinto-Schrein, die Verfassung und der Friede

Ideological Background of National Foundation Day

von David Swain

Kigensetsu, predecessor of the postwar Kenkoku Kinen no Hi (National Foundation Day) celebrated on Feb. 11, was established in 1872 - or quite recently, compared with the ancient tradition it is commonly believed to represent. In fact the ideology behind Nation al Foundation Day is not very "ancient" either.

That ideology is Kokugaku, or "National Learning," especially as articulated by HIRATA Atsutane (1776-1843), who wedded Shinto sentiments to National Learning. But, in so doing, he rejected the Shinto of his time in favor of a fictitious and idealized "ancient Shinto" embodying the "true Japanese spirit" uncovered by Kokugaku.

Shinto priests at Meiji Shrine Leave ceremony an February 11.

Kokugaku before Atsutane did have older roots. In the 12th and 13th centuries some of the court nobility (no longer politically important, as samurai ruled the country) engaged in study of the Japanese verse form waka, giving birth to a tradition of "poetics" (kagaku, lit., "verse learning"). In the 15th and 16th centuries, noblemen who were well-versed in the Chinese classics extended their studies far beyond waka to include the Japanese classics (e.g., Kojiki and Man'yō-shū), court practices, and Shinto. This activity came to be known as "Japanese learning" (Wagaku).

Intellectual life in the 17th and 18th centuries was dominated by Confucian studies, which included linguistic and textual criticism - a method adapted by MOTOORI Norinaga (1730-1801) to develop the newer National Learning (Kokugaku) that had special interest in ascertaining the "original ethical way" and the "original aesthetic sense" of the Japanese. Norinaga regarded the "ancient way" of the Japanese as the creation of the gods (Confucianism was merely the creation of ancient sages). He was highly critical of all foreign influences, Chinese or Western.

National Theater on February 11,

But it was Atsutane who, in the early 19th century, produced the special and extreme blend of nationalism, Shinto, and National Learning that provided the ideological underpinning of Kigensetsu and many other symbols of Imperial primacy. The same ideological blend provides the basis for the recent National Foundation Day ceremonies which were revived in 1967. The ceremony finally gained the official support of the Prime Minister's Office in 1978 and the backing of the Ministry of Education in 1981. This year for the first time, the Shinto-style ceremonies held at the National Theater were backed by the Ministry of Home Affairs which provided the impetus for official backing of similar regional services throughout Japan.

(David L. Swain, 1983. Kyodan Newsletter 172, 20. Februar 1983)


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