June 12, 2017

#05-053: Culture Day

Asian women in antique clothing--blue and pink robes, peculiar straw hats, toe socks and sandals--perform a synchronized dance in the street
Culture Day dancers

Note: This quintessentially Japanese holiday has its roots in the birthday of the Meiji Emperor, many of whose successors also have "themed" birthday celebrations.

Get Ready: Is there a day when your country's culture (as a whole, not just certain aspects of it) is celebrated?

In Japan, November 3 is called "Culture Day." It might seem a little odd; after all, isn't culture an aspect of every holiday? But an interesting story lies behind this celebration.

One of the unique features of Japanese culture is its imperial family. It is said to reach back in an unbroken succession to Emperor Jimmu, who reigned from 660 BCE. Scholars, however, consider this to be "the stuff of legends." They doubt many aspects of Jimmu's "biography," and even his very existence. Perhaps this is because he is said to have been descended from the sun goddess, Amaterasu.

The day that Jimmu traditionally became emperor, incidentally, is celebrated as "Foundation Day" on February 11.

Scholars are also quite certain that the line has moved laterally from time to time, to cousins, rather than in direct descent.

At any rate, until 2007, the birthday of Emperor Showa (April 29) was called "Greenery Day," as that ruler had exhibited a love of nature. (Until his death in 1989, of course, it was simply "The Emperor's Birthday," as December 23 is now for his son, Akihito.*) In 2007, though, Greenery Day was moved to May 4 as part of the springtime "Golden Week," and April 29 was renamed "Showa Day."

What does all this have to do with "Culture Day"? There is a modern trend to maintain an emperor's birthday even after his death (with the exception of the unfortunate Taisho Emperor, who died of pneumonia at age 47 after reigning only 14 years). Emperor Showa had "Greenery Day"; it is speculated that the birthday of the current Emperor, whose reign name means "peace" (to offset the atrocities committed during his father's reign) will become "Peace Day." (But see the note below.)

And "Culture Day" was the birthday of the Meiji Emperor, great grandfather of the current one. [Now great-great grandfather of the current one, since a new emperor ascended the throne in 2019.] The Meiji era (1868-1912) was a time of tremendous cultural evolution, as Japan came into contact with the West in undeniable ways. Although some claim that the Meiji Emperor's birthday being called "Culture Day" is a mere coincidence, in the popular mind, at least, the two are intrinsically linked.


*This is no longer true, though it was when I wrote it in 2017. Akihito's son Naruhito now sits on the throne, and his birthday--February 23--is now "The Emperor's Birthday." As near as I can see, Akihito's birthday, December 23, is no longer celebrated; although the Meiji Emperor's became "Culture Day," and the Showa's, "Greenery Day" and then "Showa Day," the Heisei Emperor's birthday seems to have fallen off of the calendar.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_Day

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. at any rate
  2. atrocities
  3. in the popular mind
  4. intrinsically
  5. laterally
  6. offset
  7. speculated
  8. the stuff of legends
  9. trend
  10. undeniable

  1. balance out; make up for
  2. the way most people think
  3. a custom; a tendency
  4. "anyway"
  5. sideways
  6. unmistakable; not open to discussion
  7. belonging by its very nature
  8. something that makes a good story
  9. horrible acts
  10. guessed; imagined

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 12, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. i; 3. b; 4. g; 5. e; 6. a; 7. j; 8. h; 9. c; 10. f