Tenno(The Emperor)

In the Constitution of Japan, it is stipulated that "the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people." The current tenno, Akihito, is the 125th tenno, counting from Jinmu Tenno, who was the first to be enthroned in 660 B.C.. In this span, the role of tenno was at times one of real power, at times only the nominal sovereign. In the Meiji Constitution (the Great Japan Imperial Constitution) which was proclaimed in 1889 (Meiji 22), tenno was made the chief of state with political and military power; but he lost that power with the Constitution of Japan which went into effect following the defeat in the Second World War. From then until now, tenno exists as a symbol without function in the administration of government and only carries out affairs of state as national ceremonies.




Koshitsu(Imperial Household)

The family headed by the Emperor is called koshitsu or kozoku. Koshitsu has no surname but uses the appellation miya(meaning "prince," or "princess") granted by the Emperor. For example, the current Crown Prince is called Hiro-no-miya Naruhito, and he is commonly known overseas by the friendly name Prince Hiro. After the Constitution of Japan went into effect, the laws of the country applied to the Imperial Household in the same way as to ordinary citizens, with the exceptions of the Family Registration Act, the right to vote or stand for election, and the right to adopt children.

The Imperial Household Agency, an extra-ministerial bureau of the Prime Minister's Office, administers public matters involving koshitsu as a part of the affairs of state. In addition, meetings to deliberate important koshitsu matters are made up of the Prime Minister, other government-connected officials and key figures of the Imperial family.




Gengo(Era names)

In Japan the custom of expressing the years by the Christian calendar has begun to take root, but in most scenes the original Japanese era designation is still being used. This original era designation began in China from the notion of the Emperorr as dominant even over the time period, and it happened first in Japan with the Taika designation in the year 645. Gengo, which emperors had the authority to establish for their reigns, were frequently changed with an emperor's enthronement or with natural calamities, but from the Meiji Period on gengo marked a single emperor's reign and were changed only upon succeeding to the throne. For Emperor Akihito's succession to the throne in 1989, the gengo changed from "Showa" to "Heisei." Moreover, when referring to past emperors, it is customary to use gengo, saying, for example, the "Showa Emperor."




Kokka(The national anthem)

The Japanese kokka is "Kimi-ga-yo." "Kimi" refers to the Emperor, and the words contain the prayer: "May the Emperor's reign last forever."

This song was originally taken from one of waka, classical Japanese poems, in the "Kokinwakashu, compiled in the early tenth century, an era when the Emperor reigned over the people. Consequently, today when the original emperor system has been abolished, various objections have been raised about the people singing this song as kokka. However, at present it is sung as kokka at national festivals, international events, schools, and on national holidays. With sumo, the national sport, it is also sung on the last day of a tournament when the champion receives his awards, by the whole spectators standing up.




Kokki(The national flag)

The Japanese kokki has a red circle on a white background. "Nippon"(Japan) basically means "land of the rising sun," so the red circle is a symbol of the rising sun. Just as the British flag is called "the Union Jack" and the American flag "the Stars and Stripes," the Japanese flag is called "hinomaru."

This red circle of hinomaru is used independently for all kinds of symbols. There are people who do not think that hinomaru is appropriate as kokki, for it was used as a symbol for the "suicide units" and other tragedies in the Second World War, thus it is connected with tragic memories of the war.




Kokka(The national flower)

The flower that is most beloved by the Japanese people and that symbolizes Japan is the cherry blossom. From the cherry blossom which falls only within a week or so, the Japanese sense beauty, as well as transience, melancholy, and perhaps honor of graceful resignation.

The lyricism of the Japanese people has been closely connected with this flower from ancient times; since the Heian Period(794-1185), it has been often included in classical Japanese poems. From the early years of the Showa Period(1926-1989) until the Second World War, the way that the cherry blossom quickly and gracefully falls was appropriated into militarism to beautify the deaths of the suicide units. Today, Japan has sent cherry trees with their beauty overseas as the symbol of peace, and their light pink flowers bloom every spring, for example, beside the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., and on the remains of the Berlin Wall.




Kiku(Chrysanthemums)

Kiku were originally produced in China and were brought to Japan in the eighth century. They underwent various improvements that appeal to Japanese tastes, and now have become the typical fall flower of Japan just as the springtime cherry blossom. Thus, there is an extremely wide range of varieties, in white, yellow, pink, and red colors and large, middle and small sizes. In the seventeenth century, they were brought to Europe by way of Holland and received high appreciation. The kiku, with its fragrance and aura of elegance, is the crest of the Imperial Household, and the flowers are indispensable for visiting graves to honor the dead and ancestors. The kiku is regarded as a symbol of the subtle sense of beauty held by the Japanese people; it was even used in the title of Ruth Benedict's book on Japan, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword."




Kokucho(The national bird)

The bird that represents Japan is the pheasant. Native to Japan, the pheasant has been a familiar bird to the people since ancient times and was designated kokucho in 1947. It lives in wooded areas and grassy fields away from human habitation. Its main features including, for males, red faces, dark green bodies and long tails, and for females, light brown color with black spots; females are smaller and have shorter tails than males.

In fall and winter they were objects of hunting and from ancient times were highly valued for eating. They also were often used as celebratory material for weddings.

Among birds, they are considered the finest; because of the sorrow in the cries of males and females for each other, they are taken as symbols in classical Japanese poems and poems in seventeen syllables of the feelings of love for one's family.




Tokyo(Tokyo)

The capital of Japan is Tokyo. It used to be called Edo which is the source for the name of the Edo Period. A warrior OTA Dokan built a castle in Edo in 1457, and in 1603, the Edo Period started when TOKUGAWA Ieyasu founded a feudal government at Edo. A regional city until then, Edo established a unique culture over a three hundred year period and became the world's largest city with a population of one million until the overthrow of the government in 1867. Today, it is an international city of 11.8 million population where tradition and high technology coexist, and is a center of world finance ranked with New York and London. The center of the city is the Imperial Palace, where the Emperor resides, settled in an extensive ground surrounded by green. Political institutions including the Diet Building and a business district stretch around this center.




Fuji-san(Mount Fuji)

Fuji-san is Japan's highest mountain, known throughout the world for its beauty. It is 3,776 meters high, located almost in the middle of Japan, and in the past erupted frequently. Since 1707 volcanic activity has ceased, but geologically it is a dormant volcano.

Fuji-san is one of Japan's three sacred mountains and has been an object of worship since ancient times. In the Edo Period(1603-1867) in particular, it was frequently climbed as an expression of faith.

Its grandeur and beauty have fascinated many Japanese artists, who have left behind outstanding works of art. There is, for example, the outstanding work called the "Fugaku Sanjurokkei" by the ukiyoe artist KATSUSHIKA Hokusai, which contains worldly known masterpieces like the "Akafuji."




Geisha(Geisha)

The term "Fujiyama, geisha" was until recently a stereotypical expression used by people who are not familiar with Japan to express the mysterious Oriental island country. The reason the term became famous is perhaps because the gentle and thoughtful manners of the geisha deeply impressed Western men. However, now it should be regarded as an expression of ignorance about Japan. Geisha are women who make a profession of providing entertainment for banquets. They do up their hair in the Japanese coiffure, go out to traditional inns and traditional Japanese-style restaurants wearing kimonos, sing traditional songs, play the shamisen and perform classical Japanese dance. There was a time when they were also prostitutes, so the sexual image is strong, but now the tendency is rather to regard them as working for a valuable profession that inherits traditional arts.