Kimigayo: Japanese National Anthem

Summer festival
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The Japanese national anthem (kokka) is "Kimigayo." When the Meiji period began in 1868 and Japan made its start as a modern nation, there was no Japanese national anthem. In fact,​ the person who emphasized the necessity of a national anthem was a British military band instructor, John William Fenton.

Words of the Japanese National Anthem

The words were taken from a tanka (31-syllable poem) found in the Kokin-wakashu, a 10th-century anthology of poems. The music was composed in 1880 by Hiromori Hayashi, an Imperial Court musician and was later harmonized according to the Gregorian mode by Franz Eckert, a German bandmaster. "Kimigayo (The Emperor's Reign)" became Japan's national anthem in 1888.

The word "kimi" refers to the Emperor and the words contain the prayer: "May the Emperor's reign last forever." The poem was composed in the era when the Emperor reigned over the people. During WWII, Japan was an absolute monarchy which moved the Emperor to the top. The Japanese Imperial Army invaded many Asian countries. The motivation was that they were fighting for the holy Emperor.

After WWII, the Emperor became the symbol of Japan by the Constitution and has lost all political power. Since then various objections have been raised about singing "Kimigayo" as a national anthem. However, at present, it remains sung at national festivals, international events, schools, and on national holidays.


Kimigayo wa
Chiyo ni yachiyo ni
Sazareishi no
Iwao to narite
Koke no musu made


English Translation:

May the reign of the Emperor
continue for a thousand, nay, eight thousand generations
and for the eternity that it takes
for small pebbles to grow into a great rock
and become covered with moss.

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Abe, Namiko. "Kimigayo: Japanese National Anthem." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Abe, Namiko. (2020, August 27). Kimigayo: Japanese National Anthem. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Kimigayo: Japanese National Anthem." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).