Friday, February 11, 2011

Japan National Foundation Day

Each year on this date, the nation of Japan celebrates National Foundation Day to mark the day the first emperor of Japan, Jimmu, believed to be a direct decedent of the sun goddess, founded the nation of Japan in 660 BC.

Emperor Jimmu
Emperor Jimmu

The date was chosen based on New Year's Day of the traditional lunisolar calendar, used in Japan until 1873, as that was the day the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), the oldest book of Japanese history compiled on imperial orders, recorded that Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne on the first day of the first month.

When the Japanese government designated the day as a national holiday in 1873, the year Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, they decreed February 11th as the day that corresponded to Emperor Jimmu's day of ascension to the throne.

The day was originally known as Empire Day (Kigen-setsu) and was supported by those who believed that focusing national attention on the emperor would serve as a unifying event with the people.

Japan National Foundation Day

Large parades and festivals held during it's early days made it one of the four major holidays of Japan.

Japan National Foundation Day

With the holiday relying heavily on Shinto mythology, the spirituality of Japan, and it's reinforcement of the Japanese nobility, the holiday was abolished following World War II, but was re-established as National Foundation Day (kenkoku kinenbi) in 1966, in a slightly more muted form and without the references to the emperor.

Customs now include raising of the Japanese flag, known as the Hinomaru (the Sun Disk) which represents the divine selection of the Emperor.

Japan National Foundation Day

There are also parades, the largest of which is the float parade in the Meiji Shrine, which is dedicated to the spirits of the Emperor Meiji and his wife, where people carry a miniature temple decorated with Japanese flags that is carried on their shoulders.

Japan National Foundation Day
A miniature temple carried on the shoulders

The Japan Ice Hockey Federation was the first Asian nation to join the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1930 and the men's team is currently ranked 21st in the world, while the women's team is ranked 9th.

The Japan Ice Hockey League was founded in 1966 and existed until 2004 with six teams when it was replaced by the Asia League Ice Hockey, which has not only teams from Japan, but China and South Korea, with four of the teams being from Japan.

They earned a promotion to Pool B with another Pool C first place finish in 1969 and remained in Pool B for the next 11 years with a high of 2nd place in 1976. After being relegated to Pool C in 1981, they immediately returned to Pool B with a 1st place finish in 1982. After three seasons in Pool B, they were again relegated in 1986 only to return directly to Pool B once more when they won Pool C in 1987.

After eight consecutive seasons in Pool B, with a high of 3rd place, they were demoted to Pool C once again in 1996. After one season in Pool C, where they finished 4th, Japan benefitted from a change in IIHF policy, where the Far East Qualifier was guaranteed a place in the Top level of the newly designated Group A, which now contained 16 teams rather than the previous 12.

Regardless of whether Japan was in over it's head in Group A at the time, they were still strong enough to repeat as the Far East Qualifier for the next seven seasons which allowed them to avoid the standard relegation penalty for finishing in 16th and last place five consecutive times from 1999 to 2003 after barely avoiding relegation with a 14th place finish in 1998.

A new format for the World Championships was introduced for 2005, which did away with the reserved place in Group A for the Far East Qualifier. As a result, Japan's 15th place finish now meant they were relegated to the newly named Division I and would need to earn their way back to the Top Division on pure merit.

Since 2005, Japan has paced 5th, followed by five consecutive 3rd place finishes as they look to breakthrough with a Division I championship to earn a promotion back to the Top Division.

In the Winter Olympics, Japan finished 9th in 1936. They were regular participants at the Olympics from 1960, when they had their best ever showing with an 8th place, through 1980, with the last five being regular finishes between 9th and 12th.

They did not field a team at the Olympics again until acting as hosts in 1998, a tough tournament in which to make their return, as this was the first Olympics where the stars of the NHL were first allowed to compete. Japan finished in 13th place with a 1-2-1 record following a shootout win over Austria in the 13th place match, which was their most recent appearance at the Olympics.

Japan Canada 1998
Japan's women take on Canada in the 1998 Olympics hosted by Japan

Goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji became the first Japanese-born player to play in the NHL on January 16, 2007 for the Los Angeles Kings. In total, he played in four NHL games.


Hiroyuki Miura is officially the first Japanese player to be drafted by an NHL team, as long as you do not count the legendary, but mythical, Taro Tsujimoto, after being chosen by the Montreal Canadiens in the 11th round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. He was a member of the Japan National Team at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, but never played in the NHL.

Also of note, Japan played host to the opening games of the NHL season in 1997 (Canucks and Mighty Ducks), 1998 (Sharks and Flames) and 2000 (Predators and Penguins) when two teams traveled to Tokyo to play a pair of games to kick off the season, which were called "Game ONe".

Game ONe Japan 98 logo

Today's featured jersey is a 2000 Japan National Team Yohei Yamashita jersey as worn in the IIHF U18 World Junior Pool B Championships held in Riga, Latvia on April 3-9, 2000. Yamashita had no points in five games as Japan went 2-1 in Group A and 0-2 in the Final Round to finish fourth out of eight.

This striking jersey mimics the minimalist nature of the Japanese flag, with only red trim on the wrists and collar as adornment. The red rising sun logo on the front is done in the textured glacier twill, as are the red numbers and the name on the back.

Japan 2000 jersey photo Japan 2000 F.jpg
Japan 2000 jersey photo Japan 2000 B.jpg

This is the song of National Foundation Day.

In this video, the Japan National Team takes on Slovenia in a shootout in 2009 in an Olympic qualifying match in Hanover, Germany.

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