Thursday, February 11, 2016

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 its 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 its 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 Japan National Hockey Team played its first game on January 24, 1930 at the World Championships, a 12-2 loss to Czechoslovakia where they were ranked sixth out of ten teams.

It would take 27 years until after World War II before Japan returned to the international hockey scene, which began with the 1957 World Championships. They next played in 1962 followed by a full return to regular appearances in 1967 when the won Pool C. They again finished first in Pool C in 1969 to earn promotion to Pool B where they would remain until 1981 with best finishes of 2nd in 1976 and 1978.

They were relegated back to Pool C for 1982 but immediately finished first and were back up to Pool B for three years through 1986. It was back down to Pool C for 1987, but they again won an immediate promotion to Pool B where they would stay for eight years, reaching 3rd in 1992.

Much to the benefit of Japan, in 1998 the IIHF revised the format of the World Championships, expanding the Top Division to 16 teams, up from 12. One of the four new spots was reserved for the Far East Qualifier in an attempt to boost ice hockey in Asia.

Regardless of whether Japan was in over it's head in the Top Division at the time, Japan was still strong enough to repeat as the Far East Qualifier for the next seven seasons, having little trouble defeating China and Korea. This allowed Japan to avoid the standard relegation penalty for finishing in 16th and last place five consecutive times from 1999 to 2003. In each of their seven years in the World Championships, Japan never won a game, managing two ties, 3-3 against Norway in 2001 and 3-3 against Slovenia in 2003, both times after holding 3-1 leads.

Since the reserved qualifying spot did not have the desired effect on Asian hockey, the protected spot was eliminated for the 2004 edition. Japan gamely fought to protect their position that year on merit and nearly avoided the Relegation Round. They were tied 3-3 in a critical game versus Denmark in the third period, but Nobuhiro Sugawara famously misfired on an attempt to fire the puck around behind his own net, but instead fired a perfect strike into his own empty goal. Now in the Relegation Round, they tied France and Ukraine but lost to Kazakhstan. The lack of a win left them short on points in the standings and were now relegated to Division I Group A for 2005.

They have maintained their place in the six team Division I for the last 11 years, finishing 3rd or 4th ever year but two. In 2005, they placed 5th and in 2011 they withdrew from the tournament following the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated so much of the country. The IIHF graciously allowed Japan to maintain its place in Division I Group A, and instead relegated the fifth place finisher.

Japan has participated in the Olympics eight times, with the first being in 1936. Their second Olympics came in 1960. In Group A, Japan lost to Canada 19-1 and 19-0 to Sweden. In the Consolation Round, they played a double round robin format, tying Finland 6-6 and then defeating Australia 13-2. After losing to Finland 11-2, they rebounded by again beating the Australians 11-3 to finish eighth out of the nine teams for their highest placing ever in the Olympics.

Teiji Honma photo Teiji Honma 1.jpg
Goaltender Teiji Honma at the 1936 Olympics, protecting his eyeglasses with a mask 23 years before Jacques Plante began the mask revolution in the NHL

They competed again in 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980 with best placings of ninth in both 1972 and 1976. They would not return to the Olympics until 1998 when they hosted the Games in Nagano, the first Olympics to feature the pros of the NHL. Japan was placed in Group B along with Belarus, Germany and France, with a best result being a 3-3 tie with Belarus. They were paired with Austria to determine 13th place and prevailed in a shootout 4-3, which was their most recent appearance at the Olympics.

The team is currently ranked 20th in the IIHF World Rankings, with a high of 15th in 2003.

Norio Suzuki is Japan's all-time leading scorer with 85 points in the Asian Cup and World Championships combined, having scored a total of 39 goals in the process. Toshiyuli Saki ranks first with 84 games played during his international career.

Also worth noting are Japan's victories in the Asian Winter Games in both 2003 and 2007.

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 and now Russia, with four of the nine teams being from 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.

Yutaka Fukufuji

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. This style was worn from 1998 through 2000.

Japan 2000 jersey photo Japan 2000 
Japan 2000 jersey photo Japan 2000 

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2013 Japan National Team Yutaka Fukufuji jersey as worn in the Division I Group A World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.  This style was worn from 2012 through 2014.

  photo Japan 2013 F jersey.jpg
Japan 2013 jersey photo Japan 2013 B jersey.jpg
Photos courtesy of Jussi Siiriäinen

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.

Finally, Japan (in black) defeats Great Britain 4-1 at the 2013 IIHF Division I Group A tournament.

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