Considered the oldest standing monarchy in the world, Japan has had a long line of celebrated emperors that began in approximately 660 BC with the accession of Emperor Jimmu. Given Japan’s well-known culture of respect, prominent social hierarchy, and collectivism it is only reasonable that the nation’s emperors would be regarded with a great deal of appreciation and honor. Showa Day (Shōwa no Hi, 昭和の日) is a direct representation of this since the holiday commemorates the late Emperor Hirohito. It is celebrated each year on April 29th, his birthday.
Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Shōwa, was born on April 29, 1901 and ruled as emperor from December 25, 1926 until his death on January 7, 1989. Showa day is a unique holiday in that it doesn’t simply celebrate the late ruler but rather (true to Japan’s collectivistic ways) is a day dedicated to acknowledging the tumultuous years of Hirohito’s rule, appreciating how he helped the nation navigate through these trying times, and looking toward the future and what lies ahead for Japan. During his rule Japan experienced the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), WWII (Japan’s involvement was from 1941–1945), post-war reconstruction and recovery, economic growth, and extensive preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The nature of Showa Day means it is not celebrated with flashy parties and gatherings. Instead, Japanese people memorialize the emperor’s birthday through quiet and appreciative means. A common Showa Day tradition is spending time in nature to appreciate the natural beauty of Japan- something the emperor himself was quite fond of. The holiday also happens to land in peak sakura season, creating beautiful scenery in the many public parks that dot Japanese cities. People also spend the day visiting historical monuments and shrines such as the Musashi Imperial Mausoleum in Tokyo where Emperor Showa is buried alongside his father and predecessor, Emperor Taishō; his mother, Empress Teimei; and his wife, Empress Kōjun.
Showa Day also kicks off what is known as Golden Week: a cluster of 4 Japanese holidays that all take place over the course of a week. Because of this and its mid-spring timing, when the weather is getting warmer, it is a popular week in Japan to take time off work, travel, and to visit family. You can learn more about Golden Week here.