The Emperors Birthday (天皇誕生日)

The Emperor's Birthday is one of Japanese national holidays. It is a day to celebrate the birthday of the present Emperor. Until the defeat in the World War II, it was called tencho setsu (The birthday of the reigning emperor). Since the start of the Heisei era, tencho setsu is December 23. A general congratulatory palace visit is held in the Imperial Palace.

The name of tencho setsu is very old; it was named so because in Tang the birthday of the Emperor Xuan Zong (Tang) was celebrated as tencho setsu.
In 729, tencho setsu was renamed to 'senshusetsu,' but in 749, it was again renamed to 'tencho setsu.'
Tencho' was taken from a word of Lao-tzu, 'tencho chikyu."

In Japan, in 775 (the Emperor Konin's era) which is 27 years after that, a ceremony of tencho setsu was held on October 13. Vassals presented the Emperor's favorite alcohol and joined the party ('是日天長大酺群臣献翫好酒食宴畢賜禄有差'). (Prior to this, an imperial decree was issued on September 11the same year '十月十三日是朕生日毎至此辰威慶兼集宜令諸寺僧尼毎年是日転経行道海内諸国竝宜断屠内外百官賜酺宴一日仍名此日為天長節庶使廻斯功徳虔奉先慈以此慶情普被天下'). The description of this event is found in the record of 779, which indicates that such events took place in the Heian period, too. The description in Oyudono no ue no Nikki also suggests that such celebration event was held in the Muromachi Period.

It was not until November 6, 1868 that the tencho setsu was celebrated as a national holiday.
(On August 26 same year, an edict of Dajokan (Grand Council of state) was promulgated: '九月二十二日ハ聖上ノ御誕辰相当ニ付毎年此辰ヲ以テ群臣ニ酺宴ヲ賜ヒ天長節御執行相成天下ノ刑戮被差停候偏ニ衆庶ト御慶福ヲ共ニ被遊候思召ニ候間於庶民モ一同嘉節ヲ奉祝候様被仰出候事.')
In October, 1869, minister-counselors of each country were called together in Enryokan, and provided with shusen (food and alcoholic drink). In September, 1870, there was a chance for officials, non-employees and the peerage to say celebration to higher people. Imperial appointees and the officers originally selected as candidates by the Prime Minister or lower rank officers joined parties in kinchu (the Imperial Court) and each ministry, respectively. Gun salutes were fired from several navy ships.
Finally in 1872, tencho setsu ceremony was formally arranged and at the Ordinance of tencho setsu of that year, it was declared that '茲ニ朕カ誕辰ニ方リ群臣ヲ会同シ酺宴ヲ張リ舞楽ヲ奏セシム汝群臣朕カ偕ニ楽シムノ意ヲ体シ其ノ能ク歓ヲ尽セヨ.'
Then, the Daijo-daijin (Grand Minister) Sanetomi SANJO as the representative of the officers originally selected as candidates by the Prime Minister or higher rank people, and Juichii (Junior First Rank) Tadayasu NAKAYAMA as the representative of the peerage, replied to the Emperor. In 1873 when the solar calendar was adopted, tencho setsu was changed to November 3. By the Dajokan Fukoku (Decrees of the Cabinet) issued in October 14, 1873, it was determined as a national holiday. Afterward, tencho setsu was determined according to the birthday of the Emperor who ascended the throne. Before the war, it was actively celebrated as one of the four major festivals along with New Year, Kigensetsu (the National Foundation Day) (the day commemorating the ascension to the throne of the first emperor, Jimmu) and Meiji festival.

By comparison, an empress's birthday is called chikyu setsu (it is paired as above-mentioned tencho chikyu), but even before the war, none of the empress's birthday has been determined as a national holiday.

After the war, it is determined and still remains to be a national holiday as The Emperor's Birthday.
Also, at the opinion survey conducted by the government regarding 'preferable holidays' prior to legislate the Act on National Holidays, 'the birthday of his Imperial Majesty' ranked second following 'New Year.'

The date of the Emperor's Birthday
It is right that the Emperor's Birthday and tencho setsu are fundamentally the same things. However, in terms of tencho setsu, sometimes the celebration day (holiday) was moved from the actual birthday (for the case of Emperor Taisho. Similar example includes the Queens Official Birthday of England). At present, the Act on National Holidays prescribes that the Emperor's Birthday is a day 'to celebrate the birthday of the Emperor' and it is practically difficult to separate the Emperor's Birthday from the day to celebrate the Emperor's Birthday.

Under the Act on National Holidays, in present Japan, the Emperor's Birthday is determined according to the date of birth of the Emperor. Therefore, succession to the Imperial Throne does not automatically make the Emperor's Birthday as a holiday; if the birthdays of the previous Emperor and the present Emperor are different, it will be necessary to revise the Act on National Holidays at the Diet.

Tencho setsu and the Emperor's Birthdays of the successive emperors

The birthday of the Emperor Meiji became a holiday called Meiji festival in 1927. After the war, the same day became a national holiday 'Culture Day,' which had, officially, nothing to do with the Meiji festival and had its origin as the day when the Constitution of Japan was announced on November 3, 1946. However, then prime minister Shigeru YOSHIDA intentionally made the dates of former national holidays become new national holidays; at first he scheduled to announce the Constitution of Japan on August 11 and to enact the same on February 11 (Kigensetsu (the National Foundation Day)), but since the government could not make it on schedule, they decided to announce the constitution on November 3 (Meiji festival) and to enact the same on May 3.

The birthday of the Emperor Showa became the 'Greenery Day' at the revision of the Act on National Holidays in 1898, when the Heisei period started, and was left to remain as a national holiday. Also in 2007, the name was changed from the 'Greenery Day' to the 'Showa Day' (the 'Greenery Day' was moved to May 4). The tencho setsu of the Emperor Showa was determined to be April 29 by the imperial edict on March 3, 1927. Before the war, military review was held on that day. There was a banquet in the Imperial Court and Homeiden State Banquet Hall, and people who were invited to the banquet included 1st class standing of the imperial court or the 3rd rank No. 27 as well as the First Order of Merit foreigners, count, viscount and baron, as well as ambassador and minister-counselor of each country staying in the Empire of Japan. The Emperor Showa himself came to the banquet and made an Ordinance. The prime minister, ambassador and chief minister-counselor replied to the Emperor and celebrated the eternity of life.

Regarding the Emperor Taisho, his actual birthday was August 31 and tencho setsu had been celebrated on that day until 1913. However, considering the difficulties of holding various events due to the heat of the season, since 1914, tencho setsu celebration began to be held on October 31. In the case of the Emperor Taisho, since his birthday or tencho setsu were not determined to be a national holiday after his death, the Emperor Taisho's birthday has not been a national holiday until now.


In the Imperial Court, a celebration, banquet, tea party and general congratulatory palace visit are held.

In shrines such as Ise Jingu Shrine, Tencho-sai Festival (to celebrate the Emperor) is held.

In Japanese embassies located overseas, receptions to celebrate the Emperor's birthday are held.
(Not on the birthday, though.)


Tencho setsu' (lyrics written by Mayori KUROKAWA, composed by Yoshiisa OKU): in 1893, it was determined as 'holiday and festival day song.'

[Original Japanese]