Kimigayo (Reign of Your Majesty) (君が代)

Kimigayo is Japan's National Anthem.

It has been treated as Japan's National Anthem since the Meiji Period even before it was officially recognized by the Law Regarding the National Flag and Anthem in 1999. This anthem consists of words derived from a waka poem made during the Heian Period and the melody composed by Hiromori HAYASHI during the Meiji Period. Details will be described below.


In 1880, Kimigayo was adopted as Japan's National Anthem. The words of Kimigayo were derived from a waka poem in the "Kokin-Wakashu" compiled in the tenth century. Basil Hall Chamberlain translated this National Anthem of Japan. The words of Japan's National Anthem and translation by Chamberlain are cited below. (The words and reading are as per description in the Law Regarding the National Flag and Anthem.
"巌" is written as "いはほ" in historical kana orthography.)

So that your reign is thousands of happy years,
Continue your reign, Your Majesty.
Until a pebble at present
gathers together to form a big rock with the passage of time
and moss coats its awe-inspiring side

Recognition of the national anthem in Japan

The national anthem was born in the modern Occident and, when Japan opened the country to foreigners in the last days of the Edo Period, it had become indispensable for diplomatic ceremonies. We can have a glimpse of the plight of the national anthem in the following part of the written report for revising the musical score of "Kimigayo" submitted to the Chief of the Bureau of Naval Affair in 1876 by Suketsune NAKAMURA, who was the Kapellmeister of the Imperial Japanese Navy. "In the case of grand ceremonies held when official diplomats visit (in the Occidental countries), every country plays the musical score (of their national anthem) as an indispensable sign to represent prosperity as an independent country and show the dignity of the sovereign ruler."

In other words, the necessity of a national anthem is generated by a military band on the occasion of extending diplomatic courtesy and, even today, there are national anthems that have no words like Spanish National Anthem, Marcha Real. As wind-instrument music originally belonged to the Occident, however, it was not accustomed in Japan in the beginning of the Meiji Period and, at first, there were no words to translate "national anthem." Even after it was translated as "kokka," because the word "kokka" had been used in the same meaning as "waka," the meaning of poem in Japanese language opposing to kanshi (Chinese-style poem) prevailed and the meaning of national anthem could not be understood by people in general.

Because it is understood that waka is national literature, in Japan in general, the words had importance more so than melody. Sakunosuke KOYAMA, who was the first person to have studied the details of establishing Kimigayo as the national anthem and wrote "Kokka Kimigayo no Yurai (literally, Origin of Kimigayo, Japan's National Anthem)" as his posthumous work started his study from consideration on words.

Text and author

The author is not known.

It is often said that the origin of the words in Kimigayo is the "Kokin-Wakashu" (Volume seven of Kokin-Wakashu, gaka (celebration poetry), first waka, title not known, author not known, Kokka Taikan (Comprehensive National Poems - No. 343), but, the first line of the text in Kokinshu is "Wagakimiha (literally, 'my lord')" which does not coincide completely with the presently adopted form. We can say that the oldest example of the form of "Kimigayoha" appears in the version of "Wakanroeishu (Japanese and Chinese poems to sing)" at the beginning of the Kamakura Period (巻下祝, Kokka Taikan No. 343).

Even with respect to Wakanroeishu, it is written as "wagakimi" in old manuscripts, but, in printed books of the later age, it is written as "kimigayo" in many books. With respect to this change from "wagakimi" to "kimigayo," waka with the first line "wagakimi" is hardly seen other than in Kokin-Wakashu and Kokin Waka Rokujo (six volumes of Japanese poetry written in the middle of the Heian period) and, in poetry anthologies in the later age, overwhelmingly large number of wakas begin with the first line "kimigayo." Therefore, it is surmised that, in line with the trend of the times, direct expression, "wagakimi," in the gaka might be replaced with the indirect expression "kimigayo."

In Kokin Waka Rokujo, the first three lines of waka is "wagakimiha chiyonimashimase (literally, "my lord may live a thousand years) and also in a certain old manuscript of Kokin-Wakashu, it is written "mashimase." As in certain manuscripts, it is separated at "ya" as "chiyoniya chiyoni," there is a view that it is repetition as "chiyoniya chiyoni (literally, 'thousand years, and thousand years."


Because the original poem of Japan's National Anthem is a gaka in Kokin=Wakashu, it is often discussed whether or not "kimi (literally, 'lord'") in "wagakimi" means the emperor.

According to the general interpretation of "kimi" in poems compiled in Kokin-Wakashu, the word "kimi is used in a broad sense and it does not necessarily mean the emperor," and nothing can be said for sure about anything more than that.

In Volume seven of the Kokin-Wakashu, eighteen wakas out of twenty-two gaka were made on the occasion of concrete celebrations of specific individuals (most of them for longevity, but some were for celebrating birth.), the author is not known for the first four wakas and they seem to have been made in an older time and under a situation which is not known. The original poem of "Kimigayo" is included in them and placed at the top. Therefore, we can also understand that this "kimi" does not mean any specific individual person, but this waka was included as an anthem to celebrate the longevity of the reigning lord (the emperor at the time of Kokin-Wakashu) and was dedicated to his reign.

This consideration applies only to the waka adopted as gaka in Kokin-Wakashu, however, and, as far as "Wakanroeishu" is concerned, because the "roei (to recite)" means to chant and it is important under what situation it was chanted. In addition, it will be described below that, in later ages, the first line was changed to "kimigayoha" and, as the waka was disseminated in society in various forms, situations under which the waka was chanted varied and the situations related to interpretation were changed.

By the way, even under such situations, there was a commentary that definitely concluded that "kimi" in this waka was the emperor. It is "古今和歌集陰名作者次第" by 堯智 compiled in the Volume of the Zoku Gunshoruiju (The Collection of Historical Sources, second series). 堯智 referred to TACHIBANA no Kiyotomo and said that the first line read "Kimigayo" and explained that it meant "my lord reigns over the whole world." Therefore, we can say for sure that, at least in the middle of the seventeenth century, namely during the early part of the Edo Period, there was an interpretation that the poem in question was for celebrating the reign of the emperor and wishing his reign would last long.

Not limited to Kokin-Wakashu, if we look at gaka adopted for Chokusenshu (anthology of poems collected by Imperial command), the word "kimi" means the emperor in most cases, in more recent years. It was because the state of gaka in Chokusenshu changed and waka for celebrations reflecting real life such as longevity gradually disappeared being replaced with daieika (ancient poems composed under assigned titles) and Daijoe waka (poem composed at the royal ceremony). Such tendency became conspicuous during the insei period (during the period of the government by a retired Emperor), and they say that it could be because it was necessary to emphasize existence of the emperor in Chokusenshu during the period in which the dynasty negated regency and moved toward conflicts with the power of the samurai.

Kimigayo until it became Japan's National Anthem

In further more recent years, during the Edo Period, this waka was sung among common people in general at parties as a song for celebration. The interpretation of "kimi" changed accordingly.. For example, when sung during a marriage ceremony, "kimi" meant the bridegroom and the waka was sung as a song to cerebrate and make a wish for longevity of the bridegroom and peace in the family. In "Horaisan" which is a song for Satsuma biwa (Satsuma lute) in such period, there is a song that has the same words as the present Kimigayo and therefore the view that the words of the present "Kimigayo" was taken from this song by a person from Satsuma during the Meiji Period is prevailing (refer to the following section).

By the way, words in "Shogaku Shokashu Shohen (Collection of songs for elementary school, First Version)" (issued in 1881) edited by the Ministry of Education (current Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) is longer than the current one and it has the second verse. With respect to composition, it is written in "Shogaku Shokashu Shohen" as "an old song by Webb, who was a virtuoso in ancient Great Britain.

Reign of Your Majesty will not change for thousands of years until pebbles gather to form a rock and wears moss and has no end.

We celebrate the prosperity of the reign of Your Majesty and that it has no end and continues until pebbles in the deep sea bed appear on the shore where cormorants live.

"Pebbles gather to form a rock" in the latter half reflects knowledge of the period when the Kokin-Wakashu was compiled and the idea that sand and pebbles gather together to form a rock and existence of pebbles were thought as evidence of this idea.
(Details are described in the later section.)


John William Fenton who was the military bandmaster for the infantry battalion of the convoy attached to the British Legation advised to the military band of the Satsuma Domain established in 1869 to prepare a national anthem or ceremonial music. Yasuke OYAMA, who was at that time the commander of the infantry of the Satsuma Domain, (later Iwao OYAMA, who was a marshal of the Imperial Japanese Army) received the request from the squad leader of the military band of the Satsuma Domain, who acted in response to the advice, and the words were adopted from Oyama's favorite song (Also, refer to the preceding clause). It is also said that the words were selected using the British National Anthem as a model because almost all modernization of Japan at that time was carried out after the model of Great Britain, which was the biggest imperial monarchy in the world at that time.

In this regard, however, there is another view. According to "Chikuhaku Manpitsu" by Nobutsuna SASAKI, on the occasion of Emperor Meiji's visit to Kansai, the French Army requested the Imperial Japanese Navy to teach them Japan's National Anthem in order to play on the occasion of the Emperor's visit. According to this view, therefore, Makoto KONDO, who was a rangakusha (a person who studied Western sciences by means of the Dutch language) entered the service of the Naval Academy (Japan), was ordered at first to create the words, but there was an objection in the Imperial Japanese Navy, therefore, Sumiyoshi KAWAMURA, who was a 海軍海補, adopted words familiar to him as a song for celebration of his home town. However, this view seems to have been used by the Navy to compete with the Army by making it known that the Navy made the proposal understanding the necessity of the national anthem and, according to the present study of the national anthem, it is understood that "Oyama's " was the fact.

At first, Fenton composed the melody, but as it was western style, it was unfamiliar to Japanese people and was not accepted very well. In 1876, a written report "Matters related to the revision of the musical score for celebrating the reign of the emperor" was submitted by Suketsune NAKAMURA, who was the Kapellmeister of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Seinan War occurred during the next year and Fenton finished his term and returned to his home country. After that, in 1880, Hiromori HAYASHI, who was an itto reijin (literally, first class performer of gagaku) prepared the setting based on the melody composed by Yoshiisa OKU, who was a Reijin (performer of gagaku) belonged to Gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music) Section, Shikibushoku of Imperial Household Agency and Franz Eckert, who was a German musician came to Japan in 1879 as a teacher for the military band of the Imperial Japanese Navy, added western-style harmony to the setting.

After performing for a trial on October 25, 1880, the report by the Chief of the Bureau of Naval Affair "Report on revision of the musical score for celebrating the reign of the emperor " was put into effect and "Kimigayo" as the Japan's National Anthem was revised. It was introduced officially for the first time on the occasion of Tenchosetsu (the Birth-day of the Emperor) on November 3.

After that, on August 12, 1893, the Ministry of Education announced through the official gazette "Shukujitsu Daisaijitsu Kashi narabini Gakufu (literally, "Words and musical scores for national holidays") which included "Kimigayo," and so on. In "Kaigun Reishiki Rei (literally, "Ordinance of the Navy for ceremonies)" which was enforced in 1914 set forth the way to handle "Kimigayo" in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Since then, "Kimigayo" had been used as the de facto national anthem.

In the "World National Anthem Contest" held in Germany in 1903, "Kimigayo" was awarded the first prize.

Kimigayo as Japan's National Anthem

Although "Kimigayo" became to be known mainly as the national anthem after having been made to appear by Oyama and so on, it was liked before the War as a very natural song for cerebrating peace of the nation because of its position as gaka in the past and historical background that the emperor "was the head of state and had a ruling power" (the Constitution of the Empire of Japan). After the Constitution of Japan which set forth "popular sovereignty" was formed after the War, because the words of Kimigayo can be interpreted as one that praises the national structure centering around the emperor (For example, Ben-Ami Shillony interpreted that its theme was the perpetuity of "Kimigayo" imperial line (unbroken imperial line) and that the national anthem which was shortest in the world came to praise the dynasty which lasted for the longest period in the world) certain people assert that it was not suitable as the national anthem.

According to the official view of the Government of Japan, it was explained on June 11, 1999 as "Although it is said that, under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan," the word "Kimi" meant the emperor, who was the sovereign, but under the Constitution of Japan, it is appropriate to interpret it as the emperor who is the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people" and "(the words of 'Kimigayo' is) under the Constitution of Japan, it is appropriate to understand them to be the hope for prosperity of Japan, which has the emperor as the symbol of State and the unity of the people and peace." On June 29, approximately two weeks after that, however, it was changed as "'Kimi' means the emperor who is the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving this position from the will of the people with whom resides the sovereign power "and "Although 'yo' is originally a temporal concept, it has also a transferred the meaning of 'state'. It is appropriate 'to understand (words of Kimigayo) them as hope for the long-lasting prosperity of Japan, which has the emperor as the symbol of the State and the unity of the people and peace."

Major conflicting views

According to an opinion poll carried out by the Public Relations Department of the Cabinet Office, it became clear that a large segment of population has accepted Kimigayo as the national anthem. However, there still exists pro and con opinions against the words of Kimigayo and opposition movements against the chorus reading of Kimigayo in the field of education.

From the affirmative standpoints, there is an opinion on the liberal side which places importance upon tradition since the Meiji Period to sing as de facto, the national anthem. There is also an opinion without any political tinge that Kimigayo is a Japanese melody and most adequate for the national anthem. In addition, there is an assertion that, since people must have patriotism, they must enhance awareness by singing "Kimigayo," and there is also a loyalist-like opinion that expresses clearly the objective to cultivate loyalty to the emperor.

From the opposing standpoints, there is the opinion that the words have too strong a shade of meaning of worshiping the emperor ("kimi" = the emperor) and it symbolizes militarism and, therefore, it is not fit to Japan which is not a monarchy. On the other hand, there is an opinion that, compared to national anthems of a constitutional monarchy (for example, "God Save the Queen"), Kimigayo does not have a meaning of extreme praises for the emperor and it is a quite normal national anthem for the system that recognized the emperor as a symbol of the unity of the people. With respect to the point that Kimigayo is militaristic, there is an opinion that, starting with France of which national anthem is old martial music, La Marseillaise, there are many countries that have national anthems that are extremely militaristic or a martial song itself and Kimigayo does not particularly symbolize militarism.

There are certain persons who state they cannot like Kimigayo because the words are difficult to understand and the atmosphere of the song is cheerless. In interview with Mainichi Newspapers (March 13, 1999), Shintaro ISHIHARA replied, "Personally, I like Hinomaru (Japan's national flag) but I dislike Kimigayo. Its words have contents that hint a type of self-annihilation for the sake of one's nation. It might be a good idea to prepare new national anthem."

There is a criticism that the contents referring to small stones that becomes a large rock is unscientific. In this regard, there are misunderstanding due to the fact that above-described correct meaning of the words such as the details of sazareishi (pebbles) (Refer to the section for "sazareishi (pebbles)," are hardly known. Examples of small grains of sand becoming a large stone, consisting of pebbles and stromatolite are well-known and it is often seen that homstone (SiO2) and calcareous rock consolidates broken pieces of other rocks. We can say sandstone, conglomerates, etc. which are sedimentary rocks and aqueous rock are examples of the mechanism in which grains of sand are consolidated into a large rock. These examples are not necessarily reflective of modern knowledge and we can see from the name "sazareishi (pebble)" that, at least partially, it has been known since olden times. Some question whether scientific grounds are necessary for classic music even if such scientific facts exist, and they believe that requiring a strict "scientific nature" for a verse—which is, after all, just a literary and figurative expression—can be described as nonsense, even if it is for a national anthem. "Until something which cannot happen happens" is a common oratory which means "forever," and even if "becoming a rock" cannot happen, it is acceptable as a literary expression.

There is another opposing opinion that takes up a purely music-related point of view, such as the melody is primitive, and has no exciting elements and therefore it is difficult to sing, etc.

Field of education

How to treat Kimigayo in the filed of education is a theme which has been discussed very often.

Since around 1996, in the field of education, under guidance by the Ministry of Education at that time, the instruction for the chorus reading of "Kimigayo" together with raising of the Japanese (rising sun) flag (hinomaru) were strengthened. Opposition factions such as Japan Teachers Union (Nikkyoso) asserted that they did not raise the flag and did not carry out chorus reading of "Kimigayo" on the grounds that it was against freedom of thought and freedom of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution. In 1999, the principal of Hiroshima Prefectural SERA Senior High School committed suicide on the day of the commencement ceremony and it was rumored that the cause of this suicide was the fact that he had been caught in the middle of the instruction by the Ministry of Education chorus reading Kimigayo and raising the Japanese (rising sun) flag and opposing teachers who belonged to Nikkyoso. With this as momentum, "The Law Regarding the National Flag and Anthem" was established. Although the government said that it did not become a constraint of national flag and anthem, Nikkyoso asserted that constraint on the basis of law was carried out in the field of education and conflict with conservative groups which promoted the raising of the national flag and chorus reading of the national anthem. In the recent years, however, judging from the fact that the majority of people accepted them, Nikkyoso softened its attitude and the rate of raising of the national flag and chorus reading of the national anthem on the occasion of entrance ceremony and commencement ceremony has increased.
(For more information on conflicting opinions concerning Kimigayo, refer to the Law Regarding the National Flag and Anthem.)

International sport competitions

There is an opinion that scenes in which "Kimigayo" is sung voluntarily as encouragement for sports persons in international competition is not problematic because it is not done unurged.
There is also an assertion based on the fact that raising of the national flag and chorus reading of the national anthem are carried out solemnly with hats off and uprising that education in the way of Nikkyoso which seems to recommend negative response or denial of Hinomaru (national flag of Japan) and Kimigayo is internationally preposterous,

Performance of Kimigayo on broadcasting stations

Since the Peace Treaty with Japan (Peace Treaty signed in San Francisco) was concluded in September 1951 and Japan came back officially as an independent country, "Kimigayo" was performed by an orchestra every day at the end of radio broadcasting by Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). On television, it was not in February 1953 when NHK began broadcasting, but, since September 1953, it started to perform at the end of the broadcasting day.

In recent years, however, as NHK aggressively carries out 24-hour broadcasting, "Kimigayo" is performed everyday only at the end of broadcasting of the second radio broadcasting (24:00 on Sunday, Monday and any day in which intensive maintenance is carried out; 25:35 on Tuesday (1:35 before dawn of Wednesday); and 25:40 on other days (1:40 before dawn). Other than that, it is broadcast only when resuming normal broadcasting after broadcasting with reduced output power and the suspension of broadcasting of Sogo Terebi (literally, comprehensive TV broadcasting) (mainly, in the early morning of Monday, the words are shown by telop) and before and after the suspension of broadcasting of Kyoiku Terebi (literally, Educational TV Broadcasting)(when the broadcasting ends in the midnight on Sunday of the second, fourth and fifth week, every month and before 5:00 in the morning of Monday after that).

Nippon Broadcasting System, Inc., which is a commercial broadcaster, broadcasts previously performance every day (junction - broadcasting), but, since April 1998, it broadcasts only before staring broadcasting on Monday, every week, and before 5:00 in the morning of Saturday. Previously, AFN performed Kimigayo also at the end of news at 0:00 at midnight every day.

View that Kimigayo was the song for spring festival of the Kyushu Dynasty

Takehiko FURUTA, who insisted that the theory of the Kyushu Dynasty said with certainty as follows:

The original song of "Kimigayo" is the song for the spring festival of Shikaumi-jinja Shrine of Shikanoshima Island in Fukuoka Prefecture which read "Wagakimiha chiyoni yachiyoni sazareishino iwaotonarite kokenomusmade…(My lord lives for thousands and thousands years until pebbles become a rock and bears moss... ".

The real place of birth of "Kimigayo" is Itoshima on the shore of Hakata Bay and "wagakimi (my lord)" is not the emperor, but tsukushinokimi (lord of tsukushi) (lord of the theory of Kyushu Dynasty).

As KI no Tsurayuki knew this fact, he suppressed it and inserted the waka as "title not known" and "author not known".

[Original Japanese]