Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Kimi Ga Yo
Kimi Ga Yo has long been traditionally treated as Japan's National Anthem, but was only legally recognized as such in the 1999 "Law Concerning the National Flag and Anthem". The lyrics are based on a Waka poem written in the Heian Period. In the Meiji Era, Hayashi Hiromori wrote a melody to go along with the words.
Kimi ga yo wa
May your (my Lord's) reign
Song Origin and Explanation
Originally spread as an ancient Japanese Poem from the Heian Period (first published in "Kokin-wakashu"), the lyrics are in the Tanka form of poetry. The author is unknown. One explanation for this is that the author was of the lower classes and such his name was forgotten. The poem was included in many collections of great poetry, and in a later period used as a celebration song by people of all walks of life.
In 1869, an officer of the Satsuma Clan, Iwao Oyama decided that a national anthem or ceremonial song should be created, and after much urging allowed English Infantryman John William Fenton to use the melody of his favorite composition for the music. Because at the time most of Japan's modernization had been accomplished by following England's example, it is also said that the lyrics were chosen for their similarity to the English National Anthem.
Although the melody was originally written by Fenton, in 1880 the Imperial Household Agency, aiming for a sound more inclined to the Japanese ear, used a melody written collaboratively by Yoshiisa Oku and Akimori Hayashi although the writer is often listed as their boss (and Akimori's Father) Hiromori Hayashi. German musician Franz Von Eckert provided western style harmony.
Since then, Kimi Ga Yo has been customarily treated as Japan's National Anthem.
The beginning phrase-"Kimi Ga Yo"-was originally written "Wa Ga Kimi"(我が君, also approximately translated to "My Lord"). As time passed, the form using "Kimi Ga Yo" spread. At this point in time "Kimi" meant "Monarch" or "Emperor". However, in a time without mass communication, to the common people the Emperor seemed to be an untouchable, unimaginable god, floating above the clouds and a thing of long ago legend or fairy tales. So, it is also possible that the lyrics praying for the long life of "My Lord" were separated from any sort of loyalty and used instead as a prayer for the continuation of peace. For this reason, when the peacefully Heian Period changed to the bloody Edo Period, the song once again became used as a simple celebration song among common people. To go along with this, the meaning of "Kimi" also underwent a transformation. For example, when the song was sung in celebration of a wedding, "Kimi" came to mean the groom and the song was used to wish for the groom's long life and his family's health.
Incidentally, the version of the song that was published in the Elementary Student's Song Book (First Edition) maintained by the Japanese Ministry of Education (released in 1881) was longer than the current version and surprisingly, there was also a second version. It was derived from an English Hymn.
Change in Public Opinion
Since the end of the World War II, several liberal thinkers have been criticizing Kimi Ga Yo for its past association with militarism and its lyrics of praising emperor's longevity, which they see is incompatible with the democratic society. In 1999, the Japanese government passed Law Concerning the National Flag and Anthem, designating Kimi Ga Yo as the official National Anthem and Hinomaru as the national flag amid the protest and the concern of enforcement in such a way against freedom of thought.
School districts have since been a place of the conflict over the presence of Kimi Ga Yo and Hinomaru in school ceremonies. The Ministry of Education has required all schools to raise the Hinomaru at the same time the students and teachers sing Kimi Ga Yo in events like graduation ceremony . The requirement was not strictly enforced before the law passed, and this rose a nationwide protest that the practice is against the promise of the Japanese government when passing the law that it will not seek to enforce the law against individual's freedom of thought, upheld by Constitution of Japan. The Ministry, however, stated that since schools are part of the government agencies, its employees, namely teachers, have obligation to teach their students how to be a good Japanese citizen and showing respected status of Kimi Ga Yo and Hinomaru is vital for that mission.
Viewpoints Against Kimi Ga Yo
- Militarism is not compatible with Japan's democracy.
- Kimi Ga Yo's "Kimi"'s meaning is "Monarch" or "Emperor", and as Japan is a democratic country, a national anthem praising the Emperor is not appropriate.
- The forced participation in a ceremony involving the singing of Kimi Ga Yo is against the free thought clause in the Japanese Constitution.
Viewpoints For Kimi Ga Yo
- Kimi Ga Yo has been the de-facto national anthem of Japan since the Meiji Era and is an important way to promote patriotism.
- Kimi Ga Yo is an important way to foster loyalty to the emperor, which is an important national characteristic of Japan.
- When Kimi Ga Yo is compared with the national anthems of other democratic countries with monarchies (for example UK's God Save The Queen), this sort of praise to the monarch is very natural.
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