Holidays matter. They remind us of our ties with our motherland’s history, culture, and tradition on certain days. But one out of the 16 national holidays in Japan has a distinct observance. Learn about the Emperor’s Birthday, which changes depending on the current ruler’s birth date.

Throughout Japan’s history, the Emperor has remained a respected ruler and a symbol of the country’s unity. Japanese emperors and their power over the country have a long and illustrious history. The imperial line is plausibly the world’s oldest royal family, having reigned for more than 1,500 years. Emperor Jimmu, Japan’s first emperor, is believed to have ascended the throne in 660 BC. Japanese mythology depicts him as a direct descendant of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. As a result, the Emperor’s birthday has always been a day for celebration. Before World War II (WWII), the holiday was called “Tenchosetsyu” (天長節), or “Tencho Festival” and was derived from the Chinese idiom which means “The sky and the earth, the universe is eternal.” However, when the imperial family relinquished all political power after WWII, the name was changed to a more informal term, “Tenno Tanjobi” (天皇誕生). The Emperor’s Birthday was declared a public holiday by law in 1948. His Majesty Naruhito, Japan’s current Emperor, was born on February 23, 1960, marking the date of the holiday.

The Emperor’s birthday celebration is one of the only two times when the public is allowed access to the Imperial Palace’s interior grounds in Chiyoda, Tokyo. Although it’s not viable to meet the Emperor this year due to the pandemic, the holiday will be honored every February 23 for many years to come.