Holidays remind us of our ties with our country’s history, culture, and tradition. One national holiday in Japan, however, has a unique celebration. Learn about the Emperor’s Birthday, a special day that changes depending on the date of birth of the nation’s present ruler.

With more than 1,500 years of rule, Japan’s imperial line is arguably the world’s oldest royal family. The country’s first ruler, Emperor Jimmu, is thought to have ascended the throne in 660 BC. He is said to be a direct descendant of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess in Japanese mythology. As a result, the Emperor’s birthday has always been a festive occasion. The celebration was originally known as “Tenchosetsyu” (天長節), or “Tencho Festival,” and was derived from a Chinese phrase that meant “The sky and the earth, the universe is eternal.” But when the royal family abandoned all political power after World War II (WWII), the name was changed to “Tenno Tanjobi” (天皇誕生). The present Emperor of Japan, His Majesty Naruhito, was born on February 23, 1960, which is the day of the festival.

The Emperor’s birthday celebration is one of only two times when the public is permitted entry to the Imperial Palace grounds in Chiyoda, Tokyo. Even though meeting the Emperor is not possible this year, February 23 will remain a holiday for many years to come.