Japanese National Anthem

Japan’s national anthem is “Kimigayo,” which means His Imperial Majesty’s Reign unofficially. A unique fact about Japan’s national anthem is that it is one of the oldest in the world. It is also one of the shortest. The lyrics are based upon a poem that was written during the Heian period. Though no specific date is known, this could be as early as 794. The music to go along with the poem was written by Yoshiisa Oku and Akimori Hayashi in 1880. Prior to this composition, an unpopular melody had been in use for 11 years. Franz Eckert was the person behind the arrangement of the music that is used today.

The song was first used as a national anthem for the Empire of Japan in 1888. The Empire dissolved in 1945 and the song was no longer the national anthem. However, the successor state kept the song as the de facto national anthem. It wasn’t until the Act on National Flag and Anthem was passed in 1999 when “Kimigayo” was established as the national anthem of Japan. Although it is required by Japanese students to learn and sign the song during ceremonies, many do not understand the history behind the song and many find it difficult to understand the dated language that is used. For this reason, the singing of the national anthem at school events remains controversial. Several incidents have occurred in recent years because of the Tokyo Board of Education’s rigid standards for use of the anthem and flag at events.

Japanese National Anthem Lyrics

English Translation

May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the tiny pebbles
Grow into massive boulders
Lush with moss

Poetic English Translation

Thousands of years of happy reign be thine;
Rule on, my lord, till what are pebbles now
By age united to mighty rocks shall grow
Who's venerable sides the moss doth line.