Kimigayo - The short Japanese National Anthem

Kimigayo [君が代] is the Japanese or Japanese national anthem, it is also the anthem with the oldest lyrics in the world, and also one of the shortest hymns in the world. It has only 5 sentences and 32 syllables, and was originally a poem.

For a long time Kimigayo was known as the Hymn of Japan, but it became an official anthem only in 1999. In this article, we will examine a little of the history of this hymn and some curiosities.

Nihon no Kokka and Kokuminka - National Songs

National Anthem in Japanese is Nihon no kokka [日本の国歌] something like country song or country music, Japan. It can be an instrumental song or music that symbolizes the nation. Before we talk about the Japanese anthem, let's understand a little bit about the word kokka [国歌].

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The kokka they are regulated by the laws of each country, some are recognized by common sense, others are historically treated as national anthems. National anthems are not invariable, but they can be revised and changed.

The other word that we will see in this article is Kokuminka [国民歌] which refers to other national songs that are used to represent the nation. They are created for a specific public purpose, which is different from the national anthem, but is intended to be sung by the people.

Production can be done not only by “governments”, but also by “people”, such as newspaper companies and private companies. In a broad sense, the theme song for a national event or defined as national because it is known by the people.

Kimigayo's History

The Japanese national anthem first appeared as an anonymous poem in Kokin Wakashū (collection of poems) written around (794-1185). The poem was included in many anthologies and was used as a song to celebrate the long life by all kinds of people. This poem was sung at festivities and birthdays.

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It all started in 1869, when John William Fenton, an Irish military leader went to Japan and suggested to Ōyama Iwao that an anthem be chosen for Japan. Ōyama agreed, chose this poem, created the melody and officially launched the hymn in 1870.

During this time the hymn had some changes in the melody, and in 1888 the hymn was considered official, but when the Empire was dissolved after the second world war, the hymn only became official again in 1999 together with the japan flag.

See the letter of the below Kimigayo and its translation below:

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JapaneseRomajiTranslation
君が代は Kimigayo wa May the Emperor's monarchy
千代に八千代にChiyo ni yachiyo nilasts for thousands and thousands of generations,
さざれ(細)石のSazare-ishi noUntil the boulder
いわお(巌)となりてIwao to naritebecome a rock
こけ(苔)の生すまでKoke no musu madeAnd the mosses will cover it.
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The old versions of Kimigayo

Until arriving at the current version, kimigayo had other previous versions with more stanzas, some had up to 3 parts, while the current anthem is only one part with 5 phrases. Its use changed between the years 1880, 1888 and 1999.

The composers of the music of the Japanese anthem was Hiromori Hayashi, Yoshiisa Oku. Below see how it is played in the score or cipher, along with the lyrics in hiragana.

Kimigayo - the short Japanese national anthem

Understanding the Japanese National Anthem

The word "kimi"Refers to the Emperor and the words contain the prayer:" May the Emperor's reign last forever ". The poem was composed at a time when the emperor reigned directly over the people.

During World War II, Japan was an absolute monarchy that took the emperor to the top. The Japanese imperial army invaded many Asian countries. The motivation was that they were fighting for the holy Emperor.

Subsequently, after the Second World War, the Emperor became the symbol of Japan by the Constitution and lost all political power. Since then, several objections have been raised about singing "Kimigayo" as a national anthem.

However, at the moment, it continues to be sung at national festivals, international events, schools and national holidays.

People using hachimaki
People using Hachimaki
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Curiosities about the National Anthem of Japan

Schools were obliged to sing the hymn and salute the flag at events and graduations, teachers were obliged to encourage students to respect the flag. But there was great opposition from teachers who defended students' freedom of thought, belief and conscience.

Passing the law caused the suicide of a school principal in Hiroshima who was unable to resolve the dispute between the school board and his teachers over the use of Hinomaru and "Kimigayo".

Most Japanese considered “Kimigayo” the national anthem even before the Law on the National Flag and Anthem was passed in 1999.

Originally the poem started with the phrase “Waga Kimi wa” ('you, my lord'), but the lyrics were changed during the Kamakura period to the one we know “Kimiga Yo wa”('His reign').

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Kimigayo - the short Japanese national anthem

Umiyukaba - Second National Anthem

In addition to the Kimigayo National Anthem, we have another very popular national song called Umiyukaba [海行かば] whose lyrics are based on a poem chōka Ōtomo no Yakamochi no Man'yōshū (poem 4094), an anthology of Japanese poetry from the 8th century, played by Kiyoshi Nobutoki.

Umi Yukaba”Later became popular with the military, especially the Japanese Imperial Navy. It became popular during and after World War II as well. After Japan surrendered in 1945, “Umi Yukaba” and others gunka were banned.

However, the ban by the occupying nation (USA) has been lifted and the song is now considered acceptable enough to be played publicly by Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force, considered the second national anthem that is also short.

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Lyrics and Translation of Umi Yukaba

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海行かば水漬く屍 /Umi yukaba / Mizuku kabane /In the sea be my body drenched in water,
山行かば草生す屍 /Yama yukaba / Kusa musu kabane /On land with tall grass.
大君の / 辺にこそ死なめ /Okimi no / he ni koso shiname /Let me die beside my Sovereign!
かえりみは / せじKaerimi wa sejiI will never look back.
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List of national songs from Japan

There are many other secondary or historical hymns that were used by the Japanese to give glory to the nation. Below we will show a complete list of National Hymns or Songs for you to research and understand details:

  • Umiyukaba [海行かば] - By Ichimo Otomo composed by Kiyoshi Nobutoki;
  • It was 2600 [紀元二千六百年] - By Yoshio Masuda composed by Yoshihachiro Mori;
  • The dawn (song of youth) - Akeyukusora [明けゆく空 (青年の歌)];
  • The sky is full of blue clouds - [空は青雲 ~全国青年団民謡];
  • All women advance in march [全女性進出行進曲];
  • Baseball tournament song [全国中等学校優勝野球大会の歌];
  • Air singing [航空唱歌];
  • Youth power - [若い力 (国民体育大会歌)];
  • The crown shines on you [栄冠は君に輝く];
  • Green mountain river [緑の山河];
  • We love [われら愛す];
  • Young Japan [若い日本];
  • Our Japan [われらの日本];
  • Constitution [憲法音頭];
  • Tokyo Olympics Ondo - NHK founded in 1964;
  • To this day - songs from the Tokyo Olympics;
  • World Expo Ondo;
  • Hello from the world of country 1970;
  • Pure White Earth (anthem of the Singapore Winter Olympics);
  • Rainbow and Snow Ballad (Sapporo Olympic Theme Song);
  • Radio Gymnastics Song - Ichiro Fujiyama, NHK founded in 1951
  • Song of “PTA”;
  • Green Song (Green Feather Fund Theme);

Kigenni Senropupakukun - Period 2600

A national song that was created in Japan in 1940 (Showa 15th year) in celebration of "Emperor Jinmu 2600". It became popular in radio broadcasts and became famous. Created by Cabinet Celebration Party / Japan Broadcasting Corporation (now NHK).

Aikokukoushinkyoku - Patriotic March

The Patriotic March (Aikokukoushinkyoku) of 1937 is a favorite song of the Japanese, widely sung before the war. The lyrics are Yukio Morikawa and the composition is Tokichi Setoguchi. The song shows the way in which Japan symbolizes eternal life and the ideal of the Empire.

Japanese National Anthem Videos

Finally, we will leave 2 videos, the first shows the Japanese national anthem being sung in a stadium:

The following video from our friend Santana shows some curiosities about this national anthem of Japan: