February 11th is “National Foundation Day”. So today I would like to talk about roots and origin of Japan. This date is commemorated because, 2,675 years ago, 660 B.C., the first Emperor Jinmu is said to ascend the throne. A story of his one descendent, the 16th Emperor Nintoku, who is now famous for Daisen ancient tomb, the largest one in the world, is important. One day, he stepped up onto a hill and looked around. Then, he noticed that there was no rising smoke from houses of people to prepare their meal.
“There is nothing to send out smoke because they must be too poor to cook. The capital city here goes like this, so the provinces would be more serious,” he said. After that, people were exempted from tax for three years.
The tax exemption stopped the revenue of the Imperial Court and the palace went to ruin greatly. He couldn’t have new clothes. A thatched roof broke and leaked, therefore starlight came into the room through chinks in the roof.
Three years later, he went onto same hill and looked around again. This time he found houses send out smoke to cook very well and the poem he dedicated to the scene is left:
Looking o’er the city from the Palace tower,
I see columns of smoke curling up,
and know that they are boiling rice,
glad of their prosperity.(Note)
Then he said to his wife, “It is pleasure I became rich.”
She heard that and in reply said, “You said strange things. Your clothes had got holes and the roof had broken. Why could you say so?”
Then he said, “People are the foundation of a country. I’m rich because they are rich.” He couldn’t permit to stop the tax exemption. Six years have passed; finally he collected tax and allowed to fix his palace. Then the people started to fix the palace despite no command and finished the fixation swiftly to make the palace quite magnificent.
Some people say that this story is a myth and a fiction. But these myths show a national character of the country just because they are myths.
There were these relationships between emperor and nation not only under the Emperor Nintoku. Immediately after the defeat of Japan in the World War Ⅱ, September 27, 1945, when the 124th Emperor Showa visited General MacArthur, the emperor said to him then, “It is I that am responsible for the war. So I would like to beg you to punish not Togo and Shigemitsu but me. Even if you won’t, I’d like you to at least accept my asking for food aid, because many innocent people in my nation could starve, if we leave them. I brought securities of the Imperial property here. I want you to allot them for a part of the costs.”
General MacArthur thought until then that the emperor came to beg for his life, like many kings. After hearing these words, he stood up slowly, proceeded to the front of him, and shook his hand, almost hugging him. “I saw an emperor like God for the first time.”, he said and saw him off himself respectfully to the exit.
Since the first Emperor Jinmu for 2,675 years, our country has been the nation unprecedented in the world, in which Japanese democracy has been quietly established.
Japan was defeated in the Pacific War for the first time since founding of a country but not given democracy by America for the first time. In addition Japanese had made democracy not by any revolution killing each other.
Since ancient times, Japan has been a calm nation with the spirit of democracy where the emperor and people live in close cooperation.
We don’t have to disparage Japan or Japanese ourselves. You should be proud of the longest history in the world and great tradition and put your all into your study to contribute to the world and people in the world.
(Note)Translated by H. H. Honda, in “The Shin Kokinshu”, The Hokuseido Press, The Eirinsha Press.