The Kimigayo Anthem: A Symbolic Contradiction in Japanese Culture

Categories: Japan Country


The profound impact of music on emotions and experiences is a universal phenomenon, creating a deep connection with individuals across cultures. However, certain song lyrics can evoke conflicting sentiments, exemplifying the intricate relationship between music and societal perceptions. The Japanese National Anthem, Kimigayo, stands as a compelling example, playing a dual role in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people. This essay delves into the conflicting interpretations of Kimigayo, exploring its historical context, emotional resonance, and its specific impact on individuals, with a particular focus on Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's portrayal in Farewell to Manzanar.

The Dual Nature of Kimigayo

The article “Japan National Anthem,” provided by Kodansha International, sheds light on the anthem's history and its interpreted meanings. While some argue that Kimigayo expresses a wish for "good health" and "long life," its historical roots reveal a more complex narrative. The term "kimi," meaning friend, lover, or household, takes on a dual significance, directly referring to the emperor. The anthem's creation by a member of the army's marching band further underscores its militaristic undertones, aimed at reinforcing imperial rule and fostering patriotism.

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Within this historical context, Kimigayo's conflicting nature emerges, as it encapsulates both a wish for well-being and a call for national allegiance. The anthem symbolizes a convergence of sentiments, making it a poignant expression that resonates differently with each individual.

Papa's Struggle in Farewell to Manzanar

In Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston illustrates the personal struggle of her father, Papa, with Kimigayo. Trapped in U.S. internment camps during World War II, Papa's rendition of the anthem becomes a profound reflection of his disappointment and sorrow. Houston describes it as a "deep-throated lament," emphasizing Papa's emotional turmoil as he grapples with the harsh reality of war.

The anthem's lyrics, particularly the symbolism of stones, resonate strongly with Papa's experience. As the anthem speaks of stones remaining strong and resistant, Papa embodies this resilience during his time in the internment camp. The stones, like the Japanese, endure the hardships, growing a layer of metaphorical "moss" for protection. However, this endurance comes at a cost, leaving Papa emotionally distraught as he navigates the complexities of his dual identity and loyalty.

Kimigayo, with its conflicting messages of endurance and militarism, serves as a poignant backdrop to Papa's internal struggle, highlighting the anthem's power to intertwine with personal narratives and historical contexts.

Contradictory Perspectives on Kimigayo

The Kimigayo anthem has evolved over time, acquiring a perceived militaristic essence due to Japan's involvement in various conflicts. The anthem's association with wars, including the Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, Manchurian Incident, and the Pacific War, has shaped its character, imbuing it with a combative undertone.

For many Japanese, Kimigayo represents a contradictory musical piece. While it conveys the enduring spirit and hope for a prosperous future, its symbolic ties to militarism and the emperor system create internal conflict. This duality is palpable in Papa's rendition of the anthem, where the stones, embodying resilience, also reveal the harsh truth of passive acceptance during the internment. The term "kimi," used both to signify a close connection and address the Emperor, exemplifies this paradoxical nature. The anthem's title, Kimigayo, encapsulates conflicting meanings, reflecting the intricate relationship between individual sentiments and societal expectations.

Symbolism of Stones and Moss

While the Kimigayo anthem elicits contradictory perspectives, its symbolic representation of stones and moss offers a nuanced understanding. The anthem suggests that, like stones enduring over time, the Japanese have the capacity to withstand challenges. The layer of metaphorical "moss" serves as a protective shield, allowing for growth and adaptation in the face of adversity.

This symbolism becomes particularly relevant in the context of World War II and the internment camps. The Japanese, much like the enduring stones, maintained their cultural identity despite the hardships. However, the anthem's portrayal of stones also unveils the unpreparedness and fear that linger outside the protective walls of the camps, exposing a harsh reality.


In conclusion, the Kimigayo anthem stands as a symbolic contradiction in Japanese culture, embodying both resilience and militarism. Examining its historical roots, emotional impact on individuals like Papa in Farewell to Manzanar, and the conflicting perspectives it evokes, provides a comprehensive understanding of its complex nature. The symbolism of stones and moss, while signifying endurance, also reveals the vulnerabilities and challenges faced by the Japanese during a tumultuous period in history. Kimigayo's power lies not only in its musical notes but in its ability to encapsulate the multifaceted emotions and experiences of a nation. As the anthem continues to echo through time, it serves as a reminder of the intricate interplay between music, history, and the human spirit.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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The Kimigayo Anthem: A Symbolic Contradiction in Japanese Culture. (2022, Aug 09). Retrieved from

The Kimigayo Anthem: A Symbolic Contradiction in Japanese Culture essay
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