Denying the validity of dating the founding of Japan from the enthronement of a legendary emperor, citizens’ groups staged rallies Feb. 11, calling for the government to abolish the national holiday to ensure the separation of church and state.

At Tokyo’s Chiyoda City Public Hall, some 200 people gathered at the “Feb. 11 Tokyo Rally to Crush the National Founding Day and to Prevent the Government from Sponsoring Yasukuni Shrine.” The organizers of the event include the National Christian Council and a group dealing with the Yasukuni issue.

Minoru Zushi, 47, a member of the organizing committee, said: “Thirty-one years have passed since the government passed a bill declaring Feb. 11 a national holiday by reviving the ‘Imperial era.'” That era is reckoned to have begun in 660 B.C., the year that Jinmu, the legendary first emperor, is said to have ascended the throne.

The holiday, originally called Kigensetsu, was established by the Meiji government to commemorate the date of Jinmu’s accession. Abolished in 1948 because of its association with the emperor system, as well as the excesses of nationalism before and during World War II, Kigensetsu was restored in 1966 as National Founding Day.

Severely criticizing Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s recent visit to Yasukuni Shrine — which is dedicated to the nation’s 2.6 million war dead, including convicted Class-A war criminals — organizers of the rally also urged both the central and local governments to refrain from using public funds to support the shrine.

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