Wednesday 15 November 2017

November 11th: Remembrance Day or Pocky Day?

As part of my Australian studies class, at this time of the year I introduce Remembrance Day to my Japanese students. As many people outside Japan are aware, Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the armistice which saw the end of First World War hostilities on November 11th 1918. Each year Australians (and many others) observe one minute's silence at 11 am on this day, in memory of those who died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts. However, when I ask my Japanese students what day November 11th is the answer is, almost always as follows: Pocky Day.

Pocky (ポッキー) is a much-loved long-selling Japanese crunchy long stick-biscuit covered in chocolate (though today there are a huge number of flavours, variations, and seasonal limited editions). It was voted the 17th most popular snack in a 2016 TV Asahi poll. The name comes from the Japanese onomatopoeic sound for something long breaking or snapping in two - pokkin. Pocky Day started in 1999 (year 11 in the Japanese calendar) with a huge advertising campaign, capitalising on the fact that all the ones (11-11-11) looked like Pocky sticks lined up together. See the 2017 commercial (CM in Japanese) here.

So, do Japanese remember and pay their respects to the war dead on a different day - or not at all? The first point to note is that there is no national equivalent to Remembrance/Armistice Day - the closest would probably be Shūsen Ki'nenbi (終戦記念日) on August 15th, the anniversary of the end of World War II (specifically Japan's surrender) but this is not a national holiday and while noted in the media and in an official ceremony is paid little attention by most Japanese (especially young people). Remembering the war is a much more local affair in Japan - such as the peace memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to commemorate the atomic bombings on August 6th and 9th respectively or Okinawa's Memorial Day (Irei no Hi =慰霊の日) on June 23rd to mark the end of fighting in Okinawa. The latter, held at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, is marked by a silent prayer for the victims at noon and is a prefectural holiday. 
On a national level, paying respects to the war dead is not a simple matter: some people pay their respects at Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社) - pictured above - where almost two and a half million souls are enshrined. However, because this includes 14 class-A war criminals this is highly controversial. Perhaps the only viable alternative is Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery (Senbotsusha-Boen=戦没者墓苑) which contains the remains of over 350,000 unidentified war dead. However, it is not widely known: most Japanese are probably more likely to be able to name the various Pocky flavours than know that Japan does actually have a national cemetery.