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  • Juju Kurihara

Why Japan is the oldest country in the world?

Updated: May 9

Would you be surprised if I say Japan is the oldest country in the world? I can almost visualise some of you even stood up the chair. Or some of you may be offended. But don´t worry. I´m also the one having a doubt to see such a news. But this is certificated by the Guinness and CIA in the US.

When they say, the oldest country, they see the countries according to its independence (see The world Factbook by CIA:

You may think, what about China or Egypt where the very first civilizations were born? True, when these civilizations appeared, Japan was just a floating sardine on the sea and hadn´t been formed as a country. But neither Chinese dynasty or Mesopotamia no longer exist.

Chinese dynasty, for instance, ended in 1911 when the last emperor, Puyi abdicated as some of you might´ve seen in “The Last Emperor”. Since then, there is no dynasty in China.

William I
William I

England has probably the longest dynasty in Europe, The first King of England, William I conquered England in 1066. This means the royal family of England has a 949 years of history. Elizabeth II, the current Queen is the 41st successor.

There are less than 30 countries around the world remain monarchy at the moment. And Japan has the longest monarchial system among them, which began in 660BC. According to “Kojiki (古事記)”, the oldest history book in Japan, the country was created by Kamuyamatoiwarebiko no mikoto (神日本磐余彦命) on the land of Yamato (大和) about 2,700 years ago. This man later became the first Emperor of Japan and called, Jinmu Ten-no (神武天皇/ the Emperor Jinmu).

Japan claims that the current Emperor is the direct descendant of the Emperor Jinmu and therefore, Japan is the oldest independent country of the world. This is called, bansei Ikkei (万世一系/ unbroken line of emperor) in Japanese.

It seems like many historians in Japan think this result is normal. But my history teacher at high school dropped us a hint of doubt as I remember. It was in Nanboku-cho period (南北朝時代/ 1334-1392) when the Emperor Godaigo (後醍醐天皇) ruled Japan. He wasn´t a fond of samurai and not happy at all about samurai was taking over the government. The emperor had planned to destroy the Shogunate.


The problem was he was the Emperor and had no soldiers. He asked some shoguns, Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏) or Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞) for a help. He won but as soon as he got his power back, he ignored those shoguns and started a tyranny.

Of course the shoguns were angry and they had decided to attack the Emperor Godaigo. He was lost and exiled to Nara. He didn´t just lose the fight but also lost the Imperial Regalia of Japan, also called the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, in Japanese Sanshu no Jingi (三種の神器), which have been assigned only to the successors over the generations, and which also proves that he is the Emperor.

The imperial Regalia of Japan consists, Kusanagi no Tsurugi (草薙剣/ Sword Kusanagi), Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡) and Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾玉). I will talk about the mythology behinds the three treasures later.

Meantime, the new Emperor succeeded to the throne in Kyoto. His name was the Emperor Komyo (光明天皇).

However, the Emperor Godaigo wasn´t in Nara being quiet. He announced that Sanshu no jingi he gave up were fake and the real ones were still in his hand. This makes the Emperor Godaigo the Emperor.

Since he was in the south and the Emperor Komyo was in the north, this period was called Nanboku-cho period. Nan (南) is south and boku/hoku (北) is north in Japanese.

After many civil wars, the ancestry of the Emperor Godaigo ended and the current Emperor in Japan is the descendant of the Emperor Komyo. Both of them were from the royal family but which one was actually direct from the Emperor Jinmu?

There is also a theory that there were´t two Emperors but three. Moreover, there were actually three sets of Sanshu no jingi.

It´s an honour that Japan is certificated as the oldest country in the world but we can´t ignore some small doubts either.

By the way, the second oldest country is Denmark, which founded in the 10th century. And until 1974, Ethiopia was the oldest Imperial in the world. Solomonic Dynasty ruled Ethiopia in the 10th century BC and continued about 3,000 years, however it was destoroyed by the revolution.

References : Kokyo no kyokasho

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