2nd Monday in January
Almost every society has a coming-of-age rite, be it confirmation, bar mitzvah, high school graduation, or my favorite: passing your driver’s test.
In Japan that rite is one’s 20th birthday. However, it’s not an individual celebration. The entire nation of 20 year olds celebrate their birthdays on the same day. That’s today, the second Monday of the New Year, Seijin no Hi…aka, Coming of Age Day.
20 is the legal age of voting, drinking and smoking, and the age of civic responsibility.
Young men wear their finest suits. Women wear furisodes, special formal kimonos for unmarried women, which can cost a million yen, or $10,000, although that is coming down.
(Photos © Samurai Dave)
The event is so popular that appointments at beauty salons must be made months in advance, and can set parents back a grand. Within the beauty world Coming of Age Day is an industry in itself. Women will begin arriving at the salons at 5am, and salons are prepared to handle over a hundred women in just a few hours.
In some ways it is celebrated more for the parents than for the son or daughter. Says one kimono shop owner:
“For the parents it is their desire. From the day a girl is born they have the desire to dress her in furisode when she becomes 20 in the seijin shiki, take her picture, and send it to relatives as custom requires. In some cases, the mother herself also wore a furisode she received from her mother in her seijin shiki…
“If they have the possibility of dressing their daughter in a Y1,000,000 kimono it is proof that they have worked hard all their lives and can afford it. It is the result of their life work…But the girls do not always understand their parents’ feelings and they say they would prefer a car.”
A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan – Fashioning Cultural Identity: Body and Dress by Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni)
But Coming of Age day has been adapting to new times, partly from the recessions and partly from new youth culture. According to SillyBoy_in_Japan:
“…the price of kimonos has dramatically increased as most of the kimonos are now made cheaper in China. A decent hand made using Japanese materials can still be bought in Kyoto, and can be quite expensive, but there are few people learning this craft. Once the last of these shops close down, all that will be left are the pre-made, mostly imported kimonos. What also has changed is that 70% of the girls now wear beautiful evening gowns. Think shopping for a prom dress in America.”
Though it only became an official holiday in 1948, Coming of Age Day has its roots in older Shinto and Meiji era traditions, such as genpuku, where boys between 12 and 16 were given a new name and…
“were taken to the shrines of their patron kami. There they were presented with their first adult clothes, and their boys’ hairstyles were changed to the adult style.”
Girls reaching adolescence were given a similar ceremony and dressed in special kimono attire to symbolize to the community their readiness for marriage.
John K. Nelson describes a Coming of Age ceremony at a community shrine in Enduring Identities:
“At the Tsuchinoya purification pavilion, everyone lines up and is purified with a standard, paper-streamer haraigushi…After a short ritual in front of the Honden, the group assembles in the western field to plant a cherry tree, each participant contributing one shovelful of soil to the process. The group then retires to the Chokushiden within the administration building for three formal speeches stressing gratitude to parents, the brevity of youth, and the contributions they will make to society…”
Today a lot of Japanese youth see the pomp and circumstance as more materialistic than traditional. Writes Naoko:
“In the past it probably meant more than today. These days this is just sort of fashion show for tons of 20yr-old, and the day finally they can officially get drunk. However, it’s still nice to see them in colorful kimono with shining hopes.”
Youtube: Beautiful Japanese actress celebrates Seijin Shiki
Youtube: No clue what they’re saying here but…funny