Coming of Age Day marks passage into adulthood
Heads will turn throughout Japan this weekend when young men and women who have recently or will shortly turn 20 don colorful kimonos and manly samurai garb to celebrate their accession to adulthood on “Seijin no Hi,” or Coming of Age Day.
The national holiday is Jan. 14, but municipal ceremonies around the country have been scheduled throughout the long weekend. Nationwide, about 1.22 million young people will officially be recognized as adults, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Turning 20 in Japan is similar to becoming 18 in the U.S. for some things and 21 for others, as 20-year-olds can legally vote, drink, smoke, and enter into contracts, such as marriage, without parental permission. They also become subject to the laws and social responsibilities that bind adults.
The new adults consist of those who turn 20 during the current school year, which runs from April 2, 2012 to April 1, 2013.
Seijin no Hi has been celebrated since at least A.D. 714. During the Edo Period (1603-1868) boys marked their passage to adulthood at age 15 by cutting their hair and carrying swords. Girls became adults at age 13.
The official age of adulthood for both genders was set at 20 in 1876.
Seijin no Hi was made a national holiday in 1948 and celebrated on Jan. 15, but in 1999 it was moved to the second Monday in January to create a three-day weekend.
All new adults in an area are invited to attend “seijin shiki,” or Coming of Age Ceremonies, somewhat boring affairs featuring earnest speeches by local officials on the meaning of adulthood. The real fun starts after the ceremony, with friends and classmates getting together to attend parties and enjoy some of the freedoms that adulthood brings.
In the morning, young women rush off to the beauty parlor to have their makeup done, get their hair put up, and be clothed by a professional dresser in brightly colored “furisode,” or kimono with long sleeves, “zori” slippers and accessories that have been rented or purchased at great expense.
Young men enjoy a greater variety of dress, with some going the traditional route and wearing the “hakama” pantaloons and “haori” long jackets seen in samurai dramas and others choosing to wear dark suits.
Following the ceremony, the new adults go home to change into party outfits or do so on the way to restaurants, clubs and “izakaya” pubs.
Entry into adulthood does not come cheap, especially for the parents of young women. The cost of renting a kimono, going to the beauty parlor and having a formal photograph to commemorate the occasion – usually taken at a portrait studio a week or more earlier – can easily cost 100,000 yen (about $1,050), and could go much higher.
But despite the rushing around to get ready, the boring speeches, and the fussing of parents, Seijin no Hi is a day remembered forever, and one that is fondly looked back on and used as a guide when one’s own child reaches adulthood.