Coming of Age Day (成人の日): A Tribute to the Youth of Yesterday and the Adults of Today
Coming-of-Age Day has been saying “welcome to adulthood” officially since 1948. But how, and why? We take a look at what it means to turn 20 in Japan.
In Japan, a teenager’s progression into adulthood is marked by the Coming of Age Day (Seiji no Hi, 成人の日) – a public holiday which occurs annually on the second Monday of January. Seiji no Hi falls on 8th January this year, and similarly to every other year, new adults who hold residency in Japan will be invited to their local ward office for a Coming-of-Age Day Ceremony (seijin shiki, 成人式).
Seijin Shiki invites were once reserved for individuals who turned 20 in the previous year, but nowadays they are for anyone who turned 20, or will turn 20, between 2nd April of the previous year, and 1st April of the current year respectively. This will be changing again soon though, as the government intend to lower the age of majority to 18 from as early as 2021.
How the Coming of Age Day Celebrations Unfold
The Coming of Age Day Ceremony at the ward office usually consists of a speech by a government official, followed by the offering of a small gift to each of the new adults. After the presentation, the unofficial celebrations can start, and people tend to spend the rest of the day with friends or family – usually drinking!
Traditional Coming of Age Day Attire
Although the formal ceremonies start before midday, for many of the guests the preparations actually start much earlier. With this holiday carrying such significance, people can spend a lot of time (and money) attempting to look their best. For ladies, it is traditional to wear a “furisode” – a style of brightly-coloured silk kimono with long, flowing sleeves.
These special kimonos should only be worn by single adult women, and are known to be pretty expensive – costing in the region of ¥1,000,000! For this reason, they are often rented for the Coming-of-Age Ceremonies.
If however a young lady is lucky enough to be the owner of this magnificent kimono, once she is married, the sleeves can be shortened to change the kimono into a “tomesode”, making it wearable again. Because it can be extremely time-consuming and awkward to dress one’s self in a kimono, many women attend a kimono kitsuke to be dressed, often getting their hair and makeup done simultaneously.
Young men on the other hand, are less likely to face the same expense as their female counterparts for this day. Although traditional clothes, such as the “hakama” can be worn, it is becoming increasingly common for men to opt for Western-style attire in the form of a dark suit. Both options are considerably cheaper than the furisode!
Why is 20 a Significant Age in Japan?
At the age of 20, the final of the most “relevant” age-restricted laws are lifted. Although a (very) small minority may well be looking forward to the privilege of being able to drive a truck, it is more likely that young adults would like to have the option of being able to drink alcohol or smoke. Until June 2016, voting was only legal for those 20+, however this age-restriction has now been lowered to 18.
When Did the Tradition Start?
The tradition is believed to have started at least as early as 719 AD, when a prince sported a new outfit along with a new hairstyle to celebrate his new-found adulthood. The national holiday however, has only been around since 1948.
Being a day primarily for the 19 and 20 year olds, everyone else enjoys a fairly normal day in Japan. That being said, many of us still look forward to seeing young people smiling and celebrating their day in beautiful traditional dress. If you want to see for yourself, some of the livelier celebrations can be found around the Shibuya and Shinjuku wards.