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Seijin no Hi or Coming of Age Day

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/22 Traditional Culture , ,

furisode

Furisode. A type of kimono usually worn by unmarried women. (Image by Nuria Monsó Tarancón on Flickr)

Coming of Age Day

Today is Seijin no Hi (成人の日) or Coming of Age Day in Japan. It is a national holiday held every second Monday of January. It is held in order to congratulate all those who have newly entered adulthood or those who turned 20 years old in the past year and encourage them to become independent members of the society.

One can be called an “adult” in Japan when he/she turns 20 years old (二十歳 hatachi). They gain the right to vote. They are also allowed to smoke and drink. But along with these rights come new responsibilities as well, thus, age 20 is a big turning point for the Japanese.

Holiday History

Before year 2000, the holiday is celebrated every January 15 but due to the effect of the Happy Monday System (law moving some public holidays in Japan to Mondays to create three-day weekends). Coming of age ceremonies (成人式 Seijin-shiki) have been held since time immemorial in Japan. In the past boys marked their transition to adulthood when they were around 15, and girls celebrated their coming of age when they turned 13 or so. During the Edo period (1603-1868), boys had their forelocks cropped off, and girls had their teeth dyed black. In 714 AD, when a young prince donned new robes and a hairstyle to mark his passage to adulthood. It wasn’t until 1876 that 20 became the legal age of adulthood. The holiday was first established in 1948 and celebrated every January 15.

Until recently, all young adults attending the coming of age ceremony were exactly 20 years old. These young adults held their 20th birthday after the previous year’s Coming of Age Day but before (or on) the present Coming of Age Day. In current practice, even those who are 19 years old can attend the ceremony but their 20th birthday must fall between April 2 of the previous year and April 1 of the current year.

Modern Celebration

These days, males generally wear suits to their coming of age ceremony, but a lot of females choose to wear traditional furisode – a special type of kimono for unmarried women with extra-long sleeves and elaborate designs. For unmarried women, furisode is about the most formal thing they can wear, and so many of them don it to the event marking the start of their adult life.

Japan’s low birth rate and shrinking percentage of young people, coupled with disruptions to some ceremonies in recent years (such as an incident in Naha in 2002, when drunken Japanese youths tried to disrupt the festivities) and a general increase in the number of 20-year-olds who do not feel themselves to be adults have led to decreased attendance of the ceremonies, which has caused some concern among older Japanese. In 2012, the decline continued for the fifth year in a row, with the total of 1.22 million adults celebrating the holiday in 2012 – under half of the participants seen at its peak in 1976, when 2.76 million adults attended ceremonies. This is the first time it has declined below the 50% threshold.

References:

1. Coming of Age Day. Wikipedia.

2. Coming-of-Age Day. Web Japan.

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