On Monday 13th of January(used to be on January 15, but in 2000 it was moved to the second Monday of the month.), Japan celebrates a public holiday called “Seiji-no-hi” (成人の日 – Coming of Age Day). The age of 20 is a big turning point for Japanese people. This special ceremony is held in order to congratulate and supposed to encourage those who have reached the age of majority (20 years old) and let them know they have entered adulthood, to help them realize that they have become adults and time to become self-reliant members of society. Upon reaching the legal age on their 20th birthday and from there on are entitled to vote, allowed to smoke tobacco, purchase alcohol etc, and have all of the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, local governments hold ceremonies called “Seijin-shiki” (成人式 – Coming of Age Ceremony) to mark the rite of passage.
Most 20 year olds attend the ceremonies, generally held in the morning at local city offices/elementary schools which usually include speeches, however in recent years there has been some disturbances ranging from talking on cellphones to letting off fireworks during the speeches, and heckling the guest speaker. Some local governments have responded by making the speeches shorter and making the ceremony more exciting (in some cases including entertainment and games). A city in Chiba prefecture moved the ceremony to Disneyland.
Each year the news consistently highlights the steadily falling number of participants each year. Japan’s birthrate is continuing to rapidly fall and the population is expected to peak during the next 3-5 years before beginning its decline.
Coming of Age Day ceremonies have been held in Japan for centuries. During the Edo era (1603-1868) boys became adults at around the age of 15 and had their forelocks cropped off, and girls became adults when they turned 13 or so and had their teeth dyed black. It wasn’t until 1876 that the government of Japan decided to set the legal age of adulthood to 20 years.
Seijin-no-hi is a good opportunity to take some photos. The young men sometimes wear traditional dress (e.g. dark kimono with hakama), but nowadays many men wear formal Western suits and ties more often than the traditional hakama. But many women choose to celebrate this day by wearing a traditional furisode, a style of kimono with long extended sleeves that drape down and have very elaborate designs and zōri sandals. Since most are unable to put on a kimono by themselves due to the intricacies involved in putting one on, many choose to visit a beauty salon to dress and to set their hair. For unmarried women, this is probably the most formal attire they can wear before marriage, so many of them wear it to the event to mark the start of their adult life. A full set of formal clothing is expensive, so it is usually either borrowed from a relative or rented rather than being bought especially for the occasion.
After the ceremony, the young adults sometimes go to local shrines for a blessing of good luck or more recently, they flock over to the local shopping mall and get some purikura (プリクラ), photo booths and snap collectible photo-stickers made with all their friends later in the evening they often celebrate in groups by going to parties or going out drinking with friends and/or family.
Photos by: Shogunmaster Photography