For the Japanese, age 20 is a big turning point in life because it means they are officially adults with expanded rights and new responsibilities. To celebrate this milestone, Japan has Seijin no Hi成人の日 or Coming of Age Day that falls on every second Monday of January to welcome these new adults into society.
For tourists who are visiting Japan around this point of time, the scenes of the young adults celebrating the day merrily are not to be missed! In this article, let’s learn more about this Japanese public holiday and how you can experience the joyful occasion as a tourist!
Japan’s tradition of celebrating Coming of Age is believed to originate from the “Genpuku” 元服 ritual that dates back to the Nara period (710-794). Initially observed by the boys of noble descent, the rite of passage then evolved to include the girls and other social classes, whereby they would assume new hairstyles, new clothing, and even new names to mark their transition to adulthood.
The current celebration format, however, was based on the Youth Festival which took place in postwar Japan. First held in Saitama on 22 November 1946 with the purpose of giving encouragement and hope to the young people, the festival later spread across the country and became the Seijin Shiki (成人式, coming of age ceremony) we see today.
Being an adult in Japan
The easiest and most direct definition is that you can now legally drink, smoke, gamble, drive, and get married without parental consent. Previously, it also included the right to vote, but that has changed since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 2015. It also means they are no longer considered juvenile offenders when it comes to law enforcement, and they are expected to fulfil their responsibilities to society.
The day’s celebration commences in the morning with the formal Seijin Shiki taking place at local city offices and town halls throughout the country. The events generally feature speeches by local government officials, presentation of gifts to the attendees, performances, and photo sessions.
While many young adults nowadays are not interested in attending the ceremony because they see it as boring or unnecessary, others regard it as a rare opportunity to reunite with childhood friends and schoolmates after leaving hometowns for big cities to study or work.
Image: The Japan Times.
It is also the day for the new adults to express their gratitude towards their parents, many of whom are seen attending the ceremony with their son or daughter.
Occasionally, the celebrations also see a few rowdy young people who get too excited about being ‘adults’ and go overboard with their behaviour. It is something that has become a regular fixture in media coverage of Coming of Age Day every year.
Dressing for the occasion
Being one of the happiest and most extraordinary events in life, the attendees put in an effort to look their best on the day. For the girls especially, they are always the highlight of Seijin no Hi with their intricately done makeup, hairstyles, and the gorgeous furisode (long-sleeved kimono for unmarried young women) they wear. It is not uncommon that their preparation starts as early as 5 o’clock in the morning at the salons they booked months ago.
The attire and preparation for the male attendees are simpler and less costly in comparison. Most of them go for a Western-style suit and tie, while some choose to wear male’s kimono with hakama for a more traditional look.
You might also come across a small number of attendees who come to the ceremony with very unusual costumes and accessories. Well, those are their ways to make sure that they have a memorable day I would say!
After the official Coming of Age ceremony, a visit to a local shrine is customary. When all the formalities are over, most of the new adults will go out with friends and celebrate the new chapter of their life by making the most of the day.
The festivities come in many forms, like enjoying a meal at a restaurant, shopping, singing karaoke, or having fun at a theme park. Some young adults, on the other hand, are eager to take advantage of the ‘freedom’ they have as an adult by doing all the things they were not allowed to do before, such as drinking and partying until late into the night.
Where to catch the festivities?
Although the coming of age ceremonies are attended by those invited only (the residents), it is not uncommon to see photographers and tourists hanging outside the venues and around the cities looking to capture a slice of Japanese culture.
Among the famous places to go on the day include Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo Disneyland (yes, with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters!), and Yokohama Arena. Another recommended spot is Shibuya Public Hall (also known as Shibuya C.C. Lemon Hall), where the coming of age ceremony is one of the biggest and most popular in Tokyo, it receives a lot of media coverage too!
A photogenic event
Japan’s Seijin no Hi celebration is a cultural heritage that provides plenty of photo opportunities. On this special day, the streets become busy and lively with the presence of the young adults. The air is filled with a sense of excitement and happiness, and the spectacle of the ladies in elaborate, colourful furisode is simply a feast for the eyes. Taking place during winter, it might even snow on the day when the ceremonies are held, adding seasonal charm to the already brilliant scenes.
With all the nice views being presented before the eyes, it is hard to resist the urge to take as many photos as you can. But keep in mind that a little courtesy goes a long way, if you want to take the photos of the attendees, it is always better to ask first than snapping away without permission. I believe most of them will enjoy the attention given and be more than happy to pose for you!