Today in Japan it is the Coming of Age Day (Seijinohi: 成人の日), actually a National Holiday held on the second Monday every January. According to Wikipedia the origin of this celebration started around A.D. 714, when a young prince could wear new court robes and got an adult hairstyle to mark his passage into adulthood. Later during the Edo Period boys marked their passage to adulthood at age 15 by cutting their forelocks and strapping on swords. Girls at that time became adults at age 13. In 1876 the government set the official age of adulthood at 20. Nowadays for the Coming of Age Day the idea is to congratulate all the young people having reached their 20th birthday, as they are expected to be adults now. As a 20-year-old Japanese they can then vote, drink and marry without parental permission. A part of the celebration includes local ceremonies called Seijin Shiki (adult ceremony), when all new adults are invited to listen to speeches by local officials and receive small presents.
Many Japanese women celebrate this day by wearing furisode, a special kind of kimono. One option is to rent a furisode or some even are able to wear hereditary kimono. Because it is not easy to put on a kimono, many Japanese women go to a beauty salon or other facilities to get dressed, plus to set their hair and make up. Japanese men on the other hand, wear business suits or then dark-colored kimono or hakama. After the local ceremony, usually the young adults gather in groups for partying. As this is a special day for many young adults, so not only the cost for renting the special kimono occur, but as well usually pictures are taken in a studio, plus the party should not be neglected. It seems to me the total costs can be rather high (data from Nikkei Shimbun, based on 618 people’s responses):
up to JPY 10,000: 10%
JPY 10,001 – JPY 30,000: 24%
JPY 30,001 – JPY 50,000: 18%
JPY 50,001 – JPY 100,000: 26%
JPY 100,001 – JPY 200,000: 12%
JPY 200,001 – JPY 300,000: 6%
more than JPY 300,000: 4%
While growing up in Switzerland I had experienced the Coming of Age Day as a 20-year-old as well, but it was a minor experience in my life: I heard speeches by the local government too, the even took place on a Saturday, everyone was dressed in everyday clothes and no special picture was taken. I guess, the main differences between Japan and Switzerland are that the voting age starts with 18, depending on the region in Switzerland wine, beer or tobacco can be bought and consumed from 16 or 18 onwards. Therefore become 20 years old is no more a big step towards adulthood, especially as most young Swiss at that age have already set up their own independent living.
My thoughts on the Japanese Coming of Age Day event: I truly like the idea of celebrating becoming an adult. For sure the special clothes and pictures can create a unique atmosphere and feeling in everyone, but I doubt the influence of the speeches to the young generation.
Wishing everyone a happy “Coming of Age Day”,
Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)