Jan 14

Coming of Age, Japan-style

Another public holiday in Japan?  Of course!  Today we’re celebrating “Seiji-no-hi” (Coming of Age Day).   Although young adults reach legal age on their 20th birthday and from there on are entitled to vote, allowed to smoke tobacco, purchase alcohol, and have all of the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, local governments hold special ceremonies on “Seijin-no-hi” to mark this rite of passage.

The age of 20 is a big turning point for Japanese people.  The ceremonies are supposed to encourage those who have newly entered adulthood to become self-reliant members of society.  Most 20 year olds attend the ceremonies which include, well, boring speeches politely endured by participants; however, in recent years the generation gap has been creating some disturbances. These have ranged from talking on cellphones to letting off fireworks during the speeches, and heckling the mayor or guest speaker. Some local governments have responded by shortening the speeches and making the ceremony more fun. A city in Chiba prefecture even moved the ceremony to Disneyland.  Talk about incentive!

In recent years the media began reporting on the steadily falling number of participants each year. Japan’s birthrate is continuing to fall and the population is expected to peak during the next 3-5 years before beginning its decline.  IF a woman decides to marry–and many are not making this decision due to a variety of reasons–she is likely to only have one child.  Meanwhile the aging population is living longer, healthier lives but the birth rate is not keeping up with society’s demand to care for its seniors.

Seiji-no-hi is a good photo opportunity.  YMost young men wear western-style suits while the majority of young women choose to wear traditional furisode.  This type of kimono has extended sleeves and traditional designs.  Some modern girls are choosing a less formal furisode. 

My friends in Japan tell me that this year many young people are attending ceremonies holding photos of their friends who perished in the Fukushima tsunami disaster, citing their desire to live responsible lives to bring honour to the short life of a friend.  I’d say maturity and responsibility kicks in early for many youth in Japan today.  Omedeto goziamasu!


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