Today, on Monday 11th January, millions of young Japanese people are celebrating turning 20 years old by dressing up and attending traditional ceremonies to honour Japan’s Coming of Age Day. In additions to being a popular tourist attraction, this Japanese holiday has great cultural importance. So, what is it and why is it celebrated?
1. What is Coming of Age Day
Japan’s Coming of Age Day is held every year on the second Monday of January, to congratulate and encourage young people on becoming 20 years old, which is seen as adult. The day features coming of age ceremonies and celebrations in the way of after-parties with family and friends, and everyone is dressed for the event. The coming of age ceremony, or adult ceremony (seijin shiki), usually takes place at local government offices, and honours the ‘new adults’. It is held in the morning and heads of local government as well as guest speakers give speeches, and the new adults receive small gifts.
The tradition of the Coming of Age Day may date back as far as the 700s, although the more modern interpretation of the celebration began in the 1600s. On this day, boys would participate in genpuku ceremonies, whilst girls would join in mogi ceremonies, during which both would dress in adult robes and cut their hair.
Following World War II, the holiday changed slightly after the city of Warabi, near Tokyo, hosted a youth festival to boost people’s morale. This concept became popular and since 1948 Coming of Age Day has been an official holiday. In 1998, in Japan’s ‘Happy Monday’ system which several holidays saw moved to create three-day weekends, the holiday was moved to the second Monday in January.
Whilst the modern legal age of 20 as adulthood was established in 1876, the coming of age ceremony is a tradition that somewhat predates this. In the original Genpuku ceremonies, the age of becoming an adult was much younger, at 15 for boys and 13 for girls.
3. Who attends?
The young people who attend and are celebrated as new adults on Coming of Age Day, sometimes called Adult Day, are all those who have reached or will reach 20 years of age between April 2 of the previous year and April 1 of the current year. This age is the age of maturity, and is when people in Japan gain many important rights, such as the right to vote in elections and to get married without parental consent, as well as being able to legally drink and smoke.
4. Dress for the occasion
Coming of Age Day is a big occasion, and people certainly dress accordingly. For young women, this means donning special kimonos with long sleeves, (as opposed to the shorter sleeve kimonos worn by mature, married women), or sometimes hakama (baggy pants). This is no easy feat, and most young women cannot put on a kimono themselves so have to go to a kimono kitsuke to be dressed. Due to the expense of the beautiful kimonos, it is common for women rent their kimonos rather than buy them. A trip to the hairdresser to have their hair done is also necessary.
For young men, most wear business suits, although sometimes they wear dark-coloured kimonos, called a haori (half-coat). It is generally a much less expensive day for the men than the women.
5. A tradition being challenged
Coming of Age Day remains a popular public holiday in Japan, however the country’s declining population in recent years means that less and less people are turning 20. In 2020 this figure was only 1.22 million, but was almost double that at the start of the 1970s. Additionally, recent amendments to the Civil Code will see the age of adulthood lowered to 18 from April 2022, but there is no law stipulating the age of the Coming of Age ceremony attendees, so this is causing some confusion regarding the future of this important holiday.