‘Tis the season … of public holidays, that is. Just like it seems that every other Monday in autumn is a public holiday (and a day off 🙂 ), the weeks between the end of December and the beginning of January feel equally blessed with national celebrations.
Today is one of my favorite days to go down and visit my local shrine. It’s Coming of Age Day, or Seijin no Hi (成人の日), the day in which any boy or girl who turned twenty in the current academic school year can attend the local ceremony marking their passage into adulthood. Twenty is considered “legal age” in Japan, and it is from this point on that a young adult can purchase alcohol, smoke and vote. Coming of Age ceremonies have been held in Japan for at least several centuries, but it wasn’t until 1876 that the Japanese government determined the legal age of adulthood to be twenty. Prior to that, boys were considered mature at 15, when they cropped their hair, and girls “peaked” earlier at the age of 13, at which point they would begin to blacken their teeth in the style so popular in the Edo era (1603-1868).
For the average tourist to Japan, this day might pass without any notice. Unless you happen to be hanging around a municipal office, where Coming of Age ceremonies are traditionally held, you might just wonder why a greater number of young people are suddenly sporting kimono. (Also, the karaoke clubs always seem to be packed on these days). For the young people, however, Seijin no hi is almost like a bar mitzvah – dress up to the nines (for women, this can mean a long-sleeved furisode kimono; for men, a tailored suit or traditional hakama), get gifts from friends and relatives, and have a huge party with your friends.
Before the shenanigans begin, however, you’ll often find the celebrants (mostly girls) visiting the local shrine with their families for photo opportunities. I went down there myself today and frankly didn’t see many actual blessing ceremonies going on by the priests but the proud parents were posing their offspring in every photogenic corner of the property and it was fun to ooh and aah over the gorgeous furisode. These stunning kimono can only be worn by a woman between her coming of age day and her wedding, so it’s not at all common to come across someone wearing the furisode for a casual occasion. Just when I thought I’d seen enough, another newly-minted 20-year-old would come waltzing across the shrine’s stone driveway in her gorgeous kimono and out my camera would come again!