Coming of Age Day or Seijin no Hi (成人の日) is an important holiday marking the rite of passage into adulthood for 20-year-olds in Japan. From the age of twenty, the Japanese are considered legal adults and can vote, drink and smoke.
While Coming of Age Day can be traced back to the Edo period (and rituals related to rites of passage into adulthood even further before that), it didn't become a national holiday until 1948. The holiday was originally celebrated on January 15th, but in the year 2000 was changed to the second Monday of January.
On this day, Coming of Age ceremonies are held at local city offices across the country to congratulate and encourage young adults to fulfill their new-found responsibilities and become self-reliant members of society.
While previously you had to have already turned 20 in the past year to participate, it is now common practice to count the year from April 2nd of the previous year until April 1st of the current one. Hence, some of the youth invited to participate in the ceremony may still technically be only nineteen.
The ceremony is traditionally followed by a visit to a shrine. Then, with the formalities out of the way, the youngsters usually kick on at after-parties and drinking sessions with friends.
Women usually don a special type of kimono called a furisode for the occasion – distinguishable by its long hanging sleeves. Furisode may not be worn until a woman reaches adulthood so Coming of Age Day marks the first time females can wear this garment. Wearing the furisode signifies that she is of legal age and available for marriage. It is the most formal kimono for single women and is usually worn when attending weddings or participating in tea ceremonies. The “swinging sleeves” are said to either dispel evil spirits or allure male suitors. The furisode may not be worn after wedlock.
Given the high cost of this elaborate outfit, many women choose to rent them. If they do purchase one or, if they are lucky enough, have been given one as a gift, it can be re-used after marriage by having the sleeves cut shorter to become a tomesode, a kimono worn by married women. Tomesode means “to stay/remain” + “sleeves” and is said to signify the woman staying with her husband. The cut material, usually exquisite and colorful silk, can be recycled into such things as fancy cushion covers.
Some men continue to wear the traditional hakama pants, but most now opt for a Western-style suit.
Coming of Age Day 2013 also happened to coincide with the heaviest snowfall in the Tokyo region for six years. At Meiji Jingu Shrine in the country's capital, the location of our Coming of Age Photo Walk for tsunami relief (click here to read more about our fundraising events), numbers of young visitors for the occasion were drastically reduced. It was difficult enough to keep your footing let alone in those traditional wooden sandals, and moisture and silk kimono usually don't mix. However, we were lucky that there were a number of young people around more than happy to pose for us in the snow.
While not the best conditions to be out and about, especially with electronic equipment, we really were blessed to see Meiji Jingu in such a brilliant white. The colorful kimonos in contrast to the starkness of the surroundings was truly stunning. What do you think?
Join our next Coming of Age Day Photo Walk on 12 January 2015. This event is completely free and all photography levels welcome. See our Facebook event page for more details.