Monday, January 10, 2011

Coming of Age Day

Today is a big day.. especially for 20 year olds! It is the “Coming of Age Day” known as “Seijin No Hi” in Japanese. In Japan, people attain majority at the age of 20. It is the age when they can vote and perhaps of more importance to them is that they can smoke and drink and also marry without seeking parental consent.

This tradition has been followed since ancient days and at the time it was known as “Genbuku” which was celebrated by the royal family their family members who had turned adults. In those days the young adults were given adulthood clothes and hairstyles and the family visited the shrine of their patron kami to seek blessings for a good future. The origin is believed to be in 714 AD when a prince changed his attire to court robes and sported an adult style hairstyle and marked his passage into adulthood. During the Heian period only the noble family and samurais followed this tradition. During the Edo period, the adulthood age for boys was 15 and for girls was 13. The age of 20 was adopted to be adulthood age in the 19th century. 

This day is a national holiday in Japan and each year it falls on the second Monday of January. Till the year 2000, this day was celebrated on January 15 each year. This day is to congratulate young men and women who have attained the age of 20 and to encourage them to realize their passage to adulthood and behave like responsible adults. Till recent years people who had attained the age of 20 during the period from the previous year’s Coming of Age Day to this year’s Coming of Age Day celebrated this day. I am told that now the day is celebrated for people who have attained or will attain age 20 from April 2nd of the previous year to April 1st of the current year.

The local city governments hold a special ceremony called “Seijin Shiki” on the morning of this day and all the people who are eligible to celebrate this day and live in that area are invited. At times some small gifts are given to the attendees in honour of their turning adults. Now a days many companies hold parties and hand out presents to all the employees who have turned or will turn 20 that year. Young adults also celebrate this day with their friends and family with parties.

On this day, many young girls dress in fancy kimonos and sport befitting hairstyles. This kimono is special and is called “Furisode”. It has long sleeves – about 40 inches in length and is worn by unmarried women. Most often parents gift this Kimono to their daughters on the occasion of Seijin no Hi. Since this kimono is expensive, many young girls prefer to rent it for the day. Also since draping the kimono is difficult, many girls prefer to go to a salon to dress up and also get the traditional makeup and hairstyling done. Wearing this kimono is an indication that the girl is an adult and is unmarried. It is usually worn on special occasions like family weddings etc. The traditional footwear that goes with the furisode is the Zori – Japanese sandals made of rice straw or other plant fibres and these days also synthetic or plastic.

Some young men wear a traditional kimono with a “Hakama” – special clothing worn from the waist to ankle. But most young men prefer to wear Western style suits and ties.    

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