In Japan, January is par excellence the month of festivities and traditions. They start with the New Year and all its costumes, pass through the Nanakusa Gayu, and end up with the long-awaited Seijin no Hi – 成人 式, the day when boys and girls become adults.
As you know, the time when you reach the age of majority varies according to where you are in the world. In countries like Indonesia, Iran, Myanmar, and Yemen, boys and girls achieve it at age 15. Cambodia, Cuba, Pakistan, Palestine at 16. North Korea, Tajikistan at 17. In most of the European countries at 18 years old.
In Japan, this important passage is celebrated all over the country on the second Monday of January in the “Seijin no Hi” day. Declared a national holiday, this solemn day is entirely dedicated to young people that are ready to turn 20, the age from where they can be recognized as “adults” (includes those born between April 2 of the previous year and April 1 of the current year).
Every city hall organizes an official ceremony in a large conference room where young people and family can attend a series of talks conducted by key figures in the area, which have left an impact on the society. The main topics are usually the meaning of being adults and the responsibilities that young people must start to have in order to build a successful future.
Identifying on the streets who the “future adults” are will not be difficult, especially around famous and popular meeting points like Shinjuku and Shibuya.
Walking around the city, you will observe groups of girls and boys dressed in a very formal way, according to tradition, followed by relatives and family ready to capture this moment with photos and videos.
This festival dates back to 714 B.C. The tradition said that a young prince decided to gave to the crowd, clothes, and accessories to celebrate his 20’s. Since that, is a costume to wear traditional and elegant clothes to celebrate this moment.
His formalization as “National Day” took place later in 1948.
The traditional dress includes Furisode for women (a type of Kimono with long and wide sleeves) and Haori Hakama for men (male Kimono). All often adapted to modern times. It will not be difficult to find girls in colorful Furisode with original prints (cats or phosphorescent colors) and with particular make-up and hairstyle, together with guys who have preferred jacket and tie. Besides that, what links the past and the present is that atmosphere of joy that this day brings with it.
From the beginning of the schools to the search for work and retirement, the age of a person in Japan is closely linked to his social status.
The 20 years are of course an important moment, in which young people become adults with responsibilities, but some important social rights and duties are assumed before! For example, the right to vote, which can be observed as early as 18 years, as well as the ability to drive a car.
In a deeper meaning, this day marks the moment where girls and boys should start growing by themselves, without the help of the family. Plus, 20 is also the year where they are allowed to buy and consume alcohol and tabacco, reaching that dreames sense of freedom.
It will not be difficult to find local bars and pubs full of groups of young people ready to celebrate the end of this day with some good glass of beer and sake.
Compared to the past, young people tend to don’t participate any more in this celebratory day and, around the age in which they become adults, are emerging great debates.
The Japanese government is thinking of lowering the achievement of adulthood to 18 years. This in order to link together important moment, like the right to vote, the possibility of getting married without the consent of an adult, the opportunity to have a bank account and to possess a valid passport for 10 years.
(Right now, minors can only obtain a 5-year passport with the signature of the parent).
Despite that, up to 20 years, young people will not be allowed to drink alcohol or smoke.
(You can, therefore, understand the disappointment of young people.)
I wonder if in 10 years the Seijin no Hi, with its more than 1000 years of history, will still be a day celebrated in this beautiful atmosphere of joy.