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Cold Weather Does Not Hinder Warm Feelings

February 1, 2001
Two new adults on their way to a coming-of-age ceremony.

A major holiday in January is Coming-of-Age Day. This year, as coming-of-age ceremonies were held throughout Japan on January 8, approximately 1.6 million 20-year-olds were welcomed into the ranks of adults. For the ceremony, young women usually wear brightly colored, long-sleeve kimonos, and young men don new suits. The sight of these well-dressed young people at shrines, temples, or just milling about town is emblematic of January.

Coming-of-Age Day was especially cold this year. In central Tokyo, where the first snow of the year had fallen the day before, many young people could be seen walking carefully so as not to ruin their fine clothes. The year 2000 was marked by natural disasters from the volcanic eruptions on Miyake Island to flooding in the Tokai region. But even after undergoing such hard times, the people from these places still managed to hold coming-of-age ceremonies. The smiles of the young people at those ceremonies lifted everyone's spirits.

Winter's Colorful Spectacle
Coming-of-age ceremonies are now usually organized by local governments, but they are sometimes also hosted by schools, companies, and public organizations. The participants are generally those who reach their twentieth birthdays between April of the previous year and March of the current year.

At the ceremony, young people typically hear congratulatory speeches, make a pledge to be respectable members of society, and receive some sort of commemorative gift. Depending on the sponsor, many events also have well-known guest speakers, parties, or other activities. After the ceremony, these young people visit temples and shrines or step out on the town with their friends. Because they can meet friends from their hometown that they may not have seen for a long time, the atmosphere is similar to that of a class reunion.

As for clothes, a high share of women wear furisode (kimonos for unmarried young women with long, draping sleeves) and a white shawl. Furisode are vividly colored in comparison with other kimonos. For many young women, the coming-of-age ceremony is their first chance to buy furisode. Department stores and other shops selling kimonos and beauty salons look forward to a period of increased demand brought on by Coming-of-Age Day, along with New Year's Day. Brand new suits are the norm for young men.

The coming-of-age ceremony has its origins in the genpuku, a ceremony in which a boy assumed adult clothing, hairstyle, and kanmuri, a ceremonial headdress. The ceremony began in the eighth century and was conducted by the aristocratic class. Depending on social status and historical period, boys entered adulthood between the ages of 15 and 17.

In modern times, January 15 was designated Coming-of-Age Day by the National Holidays Act enacted in 1948. The holiday was seen as a symbol of Japan's rebirth after the war. Due to revisions to the law in 1998, Coming-of-Age Day was changed to the second Monday in January, starting in 2000, to allow for a three day weekend. As they become 20, young people are given the right to vote and freedom to smoke or drink alcohol as they choose. But along with these freedoms come the responsibilities of adult society.

Both Good and Bad
According to government estimates, there were approximately 1.6 million new adults celebrating Coming-of-Age Day in 2001. This stands in contrast with the record 2.5 million postwar baby boomers who reached adulthood in 1970. Other large groups, the children of the original baby boomers, came of age between 1993 and 1995--about 2 million a year--but due to the declining birthrate, the trend is definitely downward. Only 1.3 million new adults are forecast for 2010.

At the same time, organizers are having more and more problems every year concerning the participants' poor manners. In Kochi, a group of about 10 youths heckled Governor Daijiro Hashimoto as he was making a speech. The governor shouted, "Shut up!" and asked them to leave. The youths felt remorse, though, and went to the governor to apologize a couple of weeks later. Their behavior at the ceremony was extreme, but young people chattering and talking on their cellular phones were a common sight at every ceremony.

There were, however, bright spots this year. The residents of Miyake Island, who were all evacuated to Tokyo when a volcano erupted there in summer 2000, held their own coming-of-age ceremony at a Tokyo hotel. Departing from usual custom, the young people's parents also attended the ceremony. Despite the many difficulties they face, these families were happy to enjoy a day of solace and sorely-needed celebration.

In the town of Nishibiwajima, which had been devastated by torrential rains in mid-September 2000, residents held a coming-of-age ceremony for 300 participants at Nishibiwajima Middle School. These happy young people showed no trace of the misery they had undergone. One young participant encouraged everyone to keep their spirits up, saying, "It's our job to make sure that no one forgets the hardships brought on by the flood."

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.