SATURDAY, JANUARY 15 (observed Monday, Jan. 10):
Aging in America is a huge challenge—especially with Baby Boomers pouring across the age-65 line into senior citizenship these days—but aging in Japan is viewed with great honor. Many rites of passage through life are marked with pride.
This weekend, “new” adults in Japan will be celebrating their first weekend adult privileges. In Japan, anyone who turned 20 (or will soon) took part in the Shinto Seijin no Hi, or Coming of Age Day, on Monday. Whether the 20-year-olds will be spending this, their first weekend “of age,” pondering the right to vote, purchasing alcohol or mulling over their new self-reliance (more ideas on celebrating are at ehow), all are now recognized as adult members of society. Although today, Jan. 15, is the traditional Seijin no Hi—and this was the date for more than 50 years—the Japanese government moved the holiday to the second Monday in Japan in 2000, as part of the Happy Monday System.
It’s recorded that coming of age ceremonies have been a part of Shinto and Japanese life since 714 AD, when a young prince changed his appearance to display his passage into adulthood. (Wikipedia has details.) Today’s Coming of Age ceremonies share similarities with the original rites, as young women today often wear a formal furisode kimono—the most formal outfit many will wear until their wedding day—and styled hair. Following the ceremonies, many new adults visit a shrine to give thanks.
Not all traditions of Seijin no Hi have remained, however; in recent years, young men have worn formal Western clothing, and young adults often attend parties following the ceremonies that have an abundance of alcohol and tobacco. (Hotel owners even advise young adults to book early, as the “carnival atmosphere” often leaves no vacancies! Check out more at Tokyotopia.)
Historically, Seijin no Hi was an essential part of Shinto practice, but Japan has been seeing a rapid drop in the number of attendees in recent years. While some young adults express a fear of being classified as an adult, the population in Japan is dropping in numbers, too: Japan’s birthrate is continuing to fall, and numbers will soon reach historic lows.