by Sam Jarrett
Traveling to Japan over the holiday and new year period can be a very popular time for tourists, especially those looking for a snow adventure. Usually by the start of January, probably due to people's leave limits, people start to leave, but if you stay just a week or so longer, you will get to see something spectacularly beautiful and so uniquely Japanese. Seijin no Hi (or, Coming of Age day, a national holiday) is a special day for young Japanese adults who have recently turned twenty to celebrate reaching maturity.
Each year on the holiday, which is held on the second Monday of January, newly 20-year-olds gather in the early hours of the morning at local council offices to attend a Seijin-shiki, or coming of age ceremony. All Japanese young-adults who are residents in the local area are invited to attend the ceremony, where government officials give speeches on adulthood, and the new responsibilities that their newest adults will now have, before gifts are given as a kind of welcome present.
Following the ceremony, family and friends join the now officially crowned adult, often in public areas such as parks and malls (as well as back in their homes) to celebrate together.
Seijin no Hi, or Coming of Age Day, was gazetted as a public holiday in 1948, originally set to occur on January 15 each year. In 1999, several Japanese public holidays, including Seijin no Hi, were amended to move them to Mondays each year to allow for the public to have more long weekends (which is amazing).
Although the day has been recognised as a holiday for less than 70 years, coming of age ceremonies have been documented and observed in Japan since at least the Asuka period in the late seventh century.
Today the ceremony is celebrated when a young Japanese person turns 20, originally there was no fixed age that defined when a Japanese person was considered an adult, originally being based on the height of the individual - for a young man, this was when he reached 136cm tall.
Over time the definition evolved, although usually the ceremony was performed on young "men" between the ages of ten and sixteen, and for young "women", between twelve and sixteen, to eventually evolve to being strictly on the year that the person turned twenty.
Originally, the ceremony centred around giving young men and women new, adult clothing. The new adult would be taken to a shrine, given their first adult clothes, and have their hair cut to an adult style. In some areas, the new adult would also select a new, adult, name for themselves.
In some tribal areas, men and women would wear thick make-up and have their teeth blackened. In these areas, women also would have their eyebrows shaved off and thicker, darker eyebrows drawn on with makeup.
Today's coming of age ceremonies came about during the hardship that followed after the war, where there was concern that the youth, who would be needed to rebuild Japan, were becoming despondent. To try and lift spirits of the region, the town of Warabi held a Youth Festival, where a ceremony was planned to be held on the lawns of local schools. The idea eventually spread, and the Coming of Age Day as we know it was born.
Although a traditional men's dress does exist, most young men dress in their school uniform or in a suit.
For women, the ceremony is an opportunity to dress up in a traditional furisode kimono (which is where the name comes from), which is like a normal kimono except with long draping fabric from the arms. As it is a very cold time of year, the furisode kimono is often worn with woolen fluffy scarves.
As kimonos can be quite difficult to put on, preparing for the day is often treated similarly to how the Western world treats a wedding - the girls/women often book into salons and beauty parlors to have professional hair and makeup done, and the staff will assist with putting on the attire afterwards.
If you're wanting to catch a glimpse of some young men and women attending after parties, dressed in their formalwear, you could venture out to Meiji Shrine, where many newly pronounced adults often go, as well as many gardens and parks.
Whilst slightly unexpected, many also venture out to Tokyo Disney Resort for the great photo opportunity, and for a day of fun at the parks, it's one of the biggest days of the year at Tokyo Disneyland, with special events held by Disney just to celebrate the day.
Have you ever witnessed the beauty of Coming of Age day in Japan? How was your experience?
Tell us in the comments below!