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January 8, 2007

Coming of Age Day 2007, Kyoto

Today was one of those national holidays that only Japan has: Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi). All young people who turned twenty between 2 April last year or do so at the latest on 1 April of the current year celebrate that they are now adults and therefore allowed to smoke, drink and vote (in that order). They will also finally be punished as adults if they do anything wrong.

[Coming of Age day in Heian Jingu, Kyoto]

Of course, on such a momentous day those wild youngsters have to be encouraged to become responsible members of society and therefore local governments host coming-of-age ceremonies (seijin-shiki) where politicians and educators exert themselves to pound some morals in. Considering the festive character of the day it is not surprising that the subjects of those speeches are not always in the same grave mood as their elders (as the press laments more strongly every year) and sometimes follow the letter of the law by grabbing the bottle even before the ceremony is over. After the ceremony, often a visit to a local shrine is made, and then finally everyone is allowed to party.

[Getting rid of bad luck fortune slips (omikuji) by tying them up in the shrine grounds. Coming of Age day in Heian Jingu, Kyoto]

The ceremony, however, is an old and hallowed one. In the past it was called genpuku and the transformation from youth to adult was signified by a change of dress. In those early days maturity came much faster than in our present cutesy times: for boys at 15 and girls already at 13. The boys had their forelocks cut off and the girls had to start the hateful custom of dying their teeth black.

[It is a once in a lifetime event, so pictures are important! Coming of Age day in Heian Jingu, Kyoto]

Young men usually wear dark suits to the Seijin-shiki ceremony, but women can opt to don a furisode, a formal kimono with extra-long sleeves and beautiful designs. Unfortunately, the numbers of traditionally clad females are dwindling as fast as the ice on the North Pole, and that is not only because the price of the garment can be as high as that of a small car (Anyway, most people rent their furisode).

[Glad that the job is done! Coming of Age day in Heian Jingu, Kyoto]