recess radio program

1/16/04
Coming of Age in Japan
    by John Cech

This past week in Japan, tens of thousand of young men and women will celebrate the exhilirating, frustrating, and often tumultuous journey from childhood to adulthood. It's called Seijin-no-hi, and is a national holiday commemorating coming-of-age. In Japan, twenty is the legal age for voting, drinking alcohol, smoking, and marrying without needing parental consent. And young men and women who have turned twenty in the previous year are recognized as the Guests of Honor by their families and communities on Seijin-no-hi.

On this day, girls will wear the mantle of adulthood by donning the special furisode kimono, the traditional long-sleeved robe that identifies them as unmarried women. These beautiful silk robes may cost upward of a million yen or five to ten thousand American dollars, yet even families of low means will make great sacrifices to beautifully adorn a twenty-year-old daughter -- since Seijin-no-hi is considered the biggest event of her life outside of her future wedding ceremony.

Boys also don special clothing for the occasion, and many still wear the traditional hakama -- loose, pleated trousers, tied with a cord at the waist and worn over a kimono. that is topped by a large jacket called a haori. The complete traditional outfit will also cost thousands of dollars.

Parents may then honor the new adults by traveling as a family to a Shinto shrine where they pray, as parents have for generations, for health, success, and long life for their child who is no longer a child. Then they spend the remainder of the day feasting at home or at a fancy restaurant, usually dining on red snapper or other fish, which symbolize prosperity.

But the most interesting aspect of Seijin-no-hi takes place during the seijin shiki, or community ceremony to honor the new adults. Heads of the local government traditionally make congratulatory speeches and give small gifts to the honorees. Then something extraordinary happens, although in light of the extravagant costumes and opulent feasts it may seem insignificant. One of the twenty-year-olds takes the stage as a representative of all of the others. He acknowledges their new status as adults, thanks their community and families for the celebration, and pledges their determination to become good members of society. In doing so he recognizes that clothing and special privileges do not so much characterize their adulthood as does the responsibility of being good citizens in their community and the world.

Copyright 2004 John Cech

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