Japan's Coming Of Age Tradition

Jan 6, 2011 By Deepa Gopal
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Imagine a national holiday where 20-year-olds dress up in their finest traditional attire, attend a ceremony in local city offices, receive gifts and party with family and friends. That is what Japan's 'Coming of Age' festival (known as Seijin-no-Hi) and held annually on the second Sunday in January, is about.

It is a tradition that started nearly 1200 years ago when a prince donned fine robes to mark his passage into adulthood.

Anyone born between April 2nd of the previous year and April 1st of this year, and who has or will shortly be turning 20, is invited to participate in the festivities. It is believed to be the age when the youth become mature and contributing citizens in Japanese society. It is the minimum age for drinking and voting in Japan.

A festive day for youth

For young women, the festival is an opportunity to dress up in traditional kimono attire and zori sandals. The kimono is a full robe, worn with the left side overlapping the right and tied together with a sash. Young unmarried women wear a style of kimono, called furisode, which has long floor length sleeves.

The young men and women visit the holy Shinto shrines and offer prayers. They attend ceremonies held by local city officials where they listen to elders speak and are given gifts. After the festivities, many people go out to dinner with their friends or family.

At Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, the celebration continues with an ancient archery ritual known as Momote Shiki. The archers wear a formal kimono that was once worn by the Samurai warriors. Before the archers begin, a Shinto priest shoots a special red-colored arrow with a turnip-shaped head. The arrow makes a whistling noise as it speeds along. The noise is believed to drive away evils from all four directions. After that, ten archers at a time shoot two arrows a piece.

Elsewhere in the world

There are similar coming of age ceremonies in many cultures to welcome youth into the adult community, some of which are mentioned below.

In Jewish culture, the Bar Mitzvah is a rite of passage for 13-year-old boys into adulthood. After the ceremony, the boy is considered to be a morally responsible adult and can be called upon to read the Torah (Jewish religious text) and participate in a Minyan (a prayer gathering). A similar ceremony, known as Bat Mitzvah is held for girls at age 12. 

In Christianity, the age of moral responsibility is known as 'age of reason' and while some Catholic churches do a 'confirmation' ceremony during baptism, others may do it when the children are older.

Among the Hindus in India, a boy undergoes a 'sacred thread ceremony' that symbolizes his coming of age and his responsibility towards his family and society.