Seijin no Hi: Coming of Age for Japan’s Youth

In Japan, the second Monday in January is Seijin no Hi or Coming-of-Age Day. This year, Seijin no Hi falls on January 9th. It’s a national holiday and day of celebration for all of the people who turned 20 in the past year. Local governments throughout Japan hold ceremonies in commemoration of this event. Celebrations usually take place at large auditoriums, however, there are some local governments that use unique venues. The city of Narita rents the Narita International Airport, while youngsters in Urayasu City celebrate with Mickey Mouse at Tokyo Disneyland. 

History of Seijin no Hi

The tradition of the Coming of Age Day dates back to Nara Period, and the original name for this holiday was Genpuku. At the ceremony, boys between the ages of 12 and 16 would change into adult clothes. They also changed their childlike hairstyles into adult hairstyles and were crowned. Changing to an adult name also took place during these ceremonies.

A 19th century depiction of a woman and her child dressed in furisode. Image source.

It was after the second World War that the coming-of-age ceremony began to be held at the age of 20. At the time, the whole country was in a state of turmoil from the defeat in the war. While there was no hope for tomorrow, youth groups played a central role in planning a festival to encourage those who would lead the next generation. National and prefectural governments started paying more attention to this new event. Eventually in 1948, Coming-of-Age Day was officially a national holiday. 

Age 20 was significant in Japanese culture. This was the age at which a person could vote, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and marry without parental consent. In recent years, new legislation took effect which lowered the age of adulthood to 18. Nevertheless, this tradition of the coming-of-age ceremony still holds strong.

Modern Day Celebrations

Today we see celebrations for this holiday all over the country. The new adults dress up, gather at the local auditorium, and listen to the mayor’s encouraging and inspiring speech. After the ceremony, they flock to local bars, celebrating their newfound rights to legally drink alcohol.

For many girls, the Seijin no Hi ceremony means dressing up in a furisode, which is a special kimono. It has uniquely long sleeves, only young and single girls can wear a furisode. In Japan’s olden days, unmarried men and women could not talk casually in public. Furisode was created for single men to distinguish between married and unmarried women!

Getting ready for the Seijin no Hi ceremony is not unlike kids in the US getting ready for prom. Oftentimes, hair salons and kimono rental shops are busy during this time of year. Young women participating in these ceremonies will spend a few hours getting their hair and makeup professionally done.

Celebrating with Family

This last summer, when I visited Japan with my family for the first time since 2019, I decided to have our own Seijin no Hi event for my daughter. She was eighteen and two years short of the traditional Seijin age, but I decided to dress her up in furisode. My mother, who lives by herself in Japan, is in her eighties, and I wanted to show her my daughter (her only granddaughter) wearing a kimono

The kimono my daughter wore was not just any kimono; it was the kimono I wore for my Seijin no Hi ceremony, thirty-something years ago. 

My kimono was at my mother’s house, neatly folded into a rectangle and wrapped in paper. The furisode is white, black and red, with some beautiful patterns of various flowers of the four seasons and adorned with delicate bird designs. The fabric has an almost invisible geometric pattern all over, and of course, it is silk and entirely hand sewn. It was just as gorgeous as it used to be. 

My mother was speechless when she saw her granddaughter wearing the furisode. She was ecstatic as if the beauty there—her granddaughter and the kimono—was all to her credit. 

And my daughter, who was born in the US and usually doesn’t care too much about her parents’ culture, seemed to have a second thought about it. She said,

“I am going to have a daughter someday and she is going to wear this kimono!”

And the amazing thing is, the kimono will surely be as gorgeous then as it is now. It can be worn from generation to generation. The secret is—or maybe there is no secret here—it is all about the quality, and the proper care.

More Reading

To learn more about different aspects of Japanese culture, check out some of our other posts here.

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