January 10th of every year in Japan is Seijin no Hi. Seijin no Hi translates into "Coming of Age Day." It is the day that all 20-year-olds in Japan become adults. At 20 years old, all Japanese young people have the right to vote, drink, and smoke cigarettes.
Seijin no Hi is one of the few days of the year that you can see many beautiful girls dressed in kimonos walking around any city or town in Japan. It was fashionable for young men to wear Western style clothing on this day until the last few years, but recently traditional dress has also come back into vogue for fashionable young Japanese men.
Besides Seijin no Hi, the only other time that you can see many kimonos is at college or university graduation time, at a wedding, or New Years. In the summer, during "Hanabi Taikai" (fireworks celebrations) you can see men and women in summer kimonos but those are called Yukata — they are lighter and much more casual than traditional dress.
My oldest daughter just celebrated her Coming of Age Day and, even though I am a foreigner, I still must recognize the rules and customs of my new country and pay for the pomp and circumstance that this day involves.
Almost all 20-year-olds must, on this day, go to a proper hair stylist and fashion stylist to have their hair and kimono set by a professional. This usually will set back the parents of such a ceremony at least $300 to $1000 dollars. Add to that a professional photography session and ceremony held at the local government ward office at another $500 dollars or so. After these ceremonies are held, the parents will usually take the son or daughter to lunch or dinner at the finest restaurant in the area. This is held exclusively for immediate family only.
After these duties are performed, the new adult must make the rounds to all the people who helped them all their lives: Grandma and Grandpa; people who helped at work and people who did special favors for the debutant. Also, many teachers and principals from as far back as elementary school, will be visited in some cases.
The Japanese hold these ceremonial occasions in utmost respect and these events are not to be taken lightly. The new adult must show up in person and solemnly bow and speak especially polite honorific Japanese and say "Thank you for all you have done for me. I’m sorry to have been such a burden" in front of every person who helped them through their first 20 years of life. They must also take a gift of thanks and appreciation for the help they received for all these years. The gift will usually be traditional Japanese cookies or cakes costing anywhere from $10 to $100 dollars a box. Flowers are not given on this occasion.
Of course, the people who receive the young adults are kind and extremely happy — to the point of tears — to receive this visit and to know that their little child or grandchild, or child that they supported, has finally become an adult. This also instills a sense of responsibility in the new young adult that they must succeed in life as to make their "Seiwa ni nata kata" (people who took care of them) proud of them and to give those elders pride that they succeeded in making those young ones, that they cared for, into responsible, useful adults.
After Seijin no Hi, the former children no longer expect to receive Otoshi-dama at New Years. From this day on, they are adults and it will be they who are the ones who will be expected to carry on the teaching of social responsibility to the young ones of the future.
Making it through Seijin no Hi is a very troublesome and tiring experience for all involved. It is extremely expensive and for modern Japan, a relic left over from hundreds of years gone by.
But Japan is a country that respects tradition and culture. It is also a reason that young people feel a social bond and a social responsibility and, I believe, just another reason that crime — compared to the west — is still unheard of in this ancient country and another reason why young people respect their elders and their neighbors and even people they don’t even know.
Seijin no Hi no minna-san, omedetou gozaimasu. Kore kara mo shikari shite, gambatte kudasai. (Congratulations to all 20-year-olds. From now on, be strong and persevere.)
Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.