By Japanese law young people reach adulthood at the age of twenty. They are then allowed by law to vote, to drink alcohol and to smoke. Of course, for many the alcohol and cigarettes come a little earlier, ‘hush hush’ but I suppose that is likely the case in other societies as well. Parents and community leaders hope that by the age of twenty young people will begin to recognize their responsibilities as adults, and start practicing the basics of becoming productive members of the community.
To recognize this landmark in life, Japan celebrates a holiday on January 15 each year called Seijin no hi, or Coming of Age Day. It is a holiday for those boys and girls who reach the age of twenty anytime between April 2 of the previous year and April 1 of the current year. Because it is a national holiday, schools and businesses are closed and you will always see crowds of twenty year-olds dressed up and out for a good time. It remains the one day in the year when streets and restaurants are flooded with girls dressed in colorful kimonos, a style called furisode. For many of the girls it is one of only four or five times they will ever don this traditional style of dress. Most of the young men are happy to wear a suit on January 15, though some do opt for the traditional hakama, or formal pleated trousers and haori (formal jacket).
Since it a holiday celebrating the coming of adulthood, too often it becomes a day of happy indulgence in alcohol, and recently community leaders have been critical of irresponsible behavior at special holiday events. To those with an eye to past years, past celebrations, the young today are almost unrecognizable compared to earlier generations. Comparison of the two photos on the right gives an excellent example of modern (top) vs. traditional (below). As for the young man at the bottom, his posture is typically nervous and erect, but crowned with a 2011 hair color and hairstyle. Notice too that three of the girls in the top photo are on their cell phone, while the three below from 1991 would not have owned a cell phone.
Foolish to describe oneself as surprised over the differences in for example, 1982 and 2010. Changes in all spheres have been phenomenal over that span, and fashions as well as public behavior are right at the top. On January 15, 2010 it surprised me not at all to see more than one pretty young lady in kimono walking unsteadily and slightly tipsy down the street, a cigarette in one hand, cell phone pressed to her ear. Nor was it a surprise to see young men like the one in the photo here throwing up from too much beer. In 1982 I would never have seen these examples. Yet that old-fashioned propriety does not necessarily mean that I censure the twenty year-olds today who act and behave according to the norm of their more modern, more permissive society. In a nutshell, times are different.
To all those Japanese twenty year-olds celebrating this January 15, I offer congratulations and hope your day is fun, as well as safe.