Yesterday was Seijin Shiki (成人式), the Coming of Age Day Ceremony. All over the city, in the stations and in the streets, kimono(着物)-clad ladies and a few men in hakama(袴) were about. Seijin no Hi (成人の日, Coming of Age Day) is a day many Japanese really look forward to. It is the day they are finally welcomed into society as adults. A lot of restrictions are lifted when one becomes 20 in Japan. For example, adults can finally smoke and drink… but wait, weren’t these kids already doing that before they even turned 15?
On Seijin no Hi, the city government, usually represented by the Board of Education, sponsors a big ceremony for the 20 year-olds. They invite the students’ elementary and junior high teachers, and they raffle off some prizes. When I attended one ceremony a few years ago (not as a participant but as a mere spectator), I witnessed first hand that it was a dress up ceremony. While the participants were posing for pictures and congratulating each other, a co-teacher pointed out several of her bad students to me, saying at least they bothered to wear something nice as they never did as junior high kids, adding they often snuck into school after hours to smoke. Then she pointed out a couple of pretty girls holding their toddlers, saying they already enjoyed adult status, really. And so it went, she pointing out her students who just became adults but who were already doing all you could at 20, legally, save for maybe voting?
As this teacher pointed each of the students out and listed reasons they were violating the ceremony code, I wondered why they even bothered to dress up then. But then it was that really, I later realized. For many Japanese people, especially the ladies, it is one of the rare occasions when they can actually wear a Kimono, a Furisode and have themselves fixed up. It is the one day in their lives when they can meet up with their peers and let loose, enjoying the day nicely dressed and finely groomed. As foreigners, we have an image that all Japanese people are born wearing kimonos, but according to many of my friends, they rarely, if ever, get to dress up in their national dress. So adulthood aside, the ceremony is really about getting the chance to feel free for a day, dress up in the finest kimono and drink, smoke and be merry!