Coming of Age Day

Coming up this Monday is Coming of Age Day, called Seijin no Hi in Japanese.  This is a day celebrated by young men and women who have turned 20 years of age over the course of the previous year, now legally considered adults.  In the past, coming of age years for boys and girls were 15 and 13.  It wasn’t until 1876 that the age of adulthood was raised to 20.

Men and women celebrating this transition into adulthood usually attend a local Coming of Age Day ceremony with their families in their hometown, dressed up in suits or a kimono with hakama (men) or wearing furisode (women).  It’s also common for ceremony attendees to go out to drinking after parties with friends, as 20 is the legal age for alcohol consumption here.

An official holiday since 1945, Coming of Age Day used to be celebrated on January 15th, but in accordance with Japan’s Happy Monday system, changed to the second Monday in January in 2000.  Due to Japan’s declining birthrate and lack of youth interest for participating in the ceremony itself, you’ll find most young men and women are just happy to spend the day dressing up and having fun.  It’s very common to take studio portraits in the outfits worn as a keepsake for parents.

When I began my home stay in Tokyo, I had just turned 20 myself.  A previous roommate of mine had showed me the beautiful studio photos she took in her and I decided that if possible, it was something I wanted to try myself.   I remember mentioning it in passing to my host mother sometime around October.  To my surprise, she said that she would love to help out, but that if I was serious and we really had to move quickly before all the good appointment spots were filled up!

I was unaware that for young women, preparation for the day of isn’t just as easy as finding any old furisode to wear.  Most grandmothers and mothers nowadays don’t keep heirloom furisode in the family to pass down, so it’s necessary to go for a fitting at a kimono rental shop.  The ladies that work in these shops are professional kimono attendants who will not only help you find the best color kimono that suits your appearance, but help you coordinate the outfit and put it on.  I think many foreigners have some experience with yukata, which are fairly simple to tie and require minimal or, in the case of bath-style yukata, no undergarments.  Wearing a kimono or is a very different story!  There are layers upon layers of undergarments and belts needed to keep everything in place and give you the perfect silhouette.

My host mother shopped around for the best deal and made me an appointment for a fitting in November.  I’m sure she had her work cut out for her because on top of being late on the ball, we needed a rental studio that catered to big and tall women.  Because of my height and arm length, which are pretty average in the U.S., most kimono offered at a normal rental studio wouldn’t fit me.  It’s not uncommon for people to drop up to 100,000 yen ($1,000 USD) or more on a fitting and photographer for the day.  In comparison, my host mother was able to bargain a little under 40,000 yen ($400 USD) for the whole experience.  She really went above and beyond!

The first thing they did during the fitting was assess what color of kimono I should wear.  In many parts of Asia, having fair Caucasian-colored skin is something to be admired because it used to mean that you likely lived in luxury free from having to work.  So in order to show off my pale skin, the fitting attendants suggested I go with a deep purple or red and brought out 3-4 kimono for me to try on.  Trying on each one was a lot of work!  It took about 20 minutes just to get all the undergarments in place and a lot of sucking in before I could even get one kimono on.  Admittedly my favorite color is red, but the one that really wowed everyone was the purple one I tried on during round three.  After that, it was easy for the attendants to select an obi, pair of zōri, and purse to match.  When all of the selections had been made and agreed upon, I paid part of cost in advance to secure the appointment day in January.

On the day of, I remember rushing from my now-husband’s place to meet my host mother and take the bus to the studio.  All my selections were prepared and ready to go for when I finished having my hair and make-up done.  My hair was an awful in-between length, I had panda eyes, and I had a hickey on my neck courtesy of my now-husband.  I remember getting some beef from my host mother over the latter, lol.  😉

Fortunately for me those ladies really worked their magic and I felt like the ugly duckling turned into a swan!  I think everyone else was just as surprised at how nice I had cleaned up.  A month later after taking the portrait photo, I got it back and sent it to my mom back in the States.  My grandmother was so jealous that the package had only included one.

So what does Coming of Age Day mean for you if you aren’t participating?  Well, besides a great opportunity to see Japanese taking part in traditional culture, don’t plan on cutting your hair or getting your hair or make-up done the weekend before or the day of!  Salon appointments fill up months in advance so don’t be surprised if you can’t find an opening Coming of Age Day weekend.  Also, restaurants or public transportation may be crowded with large groups of young adults and their families so be sure to take that into consideration if you plan on braving the crowd.

I always enjoy seeing all the colorful kimono brighten up what normally would be just another dreary, gray winter day and hope you do, too!

– J

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