Coming of Age Day, a big event for Japanese youths, is steeped in tradition

A girl in a kimono poses for a photo taken by her family at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine in January 2003.



OKINAWA CITY — If you see a lot of people in colorful kimonos this weekend, you haven’t stepped through a time warp.

It’s Seijin no Hi, or Coming of Age Day, the day everyone who turns 20 during 2004 officially will become adults in Japan.

The official day is Monday, but municipal offices and conference centers have scheduled ceremonies throughout the weekend.

In all, more the 1.52 million people officially will be recognized as adults, officials say.

Coming of Age Day means 20-year-olds can vote, drink and marry without parental permission. They also become subject to all laws and social responsibilities.

Seijin no Hi has been celebrated since at least A.D. 714. The day originated when a young prince donned fancy new court robes and sported an adult hairstyle to mark his passage into adulthood.

In ensuing centuries, commoners adopted the celebration.

During the Edo Period, from 1603 to 1868, boys marked their passage to adulthood at age 15 by cutting their forelocks and strapping on swords. Girls at the time became adults at age 13.

In 1876, the official age of adulthood was set at 20.

Traditionally, Seijin no Hi was celebrated Jan. 15, but in 1999 the holiday was switched to the second Monday in January.

Local ceremonies are called seijin shiki, meaning “adult ceremony.” All new adults in an area are invited to attend. They listen to speeches by local officials and receive small presents.

Women traditionally wear furisode kimonos — kimonos with long sleeves — and traditional zori slippers.

The styles for young men vary, with many opting for dark business suits and others a plainer male kimono with the baggy hakama, or pantaloons.

After the ceremonies, new adults often gather in groups for a day — and sometimes a night — on the town, attending parties and taking advantage of their new status as legal drinkers.

The Sunday before the holiday marks the busiest day of the year for Okinawa City businesswoman Sugano Ogimi.

Starting at 5 a.m., more than 100 giggling girls and young boys begin arriving at her photo studio, beauty parlor and formalwear shop for a final fitting for colorful kimonos and samurai-style hakamas.

“Coming-of-Age Day is the biggest event for our business,” Ogimi, manager of the Nakada Kaikan studio, said.

This Sunday, 40 staff members will assist her in fitting adults for a formal Coming of Age ceremony at Okinawa Civic Hall.

Throughout Okinawa, about 17,000 young people will be officially recognized as adults.

Ogimi has been preparing young adults for their special day for more than 20 years.

She said it takes about 20 minutes to get one young woman made-up and dressed.

“It is like in a war,” Ogimi said, describing the morning of the ceremony day at the studio.

Her normal staff of five swells to 40 and they toil from 4 a.m. until 9 p.m., she said.

“I tell everybody to make sure not to get sick and not to catch cold,” she said. “We cannot afford to lose anyone.”

Coming of Age Day represents about one-third of her annual business, she said.

The cost for renting a kimono, having a beauty makeover and getting a keepsake photograph ranges from 50,000 yen to 180,000 yen ($467 to $1,680) at her shop.

It’s much more expensive in major metropolitan areas.

In Tokyo, the kimono alone can rent for more than $1,000 a day; purchasing a kimono can cost more than $10,000.

A lot of planning goes into getting ready for the big day.

Ogimi said some people make reservations for their rental kimono as early as February of the preceding year.

“Young people today prefer wearing the kimono in more unique and individualistic ways,” Ogimi said. “For instance, there was a client who wanted me to make the length of her kimono her knee high so she could wear platform sandals.”

But the most unusual customer was a young man who slipped on his kimono and hakama, left the studio and jumped on a horse for the ride to the civic hall, she said.

Risa Kochi, a 19-year-old dental assistant from Okinawa, visited the studio last week.

As she prepared for a photo session, Ogimi and an assistant put finishing touches on her kimono, which was purchased by her mother, who watched and excitedly took snapshots of her own.

“I have been looking forward to Sunday’s ceremony for a long time,” Kochi said.

“Attending the ceremony will help me to be prepared to become a full-fledged and responsible member of the society.”

Sugano Ogimi, manager of the Nakada Kaikan studio, displays a rental kimono at her shop in Okinawa City recently.

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