Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Seijin no Hi (成人の日)

Young women wearing kimono for Coming-of-Age Day.
My last half-day in Japan happened to be a national holiday called Seijin no Hi (成人の日), or Coming-of-Age Day. The age of majority in Japan is 20 years, so on the second Monday of every January, every Japanese boy or girl who has turned or will turn 20 that year goes back to their hometown for a traditional ceremony and reunions with family and friends. During the ceremony, called seijin-shiki, they are conferred the rights and responsibilities of adult men and women.

I tried not to look like a stalker when I took this...
I realized that something special was going on that morning when I noticed some women walking around town dressed in dazzlingly beautiful furisode (a type of kimono), white furs around their shoulders and hair done up with flowers and beads.

Erik explained that women wear traditional dress and often spend huge sums of money on their outfit, hair, and makeup. The young men can also wear male kimonos, but the recent trend is for them to don trendy Western-style suits, sometimes in bright colors. However, for a male to wear a kimono sometimes flags him as an outmoded "country bumpkin" of sorts. This of course depends on the city and the culture.

I was impressed with the idea of going back to one's hometown just for this one special day. Not everyone does, of course, but in smaller towns it's a great chance to see high school friends again, and in larger towns it might seem like a big party. In fact, I was overwhelmed when I arrived in Fukuoka to take the ferry back to Korea. Fukuoka is Japan's sixth largest city, with a population of near 1.5 million, and it seemed like all of Fukuoka's twenty-year-olds had gathered at one convention center. The convention center was coincidentally located right next to the ferry terminal, so my bus ran into tons of traffic in the early afternoon. In fact, my bus, and many others that I saw, was full of young men in suits and young women in kimonos. After they got off, a full-to-bursting bus was left with just a Korean family and me. I took many photos of the enormous crowd from the bus, but after it turned the corner for the ferry building, I lost sight of them...

And that was my final impression of Japan! I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of Seijin no Hi before I left. I'm not aware of any similar ceremony in Korea, and I certainly did not take part in anything so official or culturally significant when I turned 18 or 21. I'm 23 now (25 according to the Korean method of counting age... 아이구...), and I do feel like an adult, although there's still a lot left for me to learn about independence. Being in my early twenties is about striking the right balance between taking charge of my own life and honoring my parents and upbringing. There isn't really any moment, any one day, that one can point to and say, "I grew up that day." It's a never-ending process.
I took this from the bus. Tons of adults-to-be gathered at a convention center in Fukuoka for their seijin-shiki. I spy some guys in kimonos! And mullets...

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