Becoming an Adult in Japan in 2021: Coming of Age Day

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You don’t see many people dressed in traditional Japanese clothing in the streets nowadays. Unless, that is, it is the second Monday of January.

Coming of Age Day is celebrated on Monday, January 11th this year (it is an official national holiday). Usually, big events are held on that holiday. Some lucky individuals can even celebrate their coming of age ceremony in prestigious venues like the Nippon Budokan, a large multipurpose hall right next to the imperial palace in Tokyo, or even at Tokyo Disneyland.

The tradition of celebrating  Coming of Age Day is about 1300 years old, but in its early days the celebration was reserved for imperial princes only. That changed after the war, and since the late 1940s everybody who turned or is going to turn 20 between April of the previous year and April of the current year is invited by their local municipality to take part in the Coming of Age ceremony. 

While it has become common among male participants to wear western formal clothing, it is still very important to many female young adults to wear furisode for this special occasion. Furisode is a special kimono with long sleeves which is traditionally reserved for unmarried women only. Since high quality furisode are extremely expensive – a proper furisode with accessories can cost you the equivalent of a small car – it is common to rent one for this occasion, for a fraction of the price.

Interestingly enough, this year will also be the last generation to become adults at 20, since Japan is lowering the age of majority to 18 as of 2022. The age of majority in Japan does come with a bunch of rights: the right to vote, the right to buy alcohol and tobacco, and the right to obtain a driver’s license. 

Unfortunately, as you know, 2021 has more particularities to it. Due to the global pandemic of the novel Coronavirus, with soaring numbers of infections and the second state of emergency in Japan no big Coming of Age events are going to take place this year. 

On the other hand, the status of Coming of Age ceremonies has changed due to other factors as well. Since the birth rate has been decreasing for decades in Japan, the number of participants has shrunk from year to year. Furthermore, in the modern world many young people don’t feel like an adult at all at the age of 20 and consider the ceremony to be more like a reunion and a party rather than a serious event which formally marks the transition into adulthood.

These trends and the current situation is putting the kimono rental industry in a difficult position. The largest among the kimono rental companies can offer refunds to all customers who will not be able to wear the furisode at all this year, but the smaller shops are in a crunch to offer the same deal. Remember that due to high demand, furisode have to be reserved months in advance of the actual ceremony. Many families probably ordered furisode before they knew that the virus would continue for this long, or that another lockdown would be declared. Coming of Age ceremonies become yet one more event that has had to make a few adjustments due the pandemic.

Let’s hope that at least the 2022 Coming of Age ceremonies for the freshly baked 18 year old adults will be a success for everyone involved. If there’s one thing this national holiday represents, it’s the passing of the baton to new generations who are rising to become full participating members in society. It’s a message of renewal and hope that is quite resonant these days. 

For more information on our available products and activities, such as our outdoor scavenger hunt game “Nazotabi”, please visit www.nazobako.jp or our Shopify site at nazobako.jp/nazotabi-machi-aruki-nazotoki/ These games can be ordered and played at any time you choose. Please remember to stay safe and follow instructions from health authorities.

Photo by Kazuo ota on Unsplash

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