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Japanese Traditional Holiday Celebrates “Coming-of-Age”

By: Angelina Esparza

Date Posted: 2000-01-15

For the most part of Monday, January 10th, the lot in front of the Okinawa City Hall was crowded with excited 20-year olds dressed in traditional Japanese attire. One giddy participant in a beautiful black, gothic-theme, kimono admitted having spent a “modest” $700 on her hair alone. The young men, including the infamous gang members of the "bousouzoku", arrived with shiny slick hair, wearing either a traditional "hakama" or a western suite. On that day, at the dawn of a New Millennium, Japan was investing her hopes in the leadership of the new adults.

What was the reason for such a festive traditional occasion? On the second Monday of January, the Government of Japan has annually sponsored the Coming of Age Ceremony, or "Seijinshiki". This national holiday, spent in private festivities, as well as in local conventions, is meant to recognize 20-year old citizens as full-fledged adults. A ceremony is held in every town on dates varying from the 10th to the 15th. Though only the 20-year old population of the year 2000 may participate, family members can join in to celbrate the occasion with a day off. New kimonos are bought or rented and hair appointments are made. After gathering at the designated public building, members of the peer group interact with ecstatic reunions and endless picture taking. Though each ceremony is localized to the district, they also often turn out to be lengthy programs of political speeches by leaders of the community, and awareness talks by other celebrated figures. The day’s festivities are only a prelude to an evening of drinking, dancing and karaoke.

A Coming-of-Age ceremony is intended to give former teenagers a sense of rebirth into the society as responsible adults. Juvenile ignorance, much amplified in this particular generation, has often drawn ample criticism from today’s leaders. Though many young men and women still attend the ceremonies, these participants seem to have lost the true objective of the occasion, as displayed in decades past. Young women strive to stand out by replacing traditional modest attires with radical pop culture trends. Young men are not known to be politically knowledgeable as they had been, but rather lacking in commonsense, ambition and direction. Any observer of contemporary social interactions in Japan’s popular teenage hangout can easily predict a grim outlook for the nation.

Some may disagree with this popular image of young adults. Perhaps those young ones who have overthrown the orthodox system will someday take Japan to a new dimension of success. Recent news topics show that a majority of teenagers are considering jobs involving cutting-edge hair styling and computer graphics. Most of the "Seijinshiki" participants attested to this new interest with the entertaining originalities of their hair and make-up. This “generation of flavor” may define a new genius in Asian history. It is therefore not surprising that, when asked what their new life resolutions were, some of the 20-year-olds consistently replied, "to be responsible."

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