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JapanFocus
Coming of Age in Japan
In January, the streets of Japan are filled with boys and girls in traditional attire
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-01-13 12:30 (KST)   
Three kimono clad girls celebrate their Coming of Age
©2006 D.Weber
VODShinto Priest firing a whistling arrow in an archery ritual / D. Weber
Every second Monday of January, the streets of Japan are overrun with gaggles of giggling girls running -- or rather hobbling about -- in gorgeously decorated kimonos. They are celebrating their coming of age -- their rite of passage into adulthood with all of its wonders and horrors of drinking, smoking, and voting though many have probably been indulging in the former two activities for quite sometime.

Old and new come together as a Kimono-clad girl checks her cellphone
©2006 D.Weber
In the U.S., a person is recognized as a legal adult at 18, however, not completely. Whereas an American 18 year-old can help to decide the fate of their country by choosing it's next leader, be legally tried in a court of law as an adult, and even kill another human being with a rusty spoon in authorized combat, somehow they lack the maturity to choose whether or not to purchase an alcoholic beverage at a convenient store. That level of maturity cannot be reached until 21, after three years of voting, litigation, and combat.

A young woman registering at Meiji Shrine
©2006 D.Weber
Japan's Coming of Age day is known as Seijin-no-Hi and it is a national holiday. It was first established in 1948, which, incidentally, was the same year when Emperor Hirohito made his first public birthday appearance. Originally, Seijin-no-Hi was scheduled on Jan. 15, but in 1999 it was moved to the second Monday of January.

Surrounded by photographers
©2006 D.Weber
On Seijin-no-Hi, girls will wear a special type of kimono known as a furisode. A furisode has long sleeves, which represents the girls' unmarried state. Older married women wear short sleeve kimonos. Around their waist is tied a wide belt known as an obi. The obi of young women are often more decorative than those of older women and is tied a certain way. The obi is generally the most expensive part of a kimono with second hand ones running in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars. A full furisode kimono can cost as much as a new car. Some families might rent one or pass one from mother to daughter.

Free sake for new adults and visitors
©2006 D.Weber
Very few girls will go without one on this special day. Seijin-no-Hi is their day to shine, after all. Suddenly, they become celebrities in their own right as numerous people snap photo after photo of these gorgeously-attired girls.

A young man wearing a formal kimono
©2006 D.Weber
The boys mainly dress in western business suits, but some adhere to old customs and will wear a formal male kimono known as a hakama. A haori jacket is sometimes worn over the hakama to give it more of a formal appearance.

Archers pass by a girl in a kimono
©2006 D.Weber
Seijin Shiki is the ceremony that many 20-year-olds attend where they will listen to certain elders, such as the local mayor, wax on about the joys and responsibilities of adulthood. Many of the new adults will go to shrines to pray for their future. Meiji Shrine is a popular spot for these new adults. Kimono-clad girls and aspiring photographers throng the shrine's complex.

Shinto Priest prepared to fire a whistling arrow to signify the beginning of the archery ritual
©2006 D.Weber
In honor of these young adults, the shrine priests of Meiji hold a Momote shiki -- an archery ritual. The ritual begins with two white-clad priests firing blunt arrows that whistle as they speed to the target. In samurai times such whistling arrows were fired to signify the beginning of a battle. In Shinto archery rituals, whistling arrows are used to call upon the attention of the gods. After the priests, rows of archers in colorful robes shoot two arrows a piece at a target. Although the event is held in commemoration for the newly recognized adults, I only saw one kimono girl in attendance. Most were too busy having their picture taken and enjoying their day.

A Row of Colorfully-attired Archers prepare to fire
©2006 D.Weber
After the ceremonies, the archery rituals, and lectures, as night fell the new adults rushed off with their friends to go to parties or to bars in order to celebrate the purchasing of their first legal alcohol drink.

Having a bite to eat
©2006 D.Weber


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Coming of Age Around the World
Growing Up Ain ' t Easy - When You ' re Aging Every Second


©2006 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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