Seijin no Hi (Adult Day)
published Nov 17, 2019

Seijin no Hi: A Rite of Passage

Seijin no Hi marks one of the most important days in the lives of thousands of young Japanese men and women, celebrating a significant rite of passage and marking the day when those young people come of age and are vested with all of the rights and benefits of Japanese citizenship.

During the day, ceremonies are held in each city, town and village in the nation to honor those who celebrate their 20th birthday. At age 20, men and women in Japan are considered adults and are legally permitted to sign contracts, vote, drink alcohol and smoke tobacco.

The celebration evolved from an ancient custom called genpuku which originated in the 7th century. Meaning "basic clothing," it was a day on which young men and women of the era received new kimonos from a respected elder who thereafter became their patrons.

The tradition had slightly different manifestations for the ruling and warrior classes. Young nobles were allowed to wear high-cornered caps called kanmmamori following their Seijin no Hi, showing that they were sons of the ruling class. The sons of warriors were permitted to shave the front of their head and wear a warrior's hair style. Young women were permitted to let their hair grow long, marking themselves as adult and eligible for marriage.

In olden days, when life spans were much shorter, the event was celebrated at the youth's 15th or 16th birthday. The 20th birthday was designated during the Meiji Era.

Clothing still plays an important part in Seijin no Hi ceremonies. Most young men dress in new, dark business suits, although a few opt for formal kimono. Nearly all young women dress in bright and elaborate long-sleeved kimono. Those suits for men are purchased by their parents but, since kimono sell for prices into the hundreds of thousands of yen nowadays, most young women rent kimono for the ceremony.

During the observances, a respected member of the community - the mayor, assemblyman, member of parliament, successful businessman or local high school principal - makes a speech charging the young adults to faithfully uphold the responsibilities of citizenship.

Once the formalities are over most young newly-named adults head for pubs and taverns to celebrate their coming of age with drinking parties.

The day is a national holiday, meaning all government offices and banks are closed. Nearly all stores and private businesses remain open.

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