What is Coming of Age Day in Japan?

Coming of Age Day is held every year and is recognised as a national holiday in Japan, taking place on the second Monday of January. It is a customary rite of passage for all those who have reached the age of majority (20 years old) and is a national celebration of their first steps into adult life. Reaching adulthood in Japan means you can drink, drive, smoke and gamble, so there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the occasion! Coming of Age Day is a huge part of Japanese culture and has been around for hundreds of years. Ceremonies are held all over the country in local government city halls and offices, and celebrations extend into the night with parties between family and friends.

History of the Coming of Age Ceremony

Coming of Age ceremonies have been celebrated for hundreds of years, with the first recorded ceremony taking place as far back as 714 AD. The official age of adulthood in Japan has changed over the years and was historically dependent on gender. During the Edo period, boys were officially considered adults at 15 and marked the occasion with a haircut and a new suit or robe. The boys followed in the footsteps of the first recorded ceremony where the young prince donned a new robe and changed his hairstyle in preparation for his new adult life. Girls were considered adults at just 13, and to acknowledge their passage into maturity, they dyed their teeth black. This was recognised as a sign of beauty and an indication to the opposite sex that they are ready for marriage – a scary prospect for a 13-year-old! The age of adulthood for both genders was officiated in 1876 at the age of 20, and it was recognised as a national holiday in 1948.

 Changes to Coming of Age Day

In 2015, Japan’s laws changed to allow those aged 18 and over to vote, but all other adulthood milestones remained at the age of 20. However, a new bill coming into effect in April 2022 lowers the age of adulthood from 20 to 18, meaning that 18-year-olds will be able to get married without parental consent, apply for loans and credit cards and obtain a passport that is valid for ten years (rather than five). Under the new laws, the legal age for drinking, smoking and gambling will remain at 20. This has thrown some confusion over how Coming of Age Day will look in 2023, whether 18-year-olds will be able to participate and how this will affect the ageing Japanese population and falling sales of kimonos.

Celebrating Coming of Age Day in Japan

The official Coming of Age ceremonies are usually held in the morning and are more of a formal occasion with government officials giving speeches and handing out gifts to the newly-recognised adults. Kimonos are often worn by women and some men as a popular ceremonial dress. Many women opt for the furisode, a long-sleeved kimono, and can spend hours perfecting their hair and makeup in the lead up to the festivities. Nowadays, men usually favour a Western-style suit, although some still opt for the more traditional kimono. Although the overall attendance has declined over the years, it is still a huge institution in Japan. Many news crews, journalists, and photographers still attend to document the larger gatherings every year.   At The Japanese Shop, we love any excuse for a party, so if you know anyone who has turned 20 in the last year, why not pick up some authentic Japanese gifts to help them celebrate their own Coming of Age Day? To learn more about Japanese culture and festivals, have a look at the rest of our blog.
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