A new year is like a new beginning. Other than the big oshougatsu (お正月) celebrations, the Japanese has another festivity that celebrates the beginning of adulthood: Seijin no Hi (成人の日). This translates to Coming of Age Day. 

This special day welcomes youths who turn 20 years old into the adult world – it may not sound as appealing for those of us who have had a taste of what adult life has to offer, but let’s also agree that there are tons of other doors of opportunities that adulthood opens.

Seijin no Hi didn’t just pop up recently – this centuries-old celebration has its roots deep in Japanese tradition. This article is all you need to know about this celebration – a more in-depth look into it, check out our Nihongo Master Podcast Season 3 Episode 1, which is what this article is a recap of!

Origin & Significance

What is Seijin no Hi? It is a celebration where youths are formally regarded as adults. This life-changing ceremony is held every second Monday of January, making it the first celebration of the new year (after New Year’s Day itself, of course). Right after the long-lasting Christmas festivities plus the Japanese New Year celebrations, the country has another holiday to look forward to so soon! 

Based on Japan’s age structure, the annual calendar is from April 2nd the previous year to April 1st of the current year. So those who turn 20 for that year go through this rite of passage into adulthood. In Japan, 20 is the age of maturity. You’re legally allowed to drink, smoke, drive and gamble as soon as you leave your teenage years behind.

Seijin no Hi has been celebrated as far back as the early 8th century. During that time, a young prince would don fresh, new robes and have his hair in a special style to signify this transition into adulthood. This practice inspired other youths to show their maturity to the public, too. During the Edo period, teenage boys would start carrying swords openly as a way to do that. Young girls, primarily married ones, would dye their teeth black during the late 19th century – this is not only an expression of maturity but also of freedom.

It wasn’t until 1946 that Japan made this occasion a formal holiday on January 15th every year. Then, in 2000, the date changed to every second Monday of January. This is thanks to Japan’s “Happy Monday System”, established in 1998 and 2001, where some Japanese holidays are moved to a Monday to make a three-day weekend for the people.

What They Wear

Every sort of celebration needs an elaborate outfit to go with it. Seijin no Hi is no different. In fact, this holiday is quite the visual spectacle of elegant and elaborate clothing, makeup and hairstyles. Expect photographers, both professionals and relatives alike, capturing the rainbow of colours and extravagance of the scene.

Men and women dress differently on this special day. The most common ceremonial dressing young women opt for is the furisode (振袖) – a type of kimono with long sleeves that’s reserved for unmarried women. However, it’s more common to rent one from kimono rental shops than buying one as it costs quite a bit. On top of that, the ladies would also book their hair and makeup styling well in advance to make sure their photo op is picture-perfect.

While the ladies have the only option of a traditional look, the gents can choose between a Western-style suit or a hakama (袴) paired with a kimono (着物). A hakama is a pair of traditional skirt-like wide-legged trousers that used to be a standard piece of clothing before Western fashion came to Japan. Most of the time, guys opt for the suit rather than the traditional wear, but it’s not at all uncommon for one to choose the other option.

The Celebration

So how is Seijin no Hi actually celebrated? The governments all over Japan host ceremonies on this special day. One of the most significant events to be held on this day is the Omato Taikai in Kyoto, where young women are given the opportunity to showcase their mastery in Japanese archery. 

Everyone who’s celebrating their entrance into adulthood receives a formal invitation to their ceremony. Without this invitation, you’re not allowed to enter, other than invited friends and family.

Most of the time, the ceremony starts at noon, giving the youths enough time to prepare in the morning. It starts off with the city mayor giving a speech to congratulate the youths, followed by a few performances including traditional dances and musical shows like a taiko drum performance. There might even be key figures giving a series of lectures – I would expect a whole guidebook on what to do and what not to do as an adult.

Afterwards, these new adults roam around to take pictures with each other, family and friends. Many do visit shrines and temples after to pray for their wellbeing. Some have a big feast or go shopping with family or friends. But the celebration is far from over – after all the formality, these fresh adults celebrate their newly gained freedoms by the best way we can think of: drinking. From bar-hopping to chilling in a local izakaya (居酒屋) for hours, it’s kind of like the informal rite of passage into adulthood.

Vocab Recap

Seijin (成人) – adults

Otona (大人) –a more common way to say adults

nenrei (年齢) – age 

Nansai (何歳) – how old are you 

Kyuujitsu (休日) –holiday. You can also say “oyasumi” (お休み) when you want to refer to a day off

kimono (着物) –Japanese traditional garment with wide sleeves. It actually translates to “thing to wear”, as it was the basic piece of clothing during the olden times of Japan

furisode (振袖) –a type of kimono worn by unmarried ladies 

Hakama (袴) – skirt-like, baggy trousers featuring pleats 

seijinshiki (成人式) – Coming of Age Day ceremony 

Kyuudou (弓道) – Japanese archery

Izakaya (居酒屋) – Japanese pubs

Conclusion

Know anyone that turned twenty in the past few months, or turning twenty in the next couple of months? Just like how some of us had sweet 16s or sweet 18s, the Japanese culture has sweet 20 – same ol’ partying and drinking tradition, just with a different take