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Culture

Coming of Age Day: What is the Age of Adulthood in Japan?

A new bill passed means that 2021 is the last year of the 20-year-old adult. What does that mean for Japan's annual celebration of adulthood?

By 4 min read

Many cultures celebrate their youth’s passage into adulthood. In Latin America, the lavish quinceanera beckons 15-year-old girls into womanhood. Then, there’s North Baffin Island, where the Inuit take their 11 or 12-year-old boys on an arduous hunting expedition for the first catch of their adult lives.

In Japan, things are more low-key with the celebratory Seiji no Hi, or Coming of Age Day. It’s a holiday for those who pass the adult threshold between April 2 of the previous year and April 1 of the current one.

But what age is an adult in Japan? For the last 140 years, that has been 20 years old, but with the Japanese Civil Code now revised to the bright age of 18, things are about to change.

History of Coming of Age Day

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Minister Narihira’s Coming of Age by Chokosai Eisho, Japan, Edo period.

While the current iteration of Coming of Age Day began only in 1948, the ancient traditional coming-of-age ceremony, known as genpuku, sprouted up as far back as the Nara period (710-794). However, it looked slightly different than its modern-day counterpart.

Boys sometimes as young as 10—and occasionally girls—would prepare for the move to adulthood with a change of clothes, name and adoption of adult-only duties. The ceremony would consist of a “capping,” meaning placing a court cap on the head, and the girls would receive a pleated skirt. The age of adulthood fluctuated throughout the centuries, from as low as 10 to as high as today’s 20.

In 1948, post-war Japan looked to rally the despondent youth of the day by declaring a novel rite of passage. Initially, this was to be on Jan. 15 every year. However, with the introduction of the Happy Monday System, which sees more holidays conveniently moved to Mondays for three-day weekends, the holiday was shifted to the second Monday of January.

Festivities and dress

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Young women in Japan dressed for Coming of Age Day.

However, the soon-to-be women’s pre-day beautification can be deemed a ceremony in itself and an expensive one at that. Young women don an opulent, colorful kimono—typically a rented furisode (a kimono with long sleeves). Then, droves of girls make their way to beauty salons for their hair to be intricately styled and makeup applied.

Young men get off lighter—literally—by wearing a simple black kimono with billowing hakama (trousers) or a suit and tie more often than not.

After all the pampering is done, they move to a meeting hall, school gym or, more recently, Tokyo Disneyland to conduct the formalities. This includes, but is not limited to, speeches, goal declarations, certificates and—the most anticipated of all—presents.

What they do after the official rites is at the discretion of the blossoming adults, who may or may not experiment with their newly discovered responsibilities and allowances. In other words, getting riggity-riggity wrecked.

The age of majority has changed

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You too can now die for your country and still not buy alcohol. Congratulations.

From April 1, 2022, Japan’s age of the majority will change for the first time in more than 140 years, from age 20 to 18. However, anyone under 20-years old will still be banned from entering bars, buying cigarettes, booze and gambling. The distinction is that 18-year-olds will now be able to do the following (and more) without the permission of their parents:

  • Take out a loan
  • Apply for a credit card
  • Rent an apartment
  • Change their official gender
  • Initiate a civil trial
  • Get married
  • Be granted a passport that’s valid for ten years (instead of the current five).

What’s this mean for Coming of Age Day?

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What’s the future hold for young people in Japan?

Officially, Jan. 10, 2022, should be the last date for the attendance of only 20-year-olds to the festivities.

A turnover period in January 2023 will see a Coming of Age Day that includes a mix of anyone between 18 and 20-years old celebrating their newfound adulthood together. However, come January 2024, the day will be only for 18-year-olds unless local governments choose otherwise.

“If you’re confused, you aren’t the only one. This legal change has set off a worry for municipalities, especially in regards to space.”

If you’re confused, you aren’t the only one. This legal change has set off a worry for municipalities, especially regarding space. Many wonder how they’ll be able to fit three age groups into one hall for the festivities in 2023 (they can’t all go to Disneyland). But, on a brighter note, kimono sales will be through the roof.

The anxieties also extend to 18-year-olds studying for and attending university entrance exams, usually conducted in January and February. The new expense thrust on adolescents exasperates others. Will this mean a further decline in Coming of Age Day attendees?

In the end, the changes will be at the discretion of each city and town, as there is no legally set age or even date. Some Tohoku governments conduct their ceremonies in August, which sounds torturous in a kimono.

At what age do you think adulthood begins? Are there any special traditions in your country? Share your opinions and personal stories below. 

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