Seijin-no-hi: Coming of Age Day in Japan

Introduction to Japan's Modern Coming of Age Ritual

Map of Country

Figure 1: Map of Japan 



    Seijin-no-hi, or Coming of Age Day, reflects the long-term evolution of the rite of passage ritual in Japanese culture. Diverse elements are incorporated into its celebration including liminal costume, speeches by public officials, and religious reflection. As Japanese youth reach the age of twenty and assume the legal rights of adults, they not only experience traditional ceremony, but also fundamental changes in contemporary social expression. The values of Coming of Age Day prove themselves viable in any time by their ability to transcend such change, reasserting the strength of the rite of passage.


Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

Figure 2: Japanese Couple Wearing Traditional Seijin-no-hi Garb
Figure 3: View of Elaborate Coming of Age Day Kimonos


      Coming of Age Day (Seijin-no-hi) in Japan , celebrated on the second Monday in January, marks the symbolic initiation of both male and female 20-year-olds into adulthood. After completing ceremonies, clothed in traditional garb, participants are formally considered adults and permitted to legally drink, smoke, and vote in public elections. Seijin-no-hi reflects how traditional Japanese rite of passage ceremonies have evolved through the centuries to emphasize changing cultural themes and values, adapting historical ritual to a modern world.


Context of Japan

      Japan consists of a crescent shaped string of islands situated to the east of mainland China and Korea . The islands vary greatly in size, the largest being Hokkaido , Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu (Federal Research Division 1994). It is bordered by the North Atlantic to the east, the Sea of Japan to the North, and the Philippine Sea to the south. Geographically, Japan is quite rocky. The islands are studded with volcanic mountains, several of which are still active. Coupled with sporadic earthquakes and the looming threat of tsunamis, Japan is a physically dynamic nation. The climate of Japan varies by region, but is best characterized by a tropical zone in the south which gives way to a colder, temperate north (CIA 2004).

      It is believed that Japan was initially colonized in early prehistoric times by settlers from the Asian continent. During the Stone Age, several cultures thrived in the islands, notably the Jomon, who produced pottery of varying degrees of sophistication from 10,000 to 300 B.C. (Federal Research Division 1994). Buddhism was introduced to Japan through contact with Korea in the 6 th century A.D., but it was not until around the 8 th century in the Heian period that it truly competed with the indigenous Shinto religion for followers. These centuries also marked vast changes in Japan 's political structure leading eventually to the feudal structuring of society which corresponds temporally with the Middles Ages in Europe . The Kamakura and Muromaka periods, encompassing the years between 1185 and 1573, witnessed much political strife as Japan 's military class gained ascendancy and consolidated control (Federal Research Division). This shift toward authoritarianism essentially culminated in the formal institution of Japanese isolationism in 1603 by the Tokugawa shogun, which lasted until American naval intervention in 1854 (CIA 2004).

      From 1854 to the present, Japan has augmented the technological and cultural gaps created by its self-imposed national separation through assimilating foreign ideas and Western technology and adapting them to its unique situation (Palmer et. al. 1995). Prior to World War II, Japan experienced rapid industrialization and militarization, enabling it to become a predominant power in the eastern hemisphere. However, its defeat in the war and sanctions imposed in treaty encouraged the nation to follow a more democratic governmental approach and embrace economic growth rather than military expansion. Today, Japan is widely regarded as a global economic power and its citizens enjoy a typically high standard of living, pursuing a wide array of jobs ranging from small-scale agricultural production to advanced consumer electronic design.


Origins of Seijin-no-hi

     Coming of age ceremonies have been an important facet of traditional Japanese culture for hundreds of years. Beginning in the eighth century A.D., males of age 15 to 17 from aristocratic families would don a ritual kanmuri headdress in the genpuku ceremony, marking their initiation into manhood (Web Japan 2001). By the Edo Period (1603-1868), the ceremonial rite of passage grew to encompass both sexes. Males continued to be initiated into adulthood around the age of 15 with ritualized severing of the forelocks, while girls commenced near age 13 accompanied by dying their teeth black (Yamasa Institute). It was not until after World War II that the contemporary Seijin-no-hi ceremony was formalized ( seijin translates as 'adult'). Coming-of-Age Day was created by the National Holidays Act of 1948 as part of a post-war recovery movement aimed at symbolic cultural rebirth (Web Japan 2001). The original celebration date of January 15 was changed to the second Monday of January in 2000.



      Coming-of-Age Day is celebrated primarily at the local level and sponsored by the government. Corporations, schools, and other community organizations sometimes assist in organizing activities (Web Japan 2001). The ceremony usually consists of a speech by a political official which encourages the new adults to become productive members of society coupled with the bestowal of a token gift to mark the event. Afterward, the young adults disperse to spend time with family and friends or visit religious buildings (Figures 2 & 3). Recently, there have been problems with disrespect among the ceremony's participants, including the hurling of food at guest speakers and distracting usage of fireworks (French 2002). In an attempt to garner interest in the holiday among Japan 's youth, some towns have incorporated karaoke contests or in the case of Urayasu, moved the ceremony to Disneyland in Tokyo (BBC 2002).

      Apart from the ceremony itself, the most visible aspect of Seijin-no-hi is the clothing worn by the fledgling adults. Traditionally, young men wear new suits. Women however, are permitted to wear the furisode kimono (Figure 4). The furisode is the most elaborate and formal kimono worn by unmarried women, characterized by its vibrantly colored designs and long sleeves (Kamachi 1999). The formality of Seijin-no-hi garments lends an air of importance and anticipation to the celebration.

Figure 4: Ornate Furisode Kimono [Below],







Prognosis for Seijin-no-hi

     While the concept of Seijin-no-hi as a coming of age ritual has been present in Japanese culture for centuries, its contemporary relevance and significance have been questioned in recent years. Much of the concern for celebration's future is reactionary to the highly visible elements of evolving disrespect for tradition among young adults. The sentiments of small towns such as Seika reflect opinions of the nation as a whole, expressing frustration that episodes of flagrant disregard for authority by participants in Seijin-no-hi eclipse the holiday's positive values in press and television (Seika 2004:1). Still, it seems unlikely that Coming-of-Age Day will abruptly disappear. The efforts of some towns to incorporate fireworks or relocate the festivities to more youth-placating locales mark an attempt by the current adult generation to assuage changing societal values. This softening of traditional rigidity demonstrates the vitality of Japan 's coming of age heritage, proving that as historically, it will adapt to remain viable during any time period.



     To the people of Japan , Seijin-no-hi imparts more than adult status and the rights to vote and drink. As the offspring of a long Japanese tradition of rite of passage rituals, Coming of Age Day demonstrates a bequeathal of cultural heritage from one generation to the next. Liminal garb, adult commemoratory advice, and religious expression lend to the initiation of young adults, forming an experience both symbolic and practical. Despite changing sentiments of Japanese youth toward the celebration, it exhibits signs of adapting to the pressures posed by gradually changing societal values. Although its guise may alter and practices shift, it is certain that the ritual principles behind Seijin-no-hi will remain an active part of Japanese culture, welcoming new generations into adulthood for centuries to come.


Internet References Cited

  • BBC News. 2002 Icy ritual marks Japanese adulthood . BBC News, January 14. Electronic   document,, accessed October 20, 2004.

  • CIA.

    2004 The World Factbook: Japan . 20 Sept. 2004   Electronic document, , accessed September 20, 2004.

  • Federal Research Division. 1994 Japan : A Country Study . Electronic document,, accessed September 20, 2004.

  • French, Howard W.  2002 The New Adults: Don't Be Fooled By the Kimonos . New York Times, January 15, 2002: A3. Electronic document,, accessed October 20, 2004.

  • Seika Town English News and Events.  2004 Seijin no Hi: Becoming an Adult in Japan . Seika Town English News and Events Guide , February: pp. 1. Electronic document,, accessed October 20, 2004.

  • Web Japan. 2001 Coming-of-Age-Day: Cold Weather Does Not Hinder Warm Feelings . Electronic   document,, accessed October   20, 2004.

  • Yamasa Institute.  Things Japanese "Seijin no hi" . Electronic document,, accessed October 20, 2004.


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Kamachi, Noriko. 1999 Culture and Customs of Japan . Westport , CT : Greenwood Press. pp. 123-125, 148-149.

  • Palmer, R. R. and Joel Colton, eds. 1995 A History of the Modern World . 8th Ed. New York : McGraw-Hill. pp. 577-582.

  • Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner. 1982 Religious Celebrations . In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victor Turner, ed, pp. 201-219. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

  • Seika Town English News and Events. 2004 Seijin no Hi: Becoming an Adult in Japan . Seika Town English News and EventsGuide , February: pp. 1. Electronic document,, accessed October 20, 2004.

  • Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner. 1982 Religious Celebrations . In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victor   Turner, ed, pp. 201-219. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

  • Web Japan.  2001 Coming-of-Age-Day: Cold Weather Does Not Hinder Warm Feelings . Electronic document,, accessed October 20, 2004.


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