Source: Gaijin Pot

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

Photo: Chokosai Eisho (1615–1868)
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 …continue reading