February 13, 2017

#05-004: Two Japanese "Age" Days

seven Japanese girls in full kimono are lined up in front of the camera, with a young man in hakata (traditional wear) in the center
Participants in a Coming-of-Age Day ceremony

Note: Japan recognizes both the passage from youth into adulthood, and the one from adulthood into senior status, in two public holidays.

Get Ready: What sort of "rite of passage" (if any) do you celebrate when children become adults? How about when adults become seniors?

Where I grew up, about the only widespread "rite of passage" was getting one's driver's license at age 16 (though I waited until I was 18 for mine). Once, when Western culture was more cohesive, there were other events based on joining a religion, like Christian Confirmation, or the Jewish Bar or Bat Mitzvah (still practiced by some).

But in Japan, there is a yearly rite dedicated to "growing up" that is available to all, regardless of religion. It's called Seijin no Hi or "Coming of Age Day," and is held on the second Monday of every January. It honors anyone who has turned 20 years old (the age of majority in Japan) during the previous year.

The recognition of coming of age dates back to Japan's dim past, but the modern holiday was only declared in 1948. From then until the year 2000, it was celebrated on January 15; the move to the second Monday was part of a larger policy, the "Happy Monday System," in which several holidays were moved to create three-day weekends.

Participants go to nearby governments offices, often dressed in traditional clothing, to hear speeches and receive small presents from politicians. Emphasis is placed on both the rights and the responsibilities of adulthood. Declining birth rates and delayed entry into adult roles have taken their toll; nationwide participation in 2012 was less than half of that at the ceremony's peak in 1976.

A similar holiday, also now celebrated on a Monday, is Keiro no hi, "Respect for the Aged Day." Originally held on September 15, but since 2003 moved to the third Monday of September, this day recognizes all those who have turned 60. Local customs vary, but typically, the elderly are feted with a boxed lunch and other small courtesies.

While 60 is the target--the completion of one cycle of the Tai Sui or year guardians, being the 122 zodiac signs times the five elements--the Japanese government also makes special recognition of those turning 100. Each person to achieve this milestone is given a silver sake cup. When the practice started in 1963, only 153 such honors were given out; in 2014, there were 29,357!


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. age of majority
  2. cohesive
  3. coming of age
  4. declining
  5. feted
  6. milestone
  7. peak
  8. rite of passage
  9. sake (pronounced SAH-keh)
  10. taken their toll

  1. the age at which one is legally an adult
  2. rice wine
  3. honored with a party
  4. had a negative effect
  5. holding together
  6. reaching maturity
  7. a ritual recognizing a change in status, sometimes based on age
  8. getting smaller
  9. the high point
  10. any important event in one's life

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 13, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. e; 3. f; 4. h; 5. c; 6. j; 7. i; 8. g; 9. b; 10. d