Seijinshiki: ‘Coming of Age’ in Japan, from the eyes of a foreigner (成人式)

IMG_6652What is “Seijinshiki”? Seijinshiki (成人式) the Japanese “Coming of Age” ceremony, held on the second Monday of January, which fell on the 14th this year. Some cities hold their ceremonies on the 13th (Sunday). Either way, that Monday is a National Holiday.

Seijinshiki is a ceremony that marks a person’s transition from teenager to adult, specifically when they turn 20. When you are 20, you can legally smoke, drink, vote, drive, and go to jail. Awesome.

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Who gets to go to Seijinshiki? Anyone who turned (or will turn) 20 between April 2, 2012 and April 1, 2013 got a specially printed invitation in the mail a couple months prior.

As a foreigner, I had to register at my city hall to receive Japanese National Health Insurance (and avoid being deported), so they had my birthdate on file. I got the “foreigner package” in the mail: the same invitation printed in four different languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean.

You don’t have to RSVP, you just show up the day of. Only people with invitations are allowed to participate in the ceremony.

Ever since I got engaged (and probably long before that), I stopped wanting to do anything without Ryosuke – especially if it involves a heavy amount of Japanese speaking. So a couple days earlier, he called the city hall and convinced them I didn’t speak any Japanese. He told them that he needed to come along as my translator, so that I could participate.

Which is technically true.

So they let him.

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What do people wear to Seijinshiki? Over 99% of the girls were wearing tradition (expensive) kimonos and an up-do with a fake flower. I saw one girl in a pants-suit and another in a ball gown. I, of course, wore an electric blue cocktail dress my grandmother gave me for Christmas.

But I paired it with a cheap fur coat I got at the Japanese equivalent of Goodwill, so I kind of matched everyone else. And I was warm.

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A vast majority of the men were wearing suits with a white shirt and a colorful tie. I saw a couple guys who wore traditional Japanese clothes, but it was mostly just a sea of black suits.

What actually happens at the Coming of Age Ceremony?

Short answer: a lot of talking, a dance performance, and a raffle.

Long answer:

  1. Speeches by several people (occasionally interrupted by an obnoxious group of guys that eventually got kicked out),
  2. Shishimai dance (a traditional Japanese dance with green dragon faces and funny masks),
  3. A short video from a soccer team,
  4. Raffling away 20 items (ranging from a toothbrush to tickets to Disneyland),
  5. Awkward siting of the Koganei-city mascot: a fat baby in the Japanese equivalent of a loin-cloth (Maekake),
  6. A letter by a famous author.IMG_6636

What happens after the ceremony? Most people chatted with friends out in the lobby. Some went home. Some got in line to take pictures with the Koganei-city mayor.

Seijinshiki is kind of like the first elementary school/middle school reunion. Lots of students will commute to a better school starting in high school… so Seijinshiki is a good chance to catch up with old friends.

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Which sucks, you know, if you’re me – and don’t know anyone.

According to Ryosuke, lots of people “get together” after Seijinshiki. Re-uniting with old flames will do that. After the ceremony, people chat for a while, go home and change, and then go out drinking. So it’s kind of like the American rite of passage (getting drunk on your 21st birthday)… just with less binge drinking.

I felt sorry for everyone when officials eventually kicked them out of the building.

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Did I mention that the ceremony was during a horrible blizzard that knocked out most bus lines? My boss told me it only snows like this in Tokyo once every couple years. Lucky us – the snow storm of the year happened to fall on the “most important day of a 20-year old.”

In the end, Ryosuke and I had to wait 2 hours for our bus to come.

Best parts of the Coming of Age Day? I loved it that Ryosuke was there with me. And I kind of liked the fact that I was the only foreigner.

From the minute we stepped into the building, we were given the VIP treatment. They immediately recognized Ryosuke as “the one who had called us,” gave us front-row seats, the mayor personally greeted us and took pictures with us for the Koganei-city official newsletter, and went around pseudo-introducing me to other girls.

Japan sure knows how to make a (foreign) girl feel welcome.

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Us talking to the mayor (I gave someone my camera… and they took several pictures…)

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

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4 responses to “Seijinshiki: ‘Coming of Age’ in Japan, from the eyes of a foreigner (成人式)

  1. Pingback: The Little, Funny Moments in Life are the Greatest | Texan in Tokyo·

  2. Hey Grace!

    That sounds so exciting! It’s great that the mayor tried so hard to include you. Did you pretend to not understand/speak Japanese for the entire evening?

    A Japanese friend of mine told me that most girls only borrow a kimono for that day, though, because they would never be able to afford a kimono like that (especially if the family has more than one daughter).

    I felt kinda bad for all of you recently-turned-20-years-olds when I saw the snow from my window….

    Nice entry! See you in class!

    T

    • Hey Theresa,

      Ah. Sorry. I’m just now getting around to responding to messages.
      I pretended not to speak Japanese the whole time. Which, of course, made it really awkward when people talked about me (being the only foreigner) – I just pretended not to understand.

      To rent a Kimono JUST for the day costs around 5- 10 man

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