In Japan, turning 20 sees the official transition into adulthood, with not only a few doors opening as to what you can now do legally (drink alcohol, smoke tobacco), but also a new set of responsibilities to abide by; with your college degree nearing closer, or finding a suitable job to settle down with, or perhaps even a suitable husband/wife. Although an ancient celebration, Coming of Age Day is almost a mirror image of modern Japanese society as a whole, a long standing tradition that has been adapted to fit into the 21st century.
Many believe that the holiday dates back as far as the 8th century and normally saw princes done new robes and a hairstyle to match their maturity. But it officially became a national holiday in 1948, and anyone that was 20 years old during the holiday, would dress in fine clothes and attend a ceremony normally held at their city office.
Now, the holiday is slightly different, as you no longer have to be exactly 20 years of age, but have to turn 20 either on the 2nd of April the year before the ceremony, or the 1st of the following April, meaning that there is a fair amount of 19 year olds at the event.
But this is not the only change the celebration has gone through, as although both men and women still wear traditional clothing (men wearing hakama – 袴、women wearing furisode – 振り袖), it was once an expensive gift given by the parents to mark their turning 20, but now, the vast majority of people rent these expensive robes and may even book a morning at a beauty salon to not only style their hair appropriately, but also to have the kimono fitted, a complicated process that very few people know how to do.
There is a little scandal around the celebration, most notably a case in 2002 in Naha City, found on the southern tip of Okinawa, in which a group tried to bring a barrel of sake into the ceremony, crashing through a police barricade and resulting in 7 arrests, but for the vast majority of people, it is a day which those turning 20 both enjoy and respect.
If you are lucky enough to be in Japan on Coming of Age Day, you will no doubt see hordes of young Japanese men and women wearing these beautiful and traditional clothes; but for many, they have adapted the style, with either modern accessories, hairstyles and some young men now wearing formal suits instead of hakama. But no matter what they wear, they are taking the step into maturity and facing the full responsibilities of adulthood.