Why is Seijin no Hi Such a Big Deal in Japan?
Remember how excited you were to turn 18? Or 21? It’s a big deal in the US to hit legal adulthood, but in Japan, it’s even bigger. Seijin no Hi, or Coming of Age Day, celebrates young adults who turned 20 over the past year.
Just like you can do everything in the United States at 21 (except rent a car), 20-year-olds in Japan can drink, marry, and sign contracts without their parents’ permission. Age 20 even has a special name in Japan—hitachi—to set it apart. But trust me—turning 20 in Japan outshines any milestone age in the West for the celebration alone.
What is Seijin no Hi?
Seijin no Hi happens on the second Monday of every January, soon after the country’s New Year’s celebrations. It reminds new legal adults that coming of age isn’t all fun and games—they have responsibilities, too.
Some form of Seijin no Hi has been around since 714CE, so by no means is it a new tradition. But when it comes to celebrating like they do today, that didn’t happen until after World War II.
After the war, people wanted to help new adults navigate their new rights and responsibilities. So, starting in Saitama, communities held events for new 20-year-olds to come together with their families and celebrate their coming of age.
What Happens on Seijin no Hi?
On Seijin no Hi, most young women wear kimono or furisode, while men go for Western formalwear or a traditional kimono and hakama. People go all out with dressing up, doing their hair and makeup for photoshoots, and getting ready to make memories at the celebration.
The day starts at 11:30am with a gathering and speech—usually from the mayor or another public figure—about the responsibility the comes with the age of maturity. Depending on how big the ceremony is, you might see live music performances, especially in cities like Tokyo.
After the speech, families go to the shrine to pray for their young adult’s continued health and future success. Then comes the part that most of the new adults look forward to—the after-parties. That’s when they get to hang out and enjoy the fun parts of becoming an adult. They take photos and gather on their own at izakaya, now that they can legally drink.
This year, with COVID-19, Seijin no Hi looks different. Without the public celebrations Japan is used to, many 20-year-olds are improvising and getting creative for this special day.
The Future of Seijin no Hi
Right now, Japanese age of maturity is still 20. But in April of 2022, it will change to 18, with some caveats. Young adults will be able to get loans, get married, and have similar legal rights, but they won’t be able to drink, smoke, or gamble.
So why did it change? Since so many people go out to bars on Seijin no Hi, it leads to a lot of wild parties and general civil disruption. Coming of age is pretty exciting, after all! To avoid things getting out of hand, Japan lowered the age of adulthood without lowering the legal age for the things that cause those disruptions. If you think it’s not a huge deal, think about the fact that Japan hasn’t seen a change like this since it established the age of adulthood in 1876.
Seijin no Hi used to be even bigger than it is now. Attendance at ceremonies in the past several years has gone way down for a lot of reasons. For starters, the formal clothing gets expensive. Plus, a lot of people don’t feel “adult enough” at 20, so it’s become less popular to celebrate coming of age based on a number.
That said, Seijin no Hi still has a major place in Japanese society, and the tradition is still going strong. Young adults continue to celebrate their rite of passage, however that looks this year.
Sarah Wood - February 1, 2021
Joy, Alicia. “Everything You Need to Know About Japan’s Coming of Age Day.” Culture Trip. https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/everything-you-need-to-know-about-japans-coming-of-age-day/. Accessed 21 January 2021.
The Savvy Team. “Seijin No Hi: Celebrating Japanese Youth’s Rite of Passage.” Savvy Tokyo. https://savvytokyo.com/seijin-no-hi-celebrating-japanese-youths-rite-passage/. Accessed 21 January 2021.