Seijin-shiki ceremony (coming-of-age celebration) (成人式)

The Seijin-shiki ceremony is an event where local public bodies in Japan invite young people who enter adulthood during the fiscal year when Seijin-shiki is held, in order to encourage and cast blessings upon them. In the Seijin-shiki ceremony, a lecture or party is held, or a gift is given.

Origin

A ceremony celebrating the attainment of manhood has been held since the ancient times. This ceremony for boys was called Genpuku (coming-of-age celebration for boys) or Fundoshi-iwai (a coming-of-age ceremony for a boy by wearing a loincloth), and that for girls was called Mogi (coming-of-age celebration for girls) or keppatsu (hair dressing). In the cultural anthropology or folklore, this kind of ceremony is treated as one of the rites of passage (initiation).

The present-day form of Seijin-shiki ceremony in Japan is based upon the 'Seinen-sai Festival' (youth festival) which was held in Warabi-machi, Kitaadachi-gun (present-day Warabi City), Saitama Prefecture on November 22, 1946 soon after the end of the World War II. At that time when people were in a state of lethargy due to defeat in the war, the Seinen-sai Festival was planned at the suggestion of Shojiro TAKAHASHI, then leader of youth union in Warabi-machi, Saitama Prefecture, in order to encourage young people who will lead the next generation to have high hopes. A tent was pitched at the schoolyard of Warabi Daiichi Elementary School (in an educational system operated in Japan between 1941 and 1947) (present-day Warabi Municipal Warabikita Elementary School) which was used as a ceremonial place, and programs were held for the Seinen-sai Festival. This 'Seinen-shiki ceremony' (coming-of-age ceremony) spread nationwide, and became the present-day Seijin-shiki. In Warabi City, the term 'Seinen-shiki ceremony' is still used and on Coming-of-Age Day in 1979, a monument commemorating the 'Birthplace of the Seinen-shiki ceremony' was founded by Warabi City in Warabi Joshi Park within the city, in commemoration of City's 20th anniversary, and 30th anniversary of establishment of Coming-of-Age Day.

The national government influenced by the 'Seinen-sai Festival' in Warabi City specified January 15 as Coming-of-Age Day in 1949, based upon the purpose of 'casting blessings upon and encouraging young people who were aware of becoming adults, and strived to get through by themselves,' pursuant to the Act on National Holidays proclaimed and enacted in 1948. Thereafter, the Seijin-shiki ceremony came to be held on this day in most regions throughout Japan. After that, the Coming-of-Age Day moved to the second Monday of January from 2000 along with the revision of the National Holidays Act (commonly called Happy Monday System Act) in 1998.

Definition of new adults

Adults subject to participation in the Seijin-shiki ceremony are those whose birthday range from the next day of the 'Coming-of-Age Day' in the previous year to the 'Coming-of-Age Day' of the year, and receive blessing on "Coming-of-Age Day." However, the school age method has taken root recently, in which people whose birthdays range from April 2 of the previous year to April 1 of the year are subject to participation in the ceremony.

It is said that this is also because, in the case of age method, participants whose birthdays range from January 1 to April 1may hardly know other participants, or may be 19 years old on the Coming-of-Age Day of the year, but 21 years old on the next Coming-of-Age Day due to the Happy Monday system (e.g., participants whose birthdays range from January 9 to 13, 1987).

In addition, Sapporo City adopted the calendar year method until 1998, in which people who became 20 years old on their birthdays during the year were subject to participation in the Seijin-shiki ceremony (e.g., in the case of Seijin-shiki ceremony held in 1998, people whose birthdays ranged from January to December 1978 could participate). However, besides cases where new adults could hardly participate in the ceremony unless they change their participation to the previous year because they are involved in taking examinations, there were also cases of new adults in other municipalities who were not subject to participation in the Seijin-shiki ceremony in the previous year who could not participate for two consecutive years when they moved to Sapporo City during the next year to proceed with their higher education or for being transferred. Therefore, in response to criticism from many young people, the school age method has been used since 2000.

Although until 1960s, more than half of the new adults were working youths who had already entered the business world, in and after 1970s, the proportion of students to the total number new adults has been increasing even now due to an increase in the number of people going to university (university advancement rate) and decrease in the number of people finding work after finishing junior high school or high school.

Date for holding the ceremony

At present, the Seijin-shiki ceremony is often held on the Coming-of-Age Day or its previous day (always falling on Sunday).

In addition, many municipalities hold the ceremony during Golden Week (early-May holiday season in Japan), on the day of Obon festival (a Festival for the Dead or Buddhist All Soul's Day) of the year, or during the first seven days of the year. Especially in rural areas (towns and villages), the ceremony is held during the above period. The reason it is considered is because municipalities give consideration to young people so that many of them who leave their home towns to take a job or to proceed to higher education can easily participate in the ceremony on the day of Obon festival or during the first seven days of the year when many of them return home, and do not need to spend money on buying a best dress (in particular, more than half of towns and villages in Iwate Prefecture hold the ceremony on the day of the Obon festival). Municipalities in heavy snowfall areas also take into consideration accidents whereby the best dressed gets soiled or participants are caught up in the disordered transportation due to heavy weather.

Problems

Lowering participation rate
As stated in the purpose of the Act, the Seijin-shiki ceremony was originally held in order for the administration to cast blessings upon and encourage young people who reached a certain age, and for participants to make up their mind to contribute to creation of a better society as a responsible and independent member of society, and widely spread such influence in society, in response to the blessings and encouragement they receive.

However, in the 1970s, there was a declining participation rate and youth became alienated from Seijin-shiki ceremony.
As participants are often criticized for a lack of morals (see description below), many new adults decide not to participate, or react tepidly to the ceremony, saying: 'we don't want to be regarded in the same way [as violent new adults], ' 'it's just a gathering of kids who want to show off,' or because 'it's unfair that the new adult that recites the vows in the ceremony is usually the son or daughter of someone concerned with the organization of the ceremony.'

Urban areas and rural areas

Due to the advancement of urbanization, people subject to participation in the Seijin-shiki ceremony have decreased in rural areas, while they have increased significantly in urban areas.

In rural areas, many young people moved to urban areas after finishing high school to enter a university or for finding work. Students whose winter vacation is over and working people who already took New Year's Holidays from January 1 to 3 have difficulties returning home only for the purpose of participating in the Seijin-shiki ceremony held on January 15. Therefore, the number of autonomous bodies holding the Seijin-shiki ceremony on the day of the Obon festival has increased in rural areas. In first place, since an invitation card to the Seijin-shiki ceremony is often sent based on the resident register, an invitation card to the Seijin-shiki ceremony held in a home area may not arrive.

In urban areas, there were autonomy bodies that did not have facilities large enough to accept all participants increasing year by year. As a result, there were cases where some participants who arrived at Seijin-shiki ceremony, but could not enter because it was already full. Especially in the case of Seijin-shiki ceremony for children of baby boomers, it happened that the number of people who could not enter the ceremony hall was actually larger than the number of people who could enter. In the case of large hall, some participants walked around trying to find a vacant seat or could not find a vacant seat within a dark hall because there was no ushers to assist them within the hall. As stated above, there were also some cases where the failure by autonomy body was conducive to participants' disregard for the ceremony.

Moral degeneration
Before the latter half of 1990s when the public works budget had continued to increase even though being called a public policy focusing on the construction of public buildings, the number of facilities fully available to hold the Seijin-shiki ceremony increased also in the urban areas. However, after the first half of the 1990s when children of baby boomers reached the age to participate in the Seijin-shiki ceremony, the actual number of youths entering adulthood has been falling due to the low birthrate. At the end of the 1990s, vacant seats in the ceremony hall were marked, and criticism that new adults did not enter the hall became more vocal. Due to the increase of vacant seats, participants who had conventionally talked with friends outside the hall eventually entered the hall, and caused disruptions in the ceremony. For example, participants continued talking, or used cell phones within the hall, and a rampage in the hall by the group of some new adults impeded the ceremony. In some municipalities, such rampage developed to the extent of arresting rampaging youths for obstructing officers from performing their duty. In addition, some new adults regarded the Seijin-shiki ceremony as a junior high school or high school reunion. Therefore, the meaning of Seijin-shiki ceremony itself is being questioned.

A phenomenon of Shichi-go-san (celebration for children of three, five and seven years of age) at the Seijin-shiki ceremony means the phoenomenon that, even though dressing gorgeously externally, young people participating in the ceremony were caught up in talking with friends whom they had not seen for a long time, did not show interest in the speeches or lectures by the head of the autonomy body holding the ceremony, and they became noisy during the ceremony, and as a result, the Seijin-shiki ceremony which was originally where they are to make up their minds as independent adults has turned into an opportunity to expose the moral degeneration of young people. Following are some concrete examples of problematic behavior.

In 1999, at the Seijin-shiki ceremony held in Sendai City, while giving a lecture, Sakuji YOSHIMURA, Egyptologist, really felt that the behavior of new adults was terrible, got furious, and said, 'this is a celebration to cast blessings upon new-born babies not new adults. I will never give a lecture at the Seijin-shiki ceremony again.'

In 2000, Zenkichi KOJIMA, mayor of Shizuoka City, also pointed out the problem of manners at the press conference on the next day of the ceremony, and stated, 'I feel that the ceremony itself had better be discontinued rather than continuing to spend taxes on the Seijin-shiki ceremony where participants are not worthy of the name of Seijin (adult).'
However, as mentioned below, since the mercery lodged protests in succession by saying, 'it may cause the decline of the industry,' etc., the holding of Seijin-shiki ceremony has eventually continued in the form of drastically downsizing.

There occurred incidents in 2001 when five new male adults set off firecrackers toward Shozo MASUDA, (then) mayor, at the Seijin-shiki ceremony held in Takamatsu City, and some new adults who yelled 'move out, move out' at Daijiro HASHIMOTO, (then) governor of Kochi Prefecture frustrated Governor Hashimoto during the Seijin-shiki ceremony held in Kochi City. These incidents were highly publicized nationwide.

The boisterous celebrations of some new adults in the urban areas of Naha City cause problems every year. Therefore, Naha City discontinued holding Seijin-shiki ceremony after holding the last one in 2002, and the ceremony is held separately by the school district.

In 2003, at the Seijin-shiki ceremony held in Himeji City, there was an incident where several groups of new adults started fighting in the parking lot near the hall after the ceremony ended, and also committed violence against two Japanese policemen belonging to Himeji Police Station, Hyogo Prefectural Police Department, who tried to stop the fighting. It was reported that all of these new adults smelled of alcohol.

In 2004, at the Seijin-shiki ceremony held in Ito City, six new adults impeded the ceremony.

In 2006, at the Seijin-shiki ceremony held in Morioka City, several new adults raged, and got into a shoving match with The Great Sasuke, (then) prefectural assembly member of Iwate Prefecture.

The purpose of Seinen-sai Festival, 'encouraging young people who will lead the next generation to have high hopes,' which was the original model for the present-day Seijin-shiki ceremony is out of step with present-day young people. However, it is certain that the Seijin-shiki ceremony plays a role in giving new adults who participate in an opportunity to reunite with their friends for the first time in many years, and deepen their relationships, and also that parents want to congratulate their own children who are entering adulthood.

Under the concept that the creation of their own Seijin-shiki ceremony led by the people entering adulthood will make the Seijin-shiki ceremony better, the number of municipalities that have requested new adults to participate in the planning and management of the ceremony has increased recently. However, even though new adults participate in the planning, if there is a conflict between the intentions of people concerned from the autonomy body and the new adults, the intentions of autonomy body prevails in many cases.

Some autonomy bodies (Kitakyushu City in and after 1998, and Urayasu City in and after 2002) hold the Seijin-shiki ceremony at a theme park and wish the new adults good luck in their adulthood.

Business related to the Seijin-shiki ceremony

Since many new adults wear expensive clothes (especially kimono called furisode - a long sleeved type of kimono for women) to participate in the Seijin-shiki ceremony, it is considered to be the best time to make a profit for the industry of Japanese traditional kimono. Therefore, although violent new adults are a headache, many autonomy bodies (such as Shizuoka City in 2000, and Naha City in and after 2000) continue holding the Seijin-shiki ceremony in response to parents' desire to dress their own children up with kimono in commemoration of entering adulthood, and at the request of mercery. Japanese people's alienation from kimono has been progressing recently, and the number of mercery itself is decreasing. The Seijin-shiki ceremony is a place to make an appeal about the beauty of Japanese traditional kimono to young people. As well as women, the number of men who wear kimono such as Montsuki hakama (formal Japanese attire of a man, consisting of a kimono dyed with the family crest and a long, loose, pleated skirt) has been increasing in recent years. However, some people say that since new adults who used to be delinquents mainly wear Montsuki hakama, the image of Montsuki hakama has worsened. As rental kimono increases, many people use them without buying them. Bargain sales on kimono called grade-B piece goods is held after the Seijin-shiki ceremony is over.

The day of Seijin-shiki ceremony is also the time to make a profit for the beauty industry because of dressing, makeup and hair set for new adults. Therefore, beauty salons open earlier than usual, and hire day laborers such as old women or helpers who can help new adults get dressed, have a very busy day. Since the number of young people who meet with classmates after the ceremony without participating has increased, and the number of people subject to participation is large, some municipalities ease congestion by holding the Seijin-shiki ceremony in several batches, and staggering the opening time. In addition, there is a movement whereby companies in the cosmetics industry promote their own cosmetics through lectures on makeup for new adults starting makeup in earnest which is held before the Seijin-shiki ceremony, and photo studios where dressed-up new adults take commemorative photos of themselves also make a strong effort in advertising. As stated above, competition for customers that targets new adults is heated among related businesses, and these businesses can expect to face a tough time because of the low birthrate and low rate of participation in the ceremony; given such circumstances, the need to hold a Seijin-shiki event is now being questioned.

Various forms of Seijin-shiki ceremonies

In-house Seijin-shiki ceremony

In the case of workers in industries that hire many high school graduates every year, such as retail industries including department stores, supermarkets and restaurants, and the transport industry including railways, sightseeing buses, etc. that make profits on holidays, manufacturing industries including iron manufacturing, chemical industry, textile industry, paper industry and automobile industry in which employees work different shifts due to business characteristics, workers in public services such as electricity, city gas and telephone, Self-Defense Officials who live in a dormitory at a Camp, and trainees at residential training institutions (Japan Coast Guard Academy, National Defense Academy, etc.), many of them have to work even on the Coming-of-Age Day, and obviously cannot participate in the Seijin-shiki ceremony held by municipalities.

Therefore, many companies in these industries held their own Seijin-shiki ceremony at the company (workplace). Major examples are Hato bus and the Meitetsu Group, and the appearance of their ceremonies attracts attention and is being reported every year. However, since the number of companies which stopped hiring high school graduates due to the recession and increase in the number of high school graduates who went to university has increased in and after 1990s, workers entering adulthood decreased yearly. In addition, due to an additional blow given by restructuring, the number of companies which discontinued holding an in-house Seijin-shiki ceremonies itself increases. Conversely, Toyota City which relies on Toyota Motor Corporation changes the date for holding of Seijin-shiki ceremony in line with the Toyota's business schedule (Toyota Calendar).

Some rehabilitation facilities for persons with intellectual disabilities also hold the Seijin-shiki ceremony for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Half Seijin-shiki ceremony and coming-of-age ceremony for middle school students

Nowadays, the number of elementary schools using a school event or comprehensive learning period for holding the half Seijin-shiki ceremony for ten-year-old children (fourth-grade children) whose age is half of 20 years old is on the increase nationwide.

Some junior high schools hold the coming-of-age ceremony for middle school students as a school event for the students in the eighth or ninth grade. This also implies the learning of the custom because the age of Genpuku equivalent to old-time Seijin-shiki ceremony falls on the age of present-day middle school students.

Seijin-shiki ceremony in various regions
At Shiraho Village in Ishigaki-jima Island, Okinawa Prefecture, a traditional event where 'young people entering adulthood gather village people in the community hall, and express the joy of entering adulthood and giving recognition to village people by dancing' is held, and is reported by TV Asahi in the program 'among disturbed Seijin-shiki ceremonies in Okinawa.'
Many Seijin-shiki ceremonies in the form of this type exist in some regions.

Situations in countries other than Japan

Most other countries do not hold a ceremony to simultaneously celebrate reaching the adult age (18, 20 or 21 years old depending on the country) nationwide like Japan does.