The Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi) festival in Japan is celebrated on the second Monday in January, and honours young Japanese who reach the age of 20 in the current year (from April to April). Twenty marks the transition to adulthood, and is also the age at which it becomes legal to drink, smoke, gamble and apply for credit cards without the consent of parents. The legal voting age was lowered from 20 to 18 in 2015.

Coming of Age Day in Japan - two pairs of kimonos

Coming of Age Day in Japan

The modern Coming of Age Day holiday dates from 1948, but such ceremonies have been held in Japan since time immemorial. Official coming-of-age ceremonies usually take place at municipal offices in the morning, with speeches and gift-giving, but the fun really begins later in the day when the newly recognised adults attend parties with family and friends.

Many girls wear furisode, a special type of formal kimono for unmarried women with extra-long sleeves and elaborate designs, and zori sandals. A lengthy visit to a beauty salon to get their hair done and to dress up is a must. Being very expensive, their outfits are often borrowed or rented for the occasion.

Men sometimes wear traditional costumes, but nowadays many wear a suit and tie. After the ceremony, the young adults will celebrate by going to parties or visiting popular venues such as Tokyo Disneyland, though in recent years these celebrations have occasionally turned raucous and led to arrests.

Coming of Age Day Japan-rear view

Coming of Age outfit: furisode (kimono), obi (sash), fur stole

In earlier centuries, puberty signalled the start of adulthood – around 15 for boys, 13 for girls. Unlike modern times, a rite of passage tested children’s ability to behave as adults. A boy from a farming community was expected to carry a heavy bag of rice a certain distance, for example, while a girl might have to prove her weaving skills. Today, according to some older Japanese, young people feel that merely attending a coming-of-age ceremony is enough, and any suggestion that they should prove themselves worthy of adult status is deemed a very old-fashioned notion.