Monday, January 11, 2010

Japanese Coming-Of-Age Ceremony

This morning Rob and I went to our Coming-of-Age Ceremony (成人式, seijin-shiki) in Koganei City. The Coming-of-Age Ceremony is a very important step in the lives of Japanese people. It signifies them becoming adults in society. Actually, it's even more important than that, as it translates directly as "becoming people ceremony"! The day is a National Holiday called Seijin no Hi (成人の日) so we didn't have any lessons.

Everyone born in between 2nd April 1989 and 1st April 1990 got a letter about a month and a half before the ceremony. I only just made these dates by one week, so I'm glad I could go. I was very impressed that foreigners got invitations. It really made me feel more integrated into society. Even though Rob and I were the only Westerners there!

Every city or ward in Japan holds a ceremony for the twenty year olds (twenty is the legal adult age in Japan) who are resident in that area.

It's a very important occasion, so Rob and I got up at 9am and changed into our suits, and walked up to the station to catch the bus. We're lucky we live in the centre of Koganei City, Musashi Koganei, so it only took twenty minutes to get to the high school where the Ceremony was held. It was in a large auditorium in Chuo University's High School, which looked like a very prestigious school.

We arrived at about 10.30 for the 11am start. The front gate was already busy with boys in suits and girls in traditional kimono (着物). There were people giving out small cards as we walked in who congratulated us, in both Japanese and English.

Rob and I presented our letters at the front desk, and they gave us a programme of the morning's events. We took our seats and watched the beautifully dressed people file in. As we waited, they were playing a panpipe version of the Titanic theme tune by Celine Dion on repeat. It was so random!

The ceremony started dead on 11am with a traditional dance and music performance.

This was followed by a song, which was possibly the Japanese National Anthem. Either way, Rob and I didn't know it, and lots of other people weren't singing!

Following the song were speeches by important people of Koganei City, like the Mayor. They had a sign language interpreter there too, which I thought was very good.

They even had the mascot of Koganei City there - Kokin-chan!

Towards the end of the ceremony, they played a video by three of FC Tokyo's football players, who wished everyone good luck for the future. They must have been quite famous, because they caused quite a stir when they came on screen, but Rob and I had no idea who they were!

At the end of the ceremony, they did a raffle. Each programme had a number printed in the front, I was number 019, and Rob was 700 and something. We didn't really want to win anything, because we thought we'd have to go on stage in front of everyone and be quite obviously foreign. But it turned out that the winners collected the prizes afterwards. Some of the prizes were really good. They had 15 in total, including digital photo frames, an iPod, cameras, and the one I wanted - a hot spring hotel break!
But, alas, neither Rob or I won anything! It's probably fairer for permanent Japanese residents to win the prizes anyway!

Overall the ceremony lasted just over an hour, which I thought was really short. But it's good that it didn't drag, as we were just watching the stage and had no physical participation in the events.
I thought the atmosphere of a formal Japanese ceremony would be very strict, but, perhaps because it was young people, it felt very relaxed. People were chatting amongst themselves, and some called things out to the people on stage. At one point when the important people were being introduced and were standing and bowing, two boys near the front stood and turned to face the audience, bowing in time with the actual important person!
We filed out and made our way back home.

It may sound a bit strange, but being part of that ceremony was a bit like validation of living in Japan. As a foreigner, you feel left out and alienated from so many aspects of Japanese culture, it was really nice to feel more accepted. And now I really feel more grown up! I'm very glad I was here to experience the Seijin-shiki, and I recommend it if you ever get the chance to be part of one.


sophia5892 said...

Hoping you can answer a question for me!
I'll turn 20 on august 5th 2012 and i'll be studying in Japan from Sep 2012 for the year. Do you think i'll get an invite to the ceremony in Jan 2013 or won't i count as i'll have had my birthday before moving there?

Miles said...


Thank you for your question. I've thought about it for a long time, and I think you will get an invite. I might be wrong there, but Rob turned 20 before going to Japan and he got an invite just like me. So I think if the local government for the ward/city you live in does it the same as Koganei City then you should be able to go!


sophia5892 said...

Thank you!
I'm really excited that i'll get to live there for a year. Just started uni though so got two years to wait yet. Finding your blog really interesting. I'm sure i'll think of many more questions as i get closer to leaving :)

Miles said...

That's no problem, ask away!

Best of luck with Uni! :)


Sharif said...

that sounds pretty interesting, i just got one for the next ceremony. i guess you can't bring a guest, hopefully another one of my friends also got invited, there's no way I'm going to that kind of thing myself! my japanese really isn't good enough to have general discourse with natives.

Miles said...

Ooh definitely go if you can! It was such a nice experience, it'll definitely be worth it if you can manage to make it.