One of the most important days in the life of any Japanese is the Seijin no hi (成人の日), the coming of age day and the ceremony that marks a Japanese person’s entrance into adulthood. While last year’s ceremony here in Tokyo was marked by a massive (at least by Tokyo standards) snowstorm, this year we had much better weather. I took these photos at Tokyo’s grand Meiji Shrine (明治神宮) as the young beauties were coming to pay their respect at the shrine. We certainly had nothing like this in Europe when I grew up!
For most young women the day starts early in the morning as they prepare their kimono, the make up and their hair settings. It can take a couple of hours to get ready and people often book their hair salon months ahead. Little old ladies up and down the country is recruited en masse to help the young ladies put on their kimono. Even normal everyday kimono are daunting for today’s young and these elaborate setups are impossible to achieve on your own, even for the very few twenty year olds that have gone to the trouble of learning how to do it.
It is great to see these young people and their parents brimming with pride! There are few young men dressing up in kimono as well, but they are so few I almost never manage to get any good photos of them. This year I think I saw two, at the Meiji shrine. Not all young people wear kimono though, there are quite a few people who are happy with a sombre black suit and a few people who make a point of wearing outrageous costumes sure to irritate their elders, all in the manner of youth in all countries, during all times. These young women in the photos however, are most probably the pride of their families!
In the old days, before 1600 when the whole of Japan was finally unified under the Shogunate, there were almost constant wars and battles. The feudal lords would fight against each other with large armies and just like in Europe during the same era, the generals and commanders needed different ways to communicate their tactics and orders to the officers in the field. One of these ways was to employ special trumpeters, kaiyaku (貝役), who would blow melodies on the giant conch shells, the horagai (法螺貝) also used by priests and monks since ancient times. The conch shells are carried in special woven baskets and a wooden or brass mouth piece is fitted to the end of it, through which a skilled user can blow up to five different notes. During winter warfare there was always the risk that the users lips would freeze stuck to the brass so many preferred the wooden mouthpiece.
I saw these trumpeters demonstrate their skills at the kobudo festival in Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine last year. One of them was quite young. It is quite easy to fail spectacularly with the horagai, which can be quite embarrassing but these four men blew perfectly. Here is a nice video with some different kinds of religious and military horagai sounds demonstrated.
Their demonstration opened one part of the kobudo festival, which was first blessed in a short ceremony by a young priest.
This year the Seijin no hi, the coming of age day took place on Monday the 13th. That Monday is always a public holiday dedicated to celebrating the young people turning 20 and thus “coming of age”. In the old days this ceremony was reserved to highest nobility, but gradually it filtered down through the social classes and for the last 40-50 years it has been more common than not to celebrate it even among ordinary people. Even then it is easy to see how much the economic situation has changed as you look at photos of the parents of the people coming of age this year. The dressing, accessories and hairstyles has really evolved even since the beginning of this century.
I took these photos at Tokyo’s largest shrine, the Meiji Jingu in Shibya Ward. It was a relatively warm sunny winter day, completely different from last year’s coming of age day, when an unexpected snow storm put a halt to most festivities in the city. The young women (and some men) that I saw at the shrine were all in high spirits and looked fantastic. It feels slightly unreal to be surrounded by dozens of these beauties!
Shi-go-san is one of my favorite Japanese rituals. It the a ritual that takes place when boys turning 3 or 5, and girls turning 3 or 7. It is traditionally celebrations to mark a childs advancement in age. Children are dressed up in special clothes and the whole family usually visits a shrine to take part in a special ceremony. Traditionally it takes place on November 15th every year and it has been going on since sometime in the Heian period (794-1185 A.D.) when it was reserved for court nobles. Later it became common even with the samurai class and in the recent period (starting in 1868 with emperor Meiji) it started being common in all classes of people. Although November 15th is the traditional date people do it more or less sometime around that time, sometimes months late or early: it is more important to be able to gather the entire family than to hit the correct date and in our modern times people really are too busy.
Back in the old days all children had shaved heads before the age of three so in the ceremony marked the day when the children could start growing their hair. At five boys would start wearing the hakama (a sort of kimono like trouser) and the girls would start wearing proper kimono with obi (the belt) at seven.
I took the first three of these photos at Tokyo’s famous Meiji Shrine in Shibuya Ward, and the last two at the Yushima Tenjin in Bunkyo Ward. The first girl with the absolutely adorable smile was very shy when she saw me with my camera.