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!
At the budo, or martial arts, tournament and exhibition at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine a few weeks ago I saw this wonderful performance of Yabusame or mounted horse archery. I have written previously about the glory of Yabusame (I am completely in love with this sport) so if you are interested in the details of the sport head over to that post from 2011. This year’s Yabusame at Meiji Shrine was slightly unusual due to the high number of very talented female archers. You could tell from the excited reactions of the audience when they were being introduced that female archers make a wildly popular sport even more popular! The biggest drawback with Yabusame is that it is a very audience unfriendly sport. For the effort involved in setting things up and the costs involved, very few people can actually see it and the most devoted audience members had already staked out their spots on the grass 5-6 hours before the event even started! The action is also very rapid – the announcer will announce that an archer has left the staging area on the left, you hear the thunder of the hooves and in a split second the horse thunders past you – a cheer from the crowd if there is a hit, once, twice, maybe three times. It is all over very quickly and if you lose you concentration you might miss the best bit. I was plonked firmly at the front end of the audience section, wedged between two other photographers so I go to see the horses right the moment before had reached full speed, but even with my fast camera I missed many passes. Still, there is no sport on Earth like Yabusame and it’s an incredible rush to be within touching distance of horse and rider thundering past!