A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Tsukuba’s Coming of Age Ceremony (Seijin Shiki) Proceeds Without Incident — Well, Almost…


Before 1877 (Meiji 9), when it was set at 20, there was no set LEGAL AGE in Japan for achieving adulthood. For children of the nobility and the samurai class there was a coming of age ceremony known as GENPUKU (元服), for which there was NO specifically set age, though which usually took place when boys were in their early teens (from 12-16). The ceremony was performed when certain academic (knowledge of Buddhist Sutras and Classical Chinese Texts) and height (150 cm, or 4’11”) criteria were met. For Crown Princes and future Shoguns, the GENPUKU rites were sometimes held much earlier, when the boys were still 7 or 8 years of age.

The word GENPUKU (元服) came to Japan in the Heian Period (794-1185) along with the ceremony itself from China, though the characters to write it and of course the pronunciation have changed. The way it was written in Chinese was 冠衣, which means CROWN and ADULT ROBES, which were the symbols of having attained adulthood and which were donned for the first time at the GENPUKU ceremony. Another key feature of the ceremony was bestowing a new ADULT name on the young person.

It is interesting how this notion of specific, identifying, WEAR went on to permeate Japan and thrive to this day, as laborers have their baggy trousers, older artistic types their berets, yakuza their perms and tattoos, and so on and so forth. I have also written before about the red vest and cap one receives when becoming 60. It is not surprising then, that one of the key features of TODAY’s COMING-OF-AGE CEREMONY (sei-jin shiki) is getting dressed up. By that I mean a furi-sode kimono, with appropriate hair-dos for the young women, and suits or hakama for the men.

Since 1877 the only requirement for being considered an adult has been reaching the age of 20. After WWII, with Japan completely devastated and returning soldiers utterly demoralized, a ceremony was held in the city of Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, to welcome back the young men returning from the war, and encourage them to be good citizens who would work hard to rebuild the country. It appears that this event was what inspired the government of then, Allied-Occupied Japan, to establish a new national holiday, to be held every year on January 15, to celebrate the coming-of-age of each year’s new adults. This was to be done by having a formal ceremony at the city hall or other appropriate venue and having a distinguished guest give a talk to the young adults. In 1999, as a part of the HAPPY MONDAY system which created more 3-day weekends, SEIJIN NO HI was moved to the second Monday in January.

Twenty-year-olds (and those who will turn twenty before the beginning of this April) with official residency in Tsukuba City, received a postcard inviting them to attend this year’s SEIJIN SHIKI, on Saturday January 11th at Capio Hall from 1:30-3:30. The speaker would be our esteemed mayor, Dr. (and avid supporter of rampant development) Ichihara Kenichi.

As you can imagine, it’s a much bigger deal for families with 20 year old daughters to prepare for the ceremony than it is for those with sons. This is because few girls can dress themselves in the FURISODE kimonos, and beauty salons have to be booked well in advance to help the girls get ready.

As Japanese society has been changing over the years, and the youth have become less submissive, it has become more and more common for incidents of unruly behavior to liven up, or mar (depending on you feel about it) the ceremonies. The most famous place for rowdiness is certainly Okinawa, but these days such cases crop up all across the country.

Tsukuba, with its high (though steadilly dropping) percentage of academically oriented, nerdy, goody-two-shoed young people, is considered a paragon of good seijin shiki behaviour. I guess that is why Ibaraki television decided to keep its Coming of Age Day coverage exclusively of Tsukuba.

Things almost got of hand, however, when one of this year’s new adults grabbed a mike and started to address the crowd with an emotional “KORE DE II NO KAI?” (Are you satisfied with this — or with the way things are?). He was quickly whisked away by the staff. After the ceremony, when everyone was gathered outside Capio, this young man was still trying to get everyone’s attention. A sign of things to come? Unfortunately for him (or maybe for everyone) no one was listening. 

I would like to give further details about traditional coming of age ceremonies in PRE-MEIJI Japan, especially those practiced by the lower classes — farmers, merchants, and craftsmen. Of special interest are the different criteria set for adulthood in the different parts of Japan (for example being able to lift certain amounts of weight or do certain amounts of work) and the many unusual coming of age rituals which vary from region to region.

There is also a ceremony held at age 13, which is called JUU SAN MAIRI. I hope to discuss all these topic in future postings.


  • Nora says:

    Thank you for that Avi, now I see the reason of so many young people, colored dressed girls in kimono or blackish suits boys across Daizy Town, they seems very proud to take a picture, some of them underground;)) in the front of Daiso photo’s machines…
    After all, did you see something interesting in Tsukuba last monday, other ‘shiki’ indeed?

  • Avi says:

    Hi,Nora! Thanks for writing. In fact, I heard an interesting story about the SEIJIN SHIKI in Tsuchiura City. When this years celebrants arrived at the venue, they were surprised to see 2 very large, muscular foreigners, with shaven heads and suits, towering above everyone else. The people I heard this story from
    first assumed that these two guys had been hired by the city to discourage any rowdiness. They clearly realized, however, that they were the private escorts or bodyguards, of a girl dressed in a gorgeous kimonon with an OIRAN style obi ( when the sash is type in front,in the traditional manner of the women of the PLEASURE QUARTERS. My informants had no idea who this girl was and I still havent been able to get any info. There are several possibilities- the daughter of a yakuza oyakata (unlikely with the foreign bodyguards)
    A girl who was unpopular at school and then went on to make a bundle in Tokyo`s WATER TRADE, who came back to Tsuchiura to show off.
    Or, the whole thing is just a costume, with the guys as part of the show.
    What do you think?

  • Nora says:

    That seems me quite similar with the gala ceremony in the issue of each Bulgarian high school when everybody catch a fever of attractive look, especially the girls. My mother’s ‘teacherhood’ is more closed to observe this. She reported me that some of the students were trying to get advantage of the situation and make their own shine like a Hollywood star. One girl was with famous TV-showman partner… As for me, I never accepted to participate to this snobbish ceremony, so expensive that the parents had to invest 1 or 2 salaries to one-night buffoonery;)) hhhha, just a parade still popular in Bulgaria (a funny-hooligan european country, my fatherland).
    But wondering your story, it’s more interesting to know how some of us, muscular ‘gaijins’, come to these very special japanese customs. Yakuza or not, may be the papa-boss get all assurances to reintroduce her cherry…also like a part of the show;)!