In most countries around the world, including in the United States (with the rare exceptions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Nebraska), young men and women are legally recognized as adults at the age of 18. Otherwise known as “the age of majority”, this is when young Americans can legally –among many other things – start voting, open a bank account, get married, and hold a public office.
However, in a handful of nations this milestone is not acknowledged until later in life. One of those countries is in Japan where the age of majority is attained on a person’s 20th birthday. This special milestone, also known as the Coming of Age Day, is widely celebrated in Japan on the second Monday of January each year.
Coming of Age ceremonies have been held going back to the early 8th century, however, it wasn’t until 1876 that 20 became the legal age of adulthood in Japan. The Coming of Age Day was not recognized as a national holiday until 1948 and up until 2000 it was celebrated on January 15th each year. Ceremonies are usually held and facilitated by local government officials and consist of speeches and gifts to recognize those who have hit this significant milestone. To celebrate the occasion it has historically been custom for the young Japanese participants to wear traditional clothing such as furisodes – kimonos with extra-long sleeves that signify a person is single and available for marriage. However, in recent years there has been a shift to wearing more modern clothes, particularly western suits for the males. Despite its long history, the Coming of Age Day ceremonies have seen a dramatic decline in participants, down to 1.22 million in 2012 from as many as 2.76 million in 1976. This is due to several factors, primarily owing to a shrinking youth population and 20 year olds choosing to skip out on what they view as an antiquated celebration.