A Japanese holiday, Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi) is marked every year on the second Monday of the month of January. The day is marked as a congratulatory feat for all those who have attained majority age, which in Japan is twenty years, helping them appreciate the fact that they have now become adults. Once twenty years old, Japanese citizens are allowed to vote, drink, and purchase cigarettes.
Some of the festivities of Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi) include Seijin-Shiki (coming of age ceremonies) that are held at the local prefectural offices and other public spaces, followed by parties among friends and families. For instance, in Okazaki, the ceremony is held at the Chuo Sogo Park. The participants listen to older generations impart some of their wisdom through speeches that provide advice and explanations of their new roles as adults in society.
The Coming of Age Day (Seijin no Hi) has been celebrated in Japan for centuries. Initially, it was marked on the 15th of January, but in 2000 this was changed to the second Monday of January in accordance with the Happy Monday System. Some adolescents are permitted to participate at age 19 provided their birthday falls before 1st April of that year.
Seijin no Hi is also a photo shooting opportunity. Most male graduates put on suits, while the majority of young women wear the traditional Furisode kimono dress. The latter is a special type of kimono with extended sleeves and comes in various elaborate designs. It is probably the most formal dress an unmarried woman can wear in Japan. The Furisode kimono is an expensive attire that can cost well in excess of ten thousand US dollars.
Coming of Age Day (Sheijin no Hi) reflects increased responsibilities for the Japanese youth. The significance of this holiday has perhaps grown in recent years as the Japanese have been confronted with the problem of an aging population in which not only there is not enough youth to support the retiring citizens, but that youth is also deemed to be less competent and irresponsible compared to older generations.
While Western liberal secularism has come to be ridiculed as yet another form of a repressive organized religion, it seems that the Japanese have figured out a way to truly live as they wish. Where else would you find someone who is born within one religion, marries under entirely different customs, and dies as a member of a third religion? Although Shinto is Japan’s indigenous religion (or, more precisely, spirituality), with most births registered with Shinto shrines, the population follows Buddhist and Christian practices as well. Japan is a role model for tolerance in our increasingly polarized world.
Shinto in Japan
Shinto, literally meaning “Way of Gods,” is Japan’s indigenous religion. You will come across several denominations of Shinto in Japan. The most widespread is Shrine Shinto followed by Folk Shinto and Sect Shinto. The imperial family of Japan follows its own brand of Shinto known as the Imperial Household Shinto. Much of the Shinto religion in Japan has been influenced by Buddhist practices. Ko-Shinto, or “Old Shinto” aims to follow the original Shinto prior to the introduction of Buddhism.
Buddhism in Japan
In Japan, you will find mainly three forms of Buddhism: Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is most common. Nara Buddhism is practiced in some parts of the country, though not as much as Mahayana. With the arrival of Buddhism in the sixth century, both Shinto and Buddhism were practiced in tandem. However, in 1886, the two were separated as part of the Meiji Restoration. In this separation, Shinto got the status of the official religion. Today, when they pass away, the Japanese choose to be cremated according to Buddhist rituals. In general, they use Shinto for events relating to life, while Buddhism is for events pertaining to death and the afterlife.
Christianity in Japan
Christianity was introduced in Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Toyotomi Hideyoshi of the Momoyama period imposed a ban on Christian missionaries, but the ban was withdrawn during the Meiji Restoration in 1873 and missionaries again started spreading their message. Western Japan has been most heavily influenced by Christianity, though Christian weddings are emerging as a prominent alternate to traditional Shinto wedding ceremonies throughout Japan. Wedding chapels are even being designed as churches. The Japanese also celebrate other Christian holidays and traditions such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
A snowy white wonderland may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japan travel (perhaps except the snowy peak of Mt. Fuji). The less-visited northern island of Hokkaido, however, proudly hosts the annual Sapporo Snow Festival of Japan. The festival takes place in the city of Sapporo on the first week of February every year. The event is one of the largest snow festivals and is famous around the world for its ice sculpture competition. Every year, thousands of artists visit Sapporo to flaunt their skills in an attempt to win valuable prizes. Top notch artists participate in the event, so you can expect to see some of the most elaborate artworks made entirely of snow and ice. The artistic snow sculptures are so large and complex that many of them are constructed with the assistance of the military.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is among the largest winter events in Japan. There are several foreign teams that come to Japan to participate as well. The Japanese therefore considered it a great way to improve international relations. Around two million people come to enjoy distinctive ice sculptures and artworks made from ice and snow. Every year, the event has a new theme or several subjects. Usually the the theme is based upon a famous building or person who sparked sensation in the previous year.
These events take place in several regions within Sapporo. Satoland (or Satorando in Japanese pronunciation) is the first region of Sapporo where the festival is held. It was first added in 2006 to the list. Satoland is the only site which is not located in the central part of the city. Besides admiring the ice sculptures there, you can also enjoy a ride in a hot air balloon. Odori Koen is another area where you can take part in the magical happenings of the Sapporo Snow Festival. It is practically a huge playground in the central part of the city. Susukino is the nightlife area of Sapporo and also hosts the festival. It’s recommended to go visit Susukino on the first day of the festival to witness the sculptures being carved with power tools such as chainsaws.
As the light turns green it yields way to a vast army of drones in black suits, neckties, and black leather shoes. They walk carrying black suitcases, while wiping away with neatly folded handkerchiefs the unstoppable sweat that drips from their emotionless faces. The majority of them were most likely heavily drinking the previous evening up until the final train home, just to wake up several hours later with their gear set in automatic for the same daily routine. My amused smile vanishes as I am forced back into reality when I look down to see the same black leather shoes, black suit and a small sweat stain gathering on my buttoned shirt. My head pounding, wondering “How do they do this,” I squeeze myself into the Tokyo Metro train along with the horde of Japanese “Salary-men.”
Salary-men is a term used for people in Japan who hold salary-based white-collar jobs. This title is reserved usually for men, and women in similar positions go by “career woman” or, if they hold pink-collar jobs, “OL” – Office Lady. Salary-men can be categorized into three groups – Junior, Mid-Management, and Senior – yet they all share the same stressful and brave lifestyle. A Salary-man’s job is not a 9 to 5 job. A Salary-man’s job is a Salary-man’s life, and he is on call 365 days a year. He works hard and strives relentlessly towards promotions and bonuses. Albeit better working conditions in modern companies, Salary-men traditionally work for about thirteen hours a day with a quick half an hour lunch break. In the good old days, there weren’t any cigarette breaks either, as smoking was allowed in the office. Traditionally, Japanese Salary-men are committed to one company in hopes of reaching a senior level someday, but nowadays they tend to move horizontally (or diagonally if lucky) in the corporate ladder. The higher they go, the more their responsibilities grow, along with their wardrobe expenses.
But surely the Salary-man gets to go home and relax after a long day at work? The office and the company is not just a day-job; as I mentioned, it’s the Salary-man’s life. After working hours, his corporate life simply becomes his social life, as co-workers (including bosses) go out frequently for food and drinks (mainly drinks) – whether on special occasions or simply to unwind. The partying could go up to the last train home, and even beyond. Though when morning comes, it’s a fresh set of clothes and a straight face. It’s no surprise that one research even shows that most of the marriages in Japan are between office co-workers.
“Obon” is a very important Japanese festival and forms a vital part of Japan’s tradition and culture. Japanese Mythology holds that during this time the ancestral spirits come back to visit and re-unite with their families. During Obon people pray to bring peace to the spirits of dead members of their families. Many who live away from their hometowns return to their families to celebrate this festival.
Since the Japanese used to follow the lunar calendar and changed to the Gregorian calendar during the Meiji era, Obon today is celebrated at different times throughout Japan: On the fifteenth day of the 7th month according to the lunar calendar, July 15th according to the solar calendar, and August 15th, also according to the solar calendar, which is the most widespread date. In the Tokyo area celebrations start on July 15th and the festive season extends all the way to August 15th.
There is a custom of cleaning the houses and presenting the spirits of the dead with various fruits and vegetables. “Chochin” lamps are lit and flowers are arranged at the “Butsudan,” personal Buddhist cabinet shrines found in many Japanese homes. The first day of the festival is generally celebrated by lighting these lamps inside the houses and then visiting the ancestors’ graves to invite them home. On the last day of Obon the spirits are “brought back” to their graves along with the family crest.
For travelers in Japan, the most entertaining part of these festivities are the various types of folk dance performed. The styles vary from region to region but “Taiko” drums keep up the rhythm. Since the larger cities like Tokyo are relatively empty from those who visit their hometowns during Obon, it’s best to travel around and stop by shrines and parks in different regions where the Japanese gather in their traditional “Yukata” dress and dance in a circle around the “Yagura” stages. Besides, July-August in Tokyo is almost unbearably hot and humid.