its white flag waving over everything
Around 2 weeks ago, Japan celebrated the Seijin no Hi (coming of age day), and i thought this would make a good follow-up to last week’s post on Shichi Go San.
Seijin no Hi is held on the 2nd Monday of January every year, and celebrates the fact that 20-years-old have reached the age of majority in Japan and are making their first steps in adulthood. After turning 20, Japanese people:
- have the right to vote
- become eligible for financial loans
- can drink alcohol
- can smoke
On the other hand, the driving license for ordinary cars can be obtained after turning 18 years old.
The day is a national holiday, and young Japanese turning 20 during the year will be dressed formally for the occasion and visit the City hall where they are registered. If girls are still wearing traditional furisode (sort of kimonos, with distinguishable falling long sleeves) most of the boys nowadays dress up with Western style suits.
Optionally, those who desire can also go to the shrine to make a prayer for their passage into adulthood, as i could see at the Meiji Jingu, which was still very crowded with people coming to pray for the new year.
Shichi-Go-San (literally 7-5-3) is a Shinto ritual in Japan, during which 3-and-7-year-old girls and 5-year-old boys go to the shrine with their parents, to perform a purification rite and be presented to Ujigami, the Shinto guardian for good health. This is the occasion for those children to dress-up, sometimes for the first time, in traditional kimonos, which makes this tradition a must-see for foreigners, whose eyes will be pleased by the bright colors and countless types of patterns on the children’s traditional clothes.
The official date for the ritual is the 15th of November every year, but most families will go during the week-end around that date, since family with working parents cannot go on the specific day. If you happen to be in Japan around those dates, it is definitely a sight you don’t want to miss!
You can see the Shichi Go San in any shrine wherever you are in Japan, but two of the most popular (and crowded) spots on that day I know in Tokyo and can particularly recommend are the Meiji Jingu and the Yasukuni Jinja.
If in the West Christmas is more a “family day” while New Year’s eve is usually more enjoyed with friends, it is fair to say that the situation is reversed in Japan. Indeed, many Japanese go back to their hometown to visit their family during this period.
After Christmas, kadomatsu, decorative arrangements of typically bamboo shoots and pine sprigs tied together, are placed in pairs in front of homes and offices, and will remain there for around 2 weeks, to welcome the toshigami (spirit of the new year). The bamboo is said to symbolize growth and strength, while the pine represents longevity.
Though it is popular to watch music shows on TV on new year’s eve, with genres varying from enka to J-Pop, people traditionally visit the shrine or temple in their neighbourhood to listen to the Joya No Kane at midnight (giant bell ringing), pray, drink a cup of sake or buy a hamaya (sacred arrow bringing good fortune).
- Throw a coin in the designated box
- Ring the bell
- Bow 2 times
- Clap your hands two times
- Pray, and then bow one last time when you are done before leaving (some people will also clap one time)
Though in the past few years i visited the shrine at midnight on new year’s eve, i decided this year to go to the Hie Jinja on Sotobori Dori in the morning of the 1st of January, to avoid queuing in the coldness of the night (so i basically queued in the coldness of the day, since you simply can’t avoid queuing on such crowded days).
Back home, most Japanese will eat osechi ryori, that could be best described as a sort of luxurious bento. Traditionally, the osechi ryori will consist in a selection (or all) of the following dishes:
- Kuro-mame (black soybeans)
- Kazunoko (herring roes)
- Datemaki (sweet rolled omelette)
- Zoni (miso soup of mochi rice cake)
- Ebi (prawn)
- and many more depending on the regions/family traditions/personal tastes…