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Japan: Coming of Age Day 2008
Are kimono-clad girls a dying tradition?
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2008-01-22 04:16 (KST)   
Kimono-clad girls at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo on Coming of Age Day.
©2008 D. Weber

©2008 D. Weber
It was the second Monday of January and once again Japan's new adults were out and about enjoying their new-found adulthood on the national holiday of Seijin-no-Hi: Coming of Age Day. Many young women sported decorative kimonos with the long-sleeves called furisode. While most young men wore suits, a few here and there wore the formal male kimono known as a hakama.

Japan especially likes marking the ages of its populace and Seijin-no-Hi is no exception. In November, the little ones are all decked out in pretty kimonos. Girls age 3 and 7 and boys age 5 are honored every year on the Shinto holiday, Shichi-Go-San. Another national holiday is Keiro-no-Hi, in September, which is Respect for Elders Day.

As for Seijin-no-Hi, the national holiday is only a little over half-a-century old having started in 1948. Now the focus is mainly on the young women in their stunning kimonos while the boys get second billing. In the past, however, the emphasis was on the boys. Young men had two coming of age celebrations in which they would change their names. At age 12 and 16, they would individually go through their own private special ceremonies. For samurai households, this was a big deal with much pomp and ceremony.

©2008 D. Weber

Kimono-clad girls become celebrities for one day.
©2008 D. Weber
As I usually do every Seijin-no-Hi, I went to Tokyo's Meiji Shrine, which serves as a magnet for kimono-clad girls and avid photographers. Meiji Shrine's courtyard was packed with people. Disappointingly, most of them were visitors and photo-hunting photographers. Occasionally, the dull visage of the monotonous fashion of the throng would be broken up with the arrival of brilliantly colored kimono-clad girls either alone or in small groups. A declining population, rising kimono prices and a growing disinterest in traditional culture has led to fewer sightings of Seijin-no-Hi's main attraction.

The price of a kimono has risen sharply over the years especially handmade ones. A number of the furisode kimonos worn on Seijin-no-Hi are family hand-me-downs, rented or pre-made from China. The overall cost can be quite staggering. A full-fledged new furisode can be as much as $10,000. And the accompanying beauty makeover with hair styling can run up to $1,000. The appointments have to be made months in advance.

©2008 D. Weber

©2008 D. Weber
Why all the hassle and expense?

According to Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni, in "A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan -- Fashioning Cultural Identity: Body and Dress,"

For the parents it is their desire. From the day a girl is born they have the desire to dress her in furisode when she becomes 20 in the seijin shiki, take her picture and send it to relatives as custom requires. In some cases, the mother herself also wore a furisode she received from her mother in her seijin shiki.

If they have the possibility of dressing their daughter in a Y1,000,000-kimono it is proof that they have worked hard all their lives and can afford it. It is the result of their life work. But the girls do not always understand their parents' feelings and they say they would prefer a car.
Kimono-clad Girls entering Meiji Shrine.
©2008 D. Weber

©2008 D. Weber
A growing percentage of young women are opting for evening gowns, which while still expensive are far less expensive than the furisode and more practical.

At Meiji Shrine, two girls attracted their fair share of attention by their bold mixing of traditional fashion with modern goth chic. For footwear, they eschewed the normal sandals and tabi socks for trendy boots. One of them sported a red heart shaped bag while the other had a death's head dangling from hers. One of them had braided hair and the other's hair was short with a streak of red running through it.

A bold mixture of modern and traditional.
©2008 D. Weber

©2008 D. Weber
In this reporter's humble opinion, I hope that the tradition of wearing the furisode kimono continues. Evening gowns are a dime a dozen throughout the world but the wearing of the furisode kimono is a unique Japanese phenomenon.

For more, watch a pictorial montage of Seijin-no-Hi from 2006-2008 taken at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. The shrine holds an archery ritual, which is pictured here, known as Momote Shiki in honor of the new adults.

The music is by The Sushi Cabaret Club, a band based in Nagoya, Japan.

Hopefully not the last of the Coming of Age kimono-clad girls.
©2008 D. Weber
©2008 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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