A Wedding And A Coming of Age, Japanese-style
All societies celebrate marriage and acknowledge it officially in one way or another. But how many acknowledge equally officially the coming of age of their young people? Conversation with young Japanese guests at a wedding today has set me thinking….
We had a very happy time today. A lovely friend from Japan, Minako (who is our HOPES volunteer) married her art-enthusiast Ian right here in Liverpool. Rarely have I seen a more cosmpolitan and relaxed gathering, as we all celebrated with the beaming couple. There were friends and family from Japan, Hong Kong, Spain, Italy, Canada, Romania, Turkey, Malaysia, Germany and many other places, alongside an impressive diversity of home-grown Scousers and other Brits.
It was a great day for us all to share – the sort of occasion where one makes new friends with amazing ease – and, as always at such celebrations, there were plenty of nice surprises as well as the treats we had hoped for and looked forward to.
Chatting with young visitors
For me one of these treats was the opportunity to talk with young guests from several corners of the globe, amongst them a Japanese student who told me about the ceremony she next hoped to be part of – the Seijin Shiki or Japanese Coming of Age ceremony.
This was a surprise, the first I’d ever heard of such an event. I gather it is eagerly anticipated by the participants, all young people in each town who will reach the age of twenty in the current school year (April – March). The date used always to be 15 January, but since 1999 it has been on the second Monday of January. Twenty was set as the age of adulthood in 1948; before that age young people may not now smoke, drink or vote.
A civic event
Seijin Shiki is an event organised by the officials of each town. All eligible young people are invited to a morning ceremony where they are welcomed to adulthood and reminded of their new rights and responsibilities.
Many young men I gather now wear ‘normal’ day suits, but the women still often choose traditional dress for the occasion, the furisode, which is a style of kimono, sometimes passed from mother to daughter and often worn only for this event and on their wedding day (as Minako did today, looking wonderful).
Siejin Shiki is a special day and is marked by most young people as just that, before finishing in celebrations of a less civic sort, in the style of young people at a party the world over.
Different meanings for different people
Like every other formally marked celebration anywhere, I gather this event has different meanings for different people. For some it is simply a way to have a good chat, all dressed up, with old school friends; for others it apparently sometimes offers an opportunity to make a point about how they think the new voters should position themselves politically; and no doubt for another group it’s just an excuse for a party, regardless.
Whatever, and of course with safeguards, it’s in principle a very positive idea.
Perhaps few of us in Britain do enough to make young people feel they are partners in our social fabric, people with an entitlement and an obligation to take a stakehold in society. We criticise and carp, but do we welcome young people as they enter adulthood? I think we could, and very probably should, do better.
The way I found out about this was that I went to a lovely wedding and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was really nice to share the celebration with so many and varied friends old and new, and we all wish Minako and Ian the very best for their future together in Liverpool.
In Britain we do seem to know how to acknowledge and celebrate marriage, and I hope that our visitors from Japan and elsewhere would agree about that, though our style may be very different from how it’s done in their own countries.
But what I’m far less sure about is that we know as a society how to celebrate young people and the meanings attached to their coming of age. As families and friends of course we do it well; as a civic and democratic society we perhaps have a lot we could learn from our friends in Japan.