Coming-of-Age (Turning 20 in Japan)

Looking back four years ago…

January 14th, 2008. It was Japan’s annual Coming-of-Age Day for everyone who had turned 20 that year. Turning 20 means you are a legal adult and are allowed to smoke, drink, and vote. The day is always on the second Monday in January and it is, surprisingly, a national holiday. No work or school! And that year, that group of young people included me!

I was actually in Japan on my 20th birthday. It was one of the most memorable birthdays of my life. My dad happened to be in Tokyo at the EXACT same time, on a business trip. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. We met in front of Takadanobaba station the morning of the 18th and moved me into my new digs, the Waseda International Student Dormitory. He helped me unpack and it felt a little bit like freshman year all over again, except that had been my mom who had helped me move. After getting my moving in taken care of, we went to the Meiji shrine to walk around. The Meiji shrine is my dad’s favorite place in Tokyo. Whenever I go there, I can imagine that he is with me.

 

DSC06541Waiting for the train at Roppongi station

We went shopping and also explored Waseda campus before I had to go to a dorm-welcoming-shindig. To this day my dad still remembers me, teary-eyed, asking him to wait for me while I met my new dorm-mates for an hour or so. I didn’t want him to leave me just yet. He was so amazing and patient with me, saying that he would take a walk while I met people. Later, I met him again and we went to an Indian restaurant on Waseda Road near my dorm and had our last dinner. After dinner I stood on the sidewalk and watched him go down Waseda Road (to the station) until I could not see him anymore. He turned around three times to wave to me and was gone. I walked back to my dorm to catch the tail-end of the welcoming shindig and thus my year in Tokyo began.

What a way to turn 20.

That December I received a letter from the Shinjuku Ward (a ward/division of Tokyo), inviting me to the Shinjuku coming-of-age ceremony. It was to be held at the Keio Plaza Hotel! I was really excited because I had thought that I wouldn’t be able to participate in such a thing, being non-Japanese. But I guess my resident status in Shinjuku granted me an invitation nevertheless!

Japan has a different system of counting the years, begun when the Edo era ended in 1868. It corresponds with the reign of an emperor. The first year that the Meiji emperor reigned was called Meiji 1. And then when the Meiji emperor died in 1912 and the Taisho emperor took the throne, this year was known as both Meiji 45 and Taisho 1. Now we are in the Heisei era, Heisei 24 to be exact.

2008 was Heisei 20, which was a particularly auspicious year for people coming of age in Japan. They were 20 and the Heisei year was also 20! Pretty neat, actually.

A couple of my other friends from my international dormitory in Waseda were invited (they were 20 years old as well), so we went together. We took the train from Takadanobaba to Shinjuku (which is insanely close—it usually took about 30 minutes to walk to Shinjuku station from my dorm, but we took the train since we were wearing stupid fancy shoes that day).

 

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And then we arrived at the hotel. I had never been inside the Keio Plaza Hotel before. In previous years, I usually took the highway bus from Narita Airport to the Keio Plaza (where my host sister would pick me up with her car). But I had never gone inside. It is a rather large and fancy hotel, the fanciest I had visited in a while. We followed the hoards of young Japanese people and found the ballroom of the ceremony.

 

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Heisei 20 Coming-Of-Age Day [Get-together of Twenty] <—bad translation of that last part
Host: Shinjuku Ward
JET participants will remember this room very well…

 

The details of the ceremony itself are a little blurry to me now, but I remember a little. Of course there were a few guest speakers, along with the mayor of Shinjuku, Hiroko Nakayama. I met her! (And I am also incredibly tall. Ahem.)

 

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We had a huge KAMPAI (CHEERS). With non-alcoholic drinks:

 

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And the feasting and picture-taking commenced.

 

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I was really surprised at how fancy everything was, especially for something that was free. It seemed to me that this was a really big deal. It was also a big party. Everyone was just having a good time and I was admiring all of the girls’ outfits.

And now back to the present…

All of these memories came floating back to me on Monday, the day of this year’s coming-of-age ceremony.

This year’s ceremony held a lot of sadness for many people who had lost loved ones in the earthquake-disaster. I was watching TV and several people were carrying around photos of their friends who would have been with them at the ceremony. This country has been through a lot in the past year and it still effects everyone’s daily lives.

Hang in there, Japan.

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One Comment to “Coming-of-Age (Turning 20 in Japan)”

  1. You look simply stunning in these photos! Your face, your smile, your everything. Wow, to be 20 again, eh?

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