Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Kimono Girls on Japan’s Coming of Age Day – a Dying Tradition?

Japan’s Coming of Age Day
Kimono-Clad Girls a dying tradition?

Kimono-Clad Girls at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo on Coming of Age Day
D.Weber
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 their decorative kimono with the long-sleeves called furisode. While most young men wore suits, there were a few here and there that 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 kimono. Girls ages 3 and 7 and boys aged 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 kimono 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 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.

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.

D.Weber

The price of kimono has risen sharply over the years especially handmade ones. A number of the furisode kimono 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 make-over with hair styling can run up to a thousand dollars. The appointments have be made months in advance.

Kimono-Clad Girls become celebrities for one day
D.Weber

Why all the hassle and expense?

D.Weber

“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…

D.Weber

“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.”

(from A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan – Fashioning Cultural Identity: Body and Dress by Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni)

Kimono-Clad Girls entering Meiji Shrine
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.

D.Weber

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
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.

D.Weber
Hopefully not the last of the Coming of Age Kimono-Clad girls

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January 21, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, Coming of Age Day, culture, event, furisode, japan, kimono, life, Meiji, meiji shrine, photographs, seijin-no-hi, tokyo, tradition, traditional art, travel | 7 Comments

New Year’s Eve At A Japanese Shrine in Tokyo

New Year’s Eve at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine
Visitors brave the cold and sometimes snow for New Year’s blessings

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Entrance Torii Gate to Meiji Shrine

Every year around the New Year, millions of Japanese visit temples and shrines to pray for health and good fortune for the coming year.

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Crowd of visitors braving the cold weather

Typically Buddhist temples are visited on New Year’s Eve and Shinto shrines on New Year’s Day. With Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Tokyo, thousands of visitors descend close to the midnight hour to get a jump start on getting in their New Year blessings.

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A Snow-topped Chozuya for washing one’s hands and mouth

Meiji Shrine enshrines the spirit of the Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) and his wife, Empress Shoken (1850-1914) and was constructed in 1920. It was burned down in the air raids of WWII and rebuilt in 1958. Unlike the ostentatious Toshogo Shrine in Nikko, Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park is simple and austere in the traditional style of Shinto architecture.

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Visitors washing their hands and mouth with cold water

Two years ago a small snowstorm deposited several centimeters of snow on New Year’s Eve bringing the temperature down quite low. Still in the hour before midnight, Yoyogi Park was filled with visitors willing to risk the cold in order to pray for good health for next year – though staying at home probably would have been more effective for that.

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Crowds gathered at a Torii gate awaiting entrance

The police cordoned us off into separate small hordes and escorted us one slow agonizing step at a time.

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The gatehouse to Meiji Shrine all lit up

When they at long last reached the main shrine, people would throw coins then clap their hands together and pray.

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Hordes of visitors pray for a good New Year’s

From there visitors exit the main compound where they can stock up on good luck charms sold at the shrine’s stalls. Wooden prayer boards called ema can be purchased with the year’s animal painted on one side. Purchasers will write on the back their hopes and wishes and leave them at the shrine.

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Visitors exiting the main shrine compound

Meiji Shrine is a great place to visit early for New Year’s Eve but if you come late don’t expect a free champagne toast while you’re waiting in line.

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Shrine workers selling New Year’s charms

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Hot food for a cold night

December 30, 2006 Posted by | Blogroll, japan, life, Meiji, New Years, Shinto, tokyo, travel | Leave a comment

Bunka-no-Hi: Japanese Culture Day

Japan’s Culture Day Keeps Traditions Alive


Martial arts demonstrators sparring in sight of the Shinjuku Building on Culture Day.

In this fast-paced modern world of whizzing beeping flashing technology where people rush hurriedly about to keep up with these fast-changing times, it’s all too easy to forget the traditions and customs of earlier slower times. Japan’s efforts to keep a tenuous cultural link to its past is the national holiday known simply as Culture Day (Bunka-no-hi).

Culture Day (Nov. 3) was originally a holiday to celebrate the birth date of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912). After his death, his birthday was designated as Culture Day, a day in which cultural arts are honored.


A mother and 3-year old daughter dressed in Kimono visit Meiji Shrine

Honoring Imperial birthdays is a relatively new tradition. For long centuries, the Emperor was a shadowy figure controlled by the military dictators known as Shogun and before them the regents and ministers of the Imperial court.

Emperor Meiji was the first emperor in a long, long time to emerge from the shadows to reclaim the power and dignity of the Imperial family. The Shogun government was abolished in 1868, and Japan began its advancement into the modern world.


Yabusame archer prepares himself for the next target

Culture Day also marks the day when the post-war constitution was officially announced — Nov. 3, 1946.


Kendo competition

Every year the Emperor awards individuals for their endeavors and accomplishments in the cultural arts or academic pursuits. The Order of Culture is one of the highest honors to be given from the Emperor. These awards are not limited to Japanese citizens, however. The American astronauts who first landed on the moon in 1969 received the Order of Culture.


Old and new come together

All over Japan many cities and villages put together various art and cultural presentations such as historical re-enactments, parades, festivals, martial arts demonstration, etc. Quite a number of adults and children will wear kimonos and visit shrines and temples. Traditional Japanese weddings are popularly held on this day too.


A female Yabusame archer

Meiji Shrine which enshrines the spirit of Emperor Meiji, holds a number of events on Culture Day. Various martial arts are demonstrated using wooden and steel weapons. The mounted archery ritual known as Yabusame is performed as well. Yabusame involves an archer riding a fast horse along a narrow track while shooting arrows at two or three targets. In the past Yabusame was only performed by Samurai, but now women participate in the ritual as well. This shows that Culture Day is not some inflexible stuffy holiday designed to resist change but rather that it is adaptable to the changing times.


Youth practicing their skills and disclipline

On the grounds where the old Shogun Castle once stood, a kendo competition was held this Culture Day at the Budokan Hall. This is where the Beatles played when they toured Japan back in their heyday. Kendo is a traditional martial arts based on the samurai fencing schools of the past in which the participants garbed in armor from head to waist fight with swords of bamboo.


It’s a nice day for a white wedding at Meiji Shrine.

Whatever its origins, a Culture Day holiday is a wonderful idea. The modern world needs such days to reflect on the cultures of the past by both learning from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them and keeping traditional arts alive to be passed down to future generations.

Kendo
“The Way of the Sword”

Kendo is one of the oldest traditional martial arts still practiced by many in Japan. It derives from the old schools of sword fencing that samurai attended to improve themselves both physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Today many top Kendoka (practitioners of Kendo) are police officers. It’s a rather expensive pastime to get into, as the equipment all told can run upwards in the thousands of dollars.

Kendoka use split bamboo swords and wear armor that covers most of their body. The most recognizable feature of their armor is the cage-like face mask. In competition earning points is quite difficult, as a Kendoka must demonstrate a perfect attack with sword, body, and spirit.

November 18, 2006 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, culture day, festival, horses, japan, karate, Kendo, life, martial arts, matsuri, Meiji, samurai, Sport, tokyo, travel, Yabusame | 12 Comments