While Americans are often considered adults at the age of 18, the wait is a little longer in Japan.
On Sunday, Jan. 15 at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, Japanese-American 20-year-olds and their families from the area came together to celebrate “Seijin-shiki” or “Coming-of-Age ceremony.”
In Japan, it is believed that adulthood is reached when someone turns 20 years old and, on the second Monday of January after their 20th birthday, seijin — “sei” means “becoming” and “jin” means “person” — are honored on a special holiday called “Seijin-no-hi” or “Coming-of-Age Day.”
“Becoming an adult is a state of mind where you truly become your own person,” said Megumi Haskin, president of the Japanese In America (JIA) Foundation, which started Seijin-shiki U.S.A., an annual event in its fourth year. “This year’s Seijin-shiki U.S.A. is especially meaningful as we get to come together in person and celebrate.”
For Japanese-American seijin in King County and the greater-Seattle area, the event was filled with traditional Japanese attire, a look back on the last two decades, special messages, a guest speaker and a performance by the University of Washington Taiko Kai, an ensemble of traditional Japanese drum performers. For this year’s ceremony, those born between January 2001 and March 2003 were invited to register.
Traditionally, female seijin dress in a special, colorful kimono with longer sleeves called “furisode” and shoes called zori. Male seijin wear a more muted haori and wide-legged pants called hakama. While many wore traditional Japanese attire to the seijin-shiki, most seijin wore more modern, but still elegant, clothes. Yu Ugawa, a kimono master, gave a demonstration on how to properly wear traditional Japanese clothing and showed what a more modern kimono can look like. This was modeled on the event emcee Natalie Newcomb, an announcer and producer for KUOW.
Seijin-shiki has been celebrated in Japan since the Nara Period roughly 1,300 years ago. Here in Washington, the ceremony is a special way to celebrate what it means to be Japanese-American and to give encouragement to seijin as they look to the future.
Along with a speech from Maki Kawamura, senior consul of the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle, two video messages were presented at the ceremony — one from Karate champion Sakura Kokumai and the other from film/video game composer Kazuma Jinnouchi — who gave words of encouragement as “senpai” to the seijin. As described during the ceremony, senpai means someone who is older, is considered a mentor or simply someone that others look up to.
The third senpai, who was able to speak in-person, was Shinji Maeda, also known as “Japan’s first one-eyed pilot.” Maeda spoke about how he missed his own seijin-shiki due to a motorcycle accident which caused him to lose his eye and how he was still able to become a pilot.
“Don’t let other people decide what you can do,” Maeda said.
Two seijin — Iona Hillman and Miki Kusunose — also gave speeches. Hillman and Kusunose spoke of their experiences as Japanese-Americans and the importance of finding community with other people like them. Hillman said she would find herself being considered too Japanese or too American, depending on which country she was in. Kusunose spoke about different reactions to his name and said he’s proud to be Japanese-American.
“I read Murakami in English and Harry Potter in Japanese,” he said.