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The following articles were originally published in The Shelbyville News in the column “Letters Home:  A Hoosier in Japan.”



Send questions and comments to me at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com.

Book Description

Letters Home

What types of holidays do Japanese people celebrate? What is the educational system like in Japan? What are Japanese festivals like? What are some of the customs and traditions of the Japanese people? Professor Todd Jay Leonard, writing from the perspective of living and working in Japan, provides in this fascinating book the answers to these and many other questions.
Letters Home: Musings of an American Expatriate Living in Japan delivers a firsthand account of daily Japanese life through the eyes and personal experiences of Professor Leonard who has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with Japan and the Japanese people for nearly twenty-five years. 

This anecdotal book of essays, written in the style of personal letters, offers commentary on a wide range of topics and issues including culture, history, education, language, society, and religion of modern Japan from the point-of-view of an American expatriate who has made Japan his home. 

The author’s friendly, down-to-earth, yet authoritative, style of writing will transport you to modern Japan, where you will learn about the customs and traditions of this most fascinating country. This book can be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in learning about Japan and its people.http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-Musings-American-Expatriate/dp/0595283098/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299907225&sr=1-2

Youths have big celebration upon ‘coming of age’


Every year, on the second Monday of January, Japanese young people from all over the archipelago attend a ceremony to mark their “coming of age” into adulthood — “sei jin no hi.”

On this day, young people (who turned the age of 20 over the past calendar year) dress up in their finest clothes — women in elaborate kimono and men mostly in dark business suits.

The men will wear these same suits to interview for jobs once they graduate from university, and women who choose to purchase a kimono and obi (sash) often wear it as one of the formal changes a bride makes on her wedding day.

Many women, however, opt to rent a kimono for the day instead of incurring the huge expense to buy one for this ceremony. The kimono is worn so seldom nowadays that many women rent kimonos for this day, their graduation day and for their wedding day.

Taking into account the entire cost of the rental fees for the various occasions, although quite dear, it is still cheaper than personally buying a high-grade pure silk kimono with an embroidered silk obi.

Municipalities all over Japan hold celebrations for the new adults with speeches by city dignitaries, receptions and formal group photos. Young people return to their hometowns for the celebration, meeting up with old classmates to celebrate their adulthood together.

In recent years some changes have been made to attract more young people to attend these gatherings, because interest in such activities has waned over the years. Traditionally, the speeches were sermon-like, pontificating about the importance of adulthood and the responsibility each new adult had to society.

A few years ago the situation was so bad at one ceremony in a smalltown that a confrontation between the speaker and the attendees occurred, which is quite rare in Japan.

The young adults were so bored that they began to chat loudly with each other and on their cell phones, causing the speaker to lash out with a tirade against the young adults, chastising them for their rude behavior. They booed him off the stage.

At another ceremony, some boys engaged in tomfoolery by setting off firecrackers during the speech, which caused a huge ruckus.

Recently, city offices around Japan have tried to update their activities to not only attract a higher number of young people to attend but to make it more interesting for them by inviting more trendy speakers.

Young people today need to be entertained, I suppose, having been raised with technological gadgets and instantaneous gratification from overindulgent parents.

Certainly the same is true in America. The younger generation needs more bells and whistles to hold their interest for more than a few minutes; an old-fashioned dog-and-pony show just doesn’t cut it in the new millennium.

Historically, the Coming of Age Ceremony has been observed in Japan since about the 7th century.

Originally there was no particular age, but boys who reached the height of about 4.5 feet would embrace more mature, adult-like hairstyles and clothing; also they would receive adult names. This usually occurred anywhere between the ages of 10 to 16 with the ceremony being held at the discretion of the family.

After the ceremony, the boy was considered to be a member of adult society, allowing him to participate in adult affairs, including religious ceremonies and even marriage. Girls had a similar ceremony, usually between the ages of 12 to 16.

Today, adulthood in Japan occurs at the age of 20. At this age, Japanese young adults can legally vote, drink alcohol, smoke tobacco and gamble (Japanese young people are eligible to drive at the age of 18).

A popular tradition on Coming of Age Day is to visit a shrine or temple. Many years ago, I happened to be in Tokyo on this national holiday and visited Asakusa Shrine in central Tokyo.

Groups of young men in suits and kimono clad women were scurrying up and down the narrow street leading to the shrine. Along this street, traditional shops line both sides. The young adults were buying mementos, like amulets and talismans, to commemorate their visit to this well-known shrine.

This was a unique experience to see so many young people in their Sunday finest bantering about the shrine excited at being a full-fledged adult. I imagine the feeling is not too much unlike that of a Hoosier young adult turning 18 and graduating from high school, experiencing for the first time the responsibility of being “grown-up,” at least in the eyes of society.

One difference, though, is that the American young adult has to wait another three years in most states to be able to have a drink legally — in Japan, all rights and privileges of adulthood are give in one flail swoop at the age of 20.



Monday, January 16, 2006

Two 20-year-old women who just celebrated Coming of Age Day, the second Monday in January, are shopping for mementos to mark the occasion. They are wearing fanciful mufflers around their necks to stay warm in the cold air. Submitted Photo