Coming of Age
Even as we debate on the wisdom of allowing after-Sinulog street parties for young people who more often than not turn unruly when drunk, Japan has long been taking a serious look at their youth.
So seriously, in fact, that a national holiday, which falls today, has been formally observed there since 1948 just to welcome young people into maturity or adulthood.
That holiday, called Seijin no Hi or Coming-of-Age Day, will see young people who turned 20 between April 2 last year and April 1 this year, troop to schools and city or municipal halls in their best traditional attires this morning. There they will listen to speeches about taking responsibility and being self-reliant. For this is the day those when 20-year-olds can now drink and smoke legally while finally deciding on their own about what they want to do or to be.
Unlike in the Philippines, where our age of majority is 18 and we turn 18 without any national festivity, the Japanese have apparently always taken certain stages in life seriously in traditions that is supposed to go back centuries. According to China Daily, when they turned 15, Japanese boys during the Edo Period (1608-1868) supposedly cut their hair and began wearing swords while girls who turned 13 dyed their teeth black.
My good friend, Dr. Lawrence Liao, a Cebuano Tsinoy who teaches at Hiroshima University, reminded me last week about this Japanese holiday and I went musing on whether something like this is worth a try in our country.
The closest analogy I can find to such coming-of-age observances is our own summer ‘ritual’ for boys called tuli, when those between the ages of five and ten years get circumcised, often in a traumatic way, because their parents (unlike mine) did not have the courage to have them circumcised on the day they were born. (Thankfully, all of us male siblings and cousins were circumcised a day or two after birth.)
But this tuli event pales in comparison with Seijin no Hi. Nobody gives speeches at the health center extolling on the virtues of the circumcised (as opposed to the uncut) in regard to nation-building and taking responsibility. On the contrary, with nervousness pervading the atmosphere, I doubt if any of Filipino boys about to be cut will hear nor comprehend anything told to them. Besides I seriously doubt whether the condition of the sex organ has something to do with being a responsible citizen.
Anyway, speaking of Japanese holidays, notice also that this is not the only holiday dealing with the young in Japan. There used to be a Girls Day, celebrated every March 3rd, and a Boys Day every May 5th, when dolls appropriate to the occasion would be displayed in houses or given to children. All those dolls that one sees at Japanese Surplus Shops, especially the multi-tiered one with a prince and princess at the top, are the most concrete manifestation of Girls Day while the half-size samurai yoroi or armor surrounded with a mini taiko drum, a bow with arrows and a small katana (Samurai sword) replica were given to boys on their holiday. Nowadays the March 3rd holiday has been retained and is designated as the National Children’s Day. Again, we have nothing equivalent to such holidays.
Why the Japanese devote holidays specific to the replacement generation tells you a lot about that country. It is clear that the Japanese take their future seriously, especially now that the replacement generation, the generation that will follow the present, is dwindling in population. And we must take notice of this phenomenon.
In my first visit to Japan way back in 1986 as part of the Friendship Programme for the 21st Century, we were told in a pre-departure orientation as well as in my subsequent readings about the country, that Japanese society was a collective one: a single nation speaking only one single language, group-oriented people that think of the nation first and the individual last. Nothing can be more contrasting than ours: a country with a multitude of languages with a highly personalistic and individualistic culture that thinks of family first then God and the country way down at the bottom.
Despite such a unified society or perhaps because of it, the older generation in Japan has to seriously attend to the next and prepare them for the future. Of course, young people will have their own way of celebrating today’s holiday in an orgy of drunkenness tonight but, writ large, one can actually appreciate what the Japanese government is doing through this holiday: it wants to drive home the importance of ensuring a proper replacement generation by declaring a holiday specific to this purpose.
Maybe we too can add this holiday to our short list of holidays (of course not necessarily in January) in the same manner: ensuring that young people take notice of their tasks in nation-building and recognize that they actually hold the future of this country.
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