Does everyone dress crazy at Japan’s craziest Coming of Age Day ceremony?【Photos】
Every year all eyes are on the flashiest fashions at Kitakyushu, but there’s another side to the story.
In January, Japan holds Coming of Age Ceremonies, civic celebrations for residents who have or are about to turn 20, traditionally the age at which adulthood is considered to start in Japanese society. But while just about every city in the country has a Coming of Age Ceremony, none of the get as much attention as the one in the town of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture.
Over the years, Kitakyushu’s ceremony has become famous for the outlandish outfits many attendees wear, like the ones pictured above. Gaudy kimono, flashy suits, towering “regent” pompadours, sunglasses that still leave enough space around the eyebrows so everyone knows you’re showing a hard gangster-style glare – it’s like if you took the artwork from decades’ worth of yanki delinquent manga and somehow pulled the characters off the pages and into the real world.
We make it a point to stop by Kitakyushu’s Coming of Age Ceremony every year and be dazzled by the bold fashions on display, so we were at the venue last Sunday when the event took place. But while eyes and camera lenses are irresistibly drawn to the peacocking participants, do all of Kitakyushu’s new adults dress that way?
The answer is no. As a matter of fact, the majority of the male attendees are dressed in the standard formal attire for Japanese men: a neatly pressed suit in a low-key color, a crisply tied necktie, and maybe a simple overcoat to block out the January chill.
For the ladies, elegant furisode kimono, with the long, draping sleeves customarily worn by young women, are the norm.
And even among the guys who show up in kimono, not all of them are dressed in getups that look like something from the wardrobe of someone who’d call himself “Hell King Yamada” or “Thunder Fist Sakamoto.”
Among those who do dress up in gaudy outfits for Kitakyushu’s Coming of Age Ceremony, there are two ostensible lines of logic. One is that now that you’re an adult, no one can tell you what to do, so you can wear whatever you like. The other is that while no one can forbid you from dressing like a gangster or video game boss, those kind of apparel choices will also make it hard to find a job or otherwise fit in with adult society, and so the Coming of Age Ceremony is kind of a last hurrah for unbridled clothing craziness.
So if that’s the case, why dress up in a basic suit? One reason is that while people participate in Coming of Age Ceremonies when they turn 20, they graduate from high school at 18. Even if they’ve moved away after graduation to continue their education or start working, most people still come back to attend the Coming of Age Ceremony held in their home town.
That makes the ceremony a sort of reunion with high school friends, and many people would rather spend that time getting caught up on what’s new in each other’s lives and reminiscing about fun times in the past rather than going to the time, expense, and trouble to put together an outfit that’s going to command attention and dominate conversations.
Coming back to their home town also means a lot of people are seeing their parents for the first time in months, or maybe years, and while wearing a colorful costume might be fun, more conventional attire does a better job of conveying the message “Thanks for helping me grow up” to Mom and Dad.
While we’re on the subject, there’s one more thing our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma, who covers the Kitakyushu Coming of Age Ceremony every year, wants to point out. As intimidating as some of the attendees may look, that doesn’t make them bad people. He’s overheard some of the wildest dressed participants saying things like “I passed the exam to become a fireman, so I’m going to start working at the fire department in the spring” and “I worked really hard to save up enough money to pay for this outfit,” so for all their exuberance and extravagance, they’re not necessarily irresponsible or reckless. Supposedly the real thugs don’t even bother to show up to the ceremony.
2023 is the first time for Coming of Age Ceremonies to be held since Japan lowered its age of legal adulthood from 20 to 18, and in fact Kitakyushu’s event, officially, has had its name changed to “Commemoration Ceremony for 20-Year-Olds.” As time goes by, we may see the ceremony shift to celebrating those who have turned 18, which would eliminate some of the reunion/homecoming atmosphere, which could once again affect wardrobe choices.
For now, though, there’s room for both crazy and conservative looks at Kitakyushu’s ceremony, which makes sense since the whole thing about being an adult is being able to make your own choices.