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Many local gov'ts to continue age-20 coming-of-age events despite legal adulthood change

Coming-of-age ceremony attendees in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, read a booklet about stone monuments passing down the lessons learned from the March 2011 tsunami disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, on Jan. 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

TOKYO -- The age of adulthood under the Civil Code will be lowered from 20 to 18 in April 2022, but some local governments are opting to stick to giving coming-of-age ceremonies for those turning 20 in the fiscal year.

The reasons for maintaining the traditional age-20 ceremonies include that 18-year-olds are busy with preparations for entrance exams or joining the workforce in January, when many municipalities conduct the event for new adults. There is no law providing for when and how such ceremonies should be performed, and a Justice Ministry official says they have not heard of any municipality that has decided to invite 18-year-olds to coming-of-age ceremonies.

The city of Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, has already declared that it will keep its coming-of-age ceremony for 20-year-olds even after the Civil Code revision comes into effect. The announcement was made in mid-July 2018, just a month after the legal amendment was enacted. The city explains that the swift move came out of consideration for 18-year-olds being preoccupied with entrance exams or preparing to join the working world in January.

"April 2022 will come in a wink. We thought it would be more citizen-friendly to announce the policy quickly as they will need time to prepare for the event," said a city official. Many former members of the organizing committee for the city's coming-of-age ceremony also supported holding the event for 20-year-olds, not 18, the official said.

In western Japan, the city of Kyoto also announced in September last year that it will maintain the coming-of-age ceremony for 20-year-olds, becoming the first major ordinance-designated city in the country to make such a move.

Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa told a press conference, "In January, many 18-year-olds are going through a tough time with looming university entrance exams or getting ready to start work." Known as a kimono-clad mayor, he is also seeking to promote local kimono culture through the policy.

"(The legal revision) doesn't mean that everything will change when you turn 18. Celebrating 20-year-olds when they are settled down would lead to promoting traditional Japanese dress, so I'd like Kyoto to lead the country with this initiative."

The coming-of-age ceremony is said to originate in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The first such ceremony dates back to 1946, the year after World War II's end, when an association of local youth held a gathering to encourage 20-year-olds. The event led the central government to introduce Coming-of-Age Day, a national holiday, in 1948.

Warabi has also decided to hold on to the tradition of throwing the adulthood ceremony for 20-year-olds despite the legal change, "mainly to pass down the thoughts of our forerunners," said a city official.

During deliberations on the legal revision in the ordinary session of the Diet last year, there were debates over the coming-of-age ceremonies. A Justice Ministry official told the Diet, "Coming-of-Age Day is an occasion for youths to become aware of their adulthood and for others to celebrate and encourage them in their drive to live their lives on their own. Adulthood doesn't necessarily mean the age of majority under the Civil Code."

The official continued, "The coming-of-age ceremonies are held at the discretion of each municipality, and it is not appropriate for the national government to provide uniform guidelines."

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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