Seijin-shiki Part 1: Gaijin in Hakama

by mo on 01/23/2010

January 11th was 成人式 (seijin-shiki, Coming of Age Day) in Japan – to honor and celebrate everyone who has become an adult (turned 20) in the previous year. This is a holiday and event of epic proportions in Japan – probably the biggest milestone in your life aside from your wedding day.

Girls dress up in full kimonos, get their hair and makeup done, take professional photographs, and go to the ceremony itself – held locally, and packed full of fresh new adults only.

The amount of money, energy, and general stress devoted to this day is astounding.

But it seems roughly equivalent to prom.

I never thought I’d attend my own seijin-shiki. But when emailing my host mom about my Japan trip plans, she mentioned that if I stayed until the 11th I would be able to participate in seijin-shiki, and go to the first high school reunion my class in Japan would have. As an exchange student, I was put in a class with students about a year younger than me. So although I am actually 21 and thus missed my own Coming of Age Day by a year, my Japan trip happened to line up exactly with the seijin-shiki of every single person I know in Japan. Pretty lucky, huh?

But what the hell was I going to wear?!

Girls wear furisode, a kind of kimono with really long sleeves, that their mom or some other relative happens to have lying around – not really an option for me. The popular alternative for kimono-less families is to rent one. This costs upwards of ¥30,000, or $350+. Also, since all the upcoming 20-year-olds know this day is on its way, people reserve their kimonos up to a year in advance. 2 weeks ahead of time is really pushing it for a kimono rental, and even if we found one it would probably cost an arm and a leg.


However, when I showed up to Yuka’s house on my first day in Japan, we started talking about the festival and what I would wear. It turns out Yuka’s mom purchased a hakama she found on sale a while back, for her two daughters’ future college graduation ceremonies (hakama are worn at graduation, apparently). She said I could borrow it, if I was cool with showing up in a hakama instead of a kimono.


We discussed briefly whether the hakama would be too weird and that I’d stick out, but guess what — I’m already a gaijin, so I already stick out. Plus, I’m not actually the correct age for seijin-shiki (since I’m no longer 20), so effectively I am more like a graduate of this whole seijin business anyway. Also, the hakama was purple. Totally fabulous!

So I took the hakama with me when I moved from Yuka’s house to my previous host family.

Now the only problem is, who’s gonna dress me up in said hakama on January 11?

Most girls go to a salon to get their hair and makeup done and kimono put on. This, like the kimono rental itself, gets pricey. Noriko, my host sister, was getting hers done at the hotel where the high school reunion would be held, and she was getting her professional pictures taken there too. But again, most salons were totally booked at this point, and asking a week beforehand whether a salon had an opening at 10 am on seijin day was laughable.

My host mom, however, used her host mom superpowers and called up a bunch of local places. A little old shop by the name of Midori-san had an opening! And they would do my hair, makeup, and dress me up for the reasonable price of ¥10,000 (just over $100). And I’m not kidding, this is a good deal. Also, Midori-san was not fazed by the idea of putting on a hakama instead of a kimono.

The day before seijin-shiki, right after I got my haircut, host mom took me to Midori-san to do a sort of pre-seijin-shiki consultation. We brought the hakama and all the relevant hair accessories. The lady at Midori-san who would be dressing me checked to make sure we had all the necessary pieces, and talk about when I would come by tomorrow. She did the obligatory “oh it’s so cool you know Japanese and are here and can go to seijin-shiki” conversation with me, and remarked about how nice the hakama was with host mom. At some point, Midori-san kinda looked at me and was like “your eyebrows. We need to fix them.”

“Um okay then, go for it,” I said.

At this point, host mom was alarmed that I was so quick to entrust the shape of my eyebrows to this lady I’d met less than 10 minutes before, and I think she didn’t quite know whether I understood what was going on. But actually, I was fully aware of what was going on, and told host mom it was cool. She had to go pick up obaachan from badminton practice, and she left me alone with the lady who was after my eyebrows.

I was expecting some waxing or plucking or something… instead, she whipped out a razor and started scraping away at the tops and bottoms of my eyebrows. It was mildly terrifying, but I said nothing, rolled with it, and 10 minutes later came out with eyebrows that were for once, a reasonable thickness.

Host mom showed up with obaachan and seemed a little too shocked that my eyebrows turned out okay. Obaachan approved too, and we went on our way.

The next day, I showed up at 10 am to get dressed up and dolled up for the big day. Noriko was off at the hotel getting dressed, and host mom managed to schedule this day so that everyone’s appointments lined up perfectly.

I brought hairstyle photos I’d copied from a kimono-hairstyle magazine I’d seen at Noriko’s pre-seijin-shiki consultation (does this thing have a name??) the week before. Make-up, then hair, then sticking a bunch of hair ornaments in hair plus an unhealthy amount of hairspray, then hakama time. The result of an hour’s worth of beautifying work (photo taken in Midori-san’s shop).


Here’s the obasan responsible for my hair, hakama, and eyebrows

The girl who did my makeup

And detailed hair shots (taken later, at the reunion):

From the back

Right side – about 3 hair ornaments are visible

Left side – the other 2 ornaments visible

Alright, now I was dressed and ready for action. The day had only begun. Festivals and reunions to attend, and I had to meet up with Noriko. I handed Midori-san a crispy ¥10,000 bill, said my arigatous, and jumped into the car (very gracefully and ladylike, of course) with host mom, ojiichan and obaachan, and headed towards the hotel in Kobe to meet Noriko, who was just about to emerge from her similar (but more extensive) beautification process, a beautiful, breathing-and-walking-impaired-by-kimono, butterfly.

To be continued…