Japan celebrates coming-of-age day despite virus surge

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Participants sit with social distancing as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus during a coming-of-age ceremony in Namie, Fukushima prefecture on Saturday. JIJI PRESS/AFP

Young adults dressed to the nines in kimonos gathered at venues in Japan on January 11 to celebrate reaching the age of majority, although many of the usually jubilant events were cancelled over virus fears.

More than a million people in Japan turn 20 this year, the age at which they can legally drink alcohol, smoke and get married without parental approval.

They are traditionally feted each January on “coming-of-age day” with a formal ceremony, originally a rite of ancient samurai families – now often followed by raucous drinking sprees.

But a record surge in Covid-19 cases and a month-long virus state of emergency declared in and around Tokyo has led many local authorities to scrap or postpone the 2021 festivities.

At an event in Kawasaki, southwest of the capital, student Naomi Ooba said: “I know there is a risk of infection, but I am here because it’s an event that you only experience once in your life, and it’s also a chance to meet friends who I haven’t seen for a long time.”

Ayane Uchino, another 20-year-old student, said: “After the ceremony, I’m going to return straight home, but it’s a shame that we can’t go and eat with our friends, because of the virus.”

Kawasaki and neigbouring Yokohama are included in the state of emergency, which is less strict than the harsh lockdowns seen in other countries.

At Yokohama Arena, women in ornate kimonos, fluffy white stoles and masks sat in socially distanced seating for the ceremony, with the men dressed mainly in suits.

The arena’s capacity was limited to 5,000, with four separate ceremonies held on January 11. Participants were told to keep their distance and speak quietly to avoid spreading the respiratory disease.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Twenty-year-old women dressed in kimonos gather outside Todoroki Arena during the ‘Coming-of-Age Day’ celebration ceremony in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture, on Monday. AFP

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has urged young people to follow the emergency measures, which ask residents to avoid non-essential outings and request restaurants and bars to close early.

Last week he said more than half of recent new infections in greater Tokyo were among the under-30s.

The fishing city of Yaizu in central Japan held a “drive-in” Coming-of-Age event on January 10, drawing some 470 vehicles to the harbourside celebration.

A 20-year-old man in Yaizu told the Sankei Shimbun: “We are sad to miss a chance to meet as friends, but I’m happy to see the event held no matter how.”

Tama in western Tokyo held an online ceremony for residents entering adulthood.

Before the event, the mayor apologised to participants, saying: “I’m sorry . . . but it is true that infections are spreading. As an adult, please accept this.”