Coming of Age

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”                                                               Hebrews 5:14


The young men and women were in a festive mood and looked resplendent in their formal attire as they gathered at the local public hall to celebrate their coming of age. The ceremony is known as a “seijinshiki” (成人式) and is held once a year to congratulate those who have entered into adulthood by turning twenty years old. Young ladies are typically happy to use the occasion as an excuse to dress up in an exquisite, rented furisode style of kimono that is considered appropriate for unmarried young women. Many of the young men may opt to don the traditional dress of a dark kimono with a hakama, but the majority now seem to prefer formal Western clothing such as a suit and tie.

Following the public ceremony, these new adults will often separate into groups with their friends to attend parties where they may celebrate their newly acquired legal freedom to drink alcoholic beverages. At some point in the day, many will accompany their families to a local shrine to pray for health and success as they pass this significant life milestone. It is also common to sit for a formal portrait picture to commemorate the occasion.

The roots of the seijinshiki are reportedly traced back to the eighth century, when a famous young nobleman sported new clothing and a hairstyle to mark his passage into adulthood. However, the formal holiday was not established until centuries later in 1948 when January 15 was set aside as “Seijin-no-Hi,” or “Coming of Age Day.” This annual holiday was recently changed to the second Monday of January to create a three-day weekend. Japan also recently lowered the legal age of adulthood from 20 to 18 years of age, which will take effect in 2022. This alteration in the law will grant the newly created younger class of adults permission to marry, sign contracts and take out loans without parental approval. However, smoking, drinking and gambling will still be prohibited until the traditional age of 20.

The Japanese characters for seijin (成人) are loosely translated as “coming of age,” but they mean literally to “become a person.” In a sense, we are all engaged in the daily act of “becoming,” regardless of our age, as none of us are what we should be, or eventually will be, because change is an integral aspect of life. Hopefully, such changes are of a positive nature where we are progressing in character, abilities and life skills to become contributing members of society. However, such progression to higher things and nobler character cannot be taken for granted in the physical world and the same is true in the spiritual world. As children of God, we are exhorted to press on to maturity where we can discern good from evil and increasingly choose the former as we move deeper into spiritual adulthood. Just as all parents long to witness progress toward adulthood in their offspring, God desires to see a movement towards spiritual maturity in all His children. In that sense, every day is a “Coming of Age Day” for the children of God as we aspire to become all that God intends for us to be.

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