Hair today, hung over tomorrow as young Japanese come of age

Draped in dazzling kimono, thousands of expensively made-up young women marked their entry into adulthood on Monday — with many planning a night of boozing to celebrate.

Formal Coming-of-Age ceremonies, which began as a rite of ancient samurai families, were held across the nation for 20-year-olds, reminding them of their responsibilities after becoming old enough to legally drink alcohol and smoke.

As they fidgeted with mobile phones and stifled yawns during the speeches, the contrast in financial outlay between the sexes was obvious, with most men opting for the kind of plain business suit they will wear as salarymen in the future.

“I’m happy I can finally drink alcohol and go clubbing,” college student Rumiko Matsumoto said while getting a ¥10,000 manicure in Tokyo’s Shibuya district ahead of one such ceremony.

“When my nails are dry, I have to get my eyelash extensions done, do my hair and get fitted for my kimono,” she said. “I’m very nervous. It’s a special day, the first step toward being an adult.

“My parents told me I have to take responsibility for my own actions now. But first I want to celebrate by going drinking.”

As more than 4,000 gathered at the Toshimaen amusement park in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, the fog of hair spray used to fix exquisitely coiffured perms hung in the cold air as young women stood in line for a roller-coaster ride.

Some women make appointments a year in advance to have their hair and makeup done, and beauty salons often stay open all night to meet the rush.

Many pay over ¥1 million for their glittery kimono, with beauty treatments such as elaborate nail decorations often costing more.

“I did think ‘yikes, I’m an adult’ when I turned 20,” said sales assistant Reiko Nakamura as a beautician fussed over her synthetic lashes.

“I have to think about my future so it’s a little scary,” she added, admiring her dagger-sharp Hello Kitty nails. “For now I just want to enjoy a night out drinking with friends I haven’t seen since primary school.”

Celebrated each year on the second Monday of January from the snow-swept north to the subtropical south, Coming-of-Age Day includes those who turned 20 over the previous year or will do so before March 31 this year.

The age a young person enters adulthood was set at 20 for both genders in 1876.

In Osaka, approximately 100 men and women dressed in suits and kimono climbed to the top floor of the 60-story Abeno Harukas building, each with their hopes and dreams emblazoned on sashes hanging across their chest.

The fastest took around 40 minutes to walk up the 1,637 stairs of the 300-meter skyscraper and arrived to fanfare in the building’s observatory, in what has become an annual event since 2014.

“It was tougher than I thought, but I made it,” 20-year-old Yu Iwasaki said while bedecked in her green kimono. “I’m confident that I will fulfill my dream to become a nurse.”

Crowds of new adults, both male and female, offered prayers at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine over the holiday weekend, while thousands more flocked to Tokyo Disneyland and posed for photos with Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

In the disaster-hit Tohoku region, however, ceremonies were tinged with sadness as young people remembered classmates who perished in the 2011 tsunami.

There were an estimated 1.21 million new adults across Japan as of Jan. 1, the lowest number since the government began collecting comparable data in 1968.

It is a decrease of some 50,000 from last year and half the 1970 peak of 2.46 million, according to government figures, mirroring the country’s shrinking population.

The annual birthrate recently dipped below 1 million for the first time in over 100 years, reflecting the rapidly aging society.

But a population crisis was the last thing on Riki Hayashi’s mind after a ceremony in Tokyo.

“The speeches went on for ages,” he said. “We will all be getting drunk tonight.”

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