A Look Into the “Halfway to Coming of Age” Ceremony (Nibun no Ichi Seijin Shiki) and Its Issues

  • Many people would have heard or know about the “Seijin Shiki” or the Coming of Age Ceremony which celebrates those turning 20 years old and becoming officially recognized as adults in Japan. However, do you know about the “Nibun no Ichi Seijin Shiki” which is held for children who reach the age of 10?

    Nibun no Ichi Seijin Shiki

    The Nibun no Ichi Seijin Seiki is a ceremony usually held during the end of the academic year (January or February) in schools for children in Primary 4 who are reaching 10 years old and their parents. As 20 years old is considered the age when one reaches adulthood in Japan, these children are considered at the halfway point on that journey, thus they are referred to as half-adults – Nibun no Ichi Seijin. This ceremony is also known by other names such as 1/2 Seijin Shiki, Jussai Shiki (10-year-old Ceremony), Half Seijin Shiki, and Han Seijin Shiki.

    A Nibun no Ichi Seijin Shiki typically contains the following elements but not necessarily in the same order:

    • the children take turns to reflect on the last 10 years of their lives such as sharing their old photos or meaning of their names
    • they talk about their dreams or ideal occupations 10 years from now and when they reach 20
    • they read aloud a letter which they wrote that is supposed to contain a message to thank their parents for bringing them up (At times, the parents may also be asked to prepare letters for their children as well.)
    • singing of songs together
    • the children are presented with their half-adult certificates

    Besides the ceremony, there is also a popular trend of the children turning 10 to go for professional photo-taking sessions at studios. For example, in the advertisement featured above, there is a package whereby the children are provided with special costumes such as formal dresses, suits, kimonos, or hakatas along with accessories. The staff will also be around to help them wear these clothes especially in the case of kimonos and hakatas which tend to be more complicated and difficult to wear on your own. In addition, hair-styling and make-up are included in the package and the children can take photos in multiple poses. However, the cost of developing the photos as per this featured package will be charged separately. Perhaps it is due to the variety of costumes available or the efforts needed to dress up a girl, so the price charged for a girl is 2,000 yen more than a boy. Below are some sample shots from a photography studio where you can see the children being dolled up in various images and costumes.

    Sample photos of children taking photos as part of their Nibun no Ichi Seijin Shiki

    The practice of holding this half-adult ceremony was said to have started about 30 years ago and gradually spread nationwide. Many parents are said to be touched and satisfied while attending this ceremony especially when they reflect on how far they’ve come with their children in the last 10 years. However, there have been calls for the ceremony to be modified or even canceled due to various social issues and concerns. Here are two major issues highlighted by educators and educational experts which have been mentioned many times in the media so far:

    Being “forced” to thank your parents

    The practice of having the children write letters to thank their parents may be well-intended but this feels like a “forced” gesture since everyone in the class is obligated to write one and read it aloud. Most people would probably assume that the children would grow up in loving families with doting parents but they cannot ignore the fact that there are orphans, children who don’t live with their parents for some reason, or that there are issues such as domestic violence which could suggest that such parents are hardly considered as “loving” in the eyes of their children. As such, by expecting every child to write this letter regardless of their circumstances may have seemed like a well-intended move which could backfire and have undesirable effects on the children. Besides, participation in this ceremony is usually compulsory so there is no way these children can avoid having to do something against their own will and feelings.

    Divulging information about family members and circumstances unwillingly

    Due to the segment during the ceremony asking children to provide their photos and write about their parents in their letters, this has led to concerns about them being forced to divulge information about their family members and their situation at home. For example, if a child is suffering from domestic violence at home but has been keeping it under wraps while in school, he or she will be especially affected by being made to talk about the truth. Or if a child has been through a death in the family or the parents have gone through a divorce, it can be tough on these children to write about these facts in their letter. By asking a child about the origin of his name even though he has been in an orphanage and never seen his parents before can be rather harsh on him. Even if the children decide to lie about it, in the end, it can create serious repercussions such as the child being emotionally affected by having to lie in public or even risk being bullied or ridiculed if the truth gets out later. Last but not least, private information about their family members such as their parents’ occupations or family structure is often revealed against their own wishes which then leads to privacy concerns.

    Given the diversity of family structures and circumstances in the current era due to divorces, re-marriages, adoptions, etc. it is not a given that everyone will be in a “standard” family. Although the motive of holding the Nibun no Ichi Seijin Shiki is well-intended, there needs to be due consideration for children who may have some issues so that they will not be emotionally affected in a bad way due to this experience. Nonetheless, such family problems can be quite tricky to handle and can vary in so many different ways, thus a quick and one-size-fits-all solution may not be readily available. As such, there needs to be enough time spent on discussing how to adjust this ceremony so that it becomes an occasion when the children can truly celebrate their halfway point on the journey to becoming adults.

    Related Articles:
    Japanese Kimono Ceremony to Celebrate Coming of Age
    Seijin–Shiki: The Japanese Coming Of Age Day