Seniority, Age superstition and Legal age in Japan

by ebazaar 5 December 2009 No Comment

In Japan, customs and traditions still prevails to these days.

Even though the current society has been much modernized, there are still substantial traditional and customary impact in their daily lives. For social purposes, age is reckoned in both relative and absolute terms. Relative age is set by order of birth: one is senior, peer, or junior to someone else. Japanese often claim that theirs is a uniquely “vertical” society, pervaded by rules of seniority. Seniority rules, however, are common to modern institutions such as schools, corporations, and bureaucracies in all societies. You’d probably walk around in Japan and hear people calling a person as ‘senpai’ which means ‘senior’. However, this kind of custom is quite known in most oriental countries like in Korea and China. Seniority rules at most times.

Japan and Superstitions

In Japan too, there are many superstition and beliefs and there is one that is related to a person’s age. It’s called yakudoshi or danger years. Certain ages traditionally have been considered favorable, others dangerous. These years of calamity, or so is called differ between males and females. It is generally believed by the Japanese people that during these years of yakudoshi, a person is more liable to experience misfortunes, illness or bad luck. For men, the yakudoshi years are 25, 42 and 61, meanwhile for women, the years are 19, 33 and 37. The age 42 for men and 33 for women are particularly considered as ‘very bad years’. The year ‘42’ is pronouced as ‘Shi-ni’ which phonetic sounds similar to the another Japanese word that means ‘death’ and ‘33’ is pronouced as ‘Sanzan’ which means simply means in another term as ‘hard’ and ‘terrible’.

Although most Japanese scorn the danger years as superstition, many continue to to observe them. To ward off danger, people obtain protective amulets, perform exorcism as an act of purification at Shinto shrines and avoid new ventures during the year. However, there are also favorable years that could mark successful aging for both males and females for the Japanese. The years are 60, 70, 77 and 88.

Legal Age in Japan

Coming of age ceremony in Japan

Coming of age ceremony in Japan

Another custom that is age-related is the Coming-of-Age Day (Seijin no Hi) in Japan for 20-year-olds. The Japanese attain their legal maturity at the age of 20 years old, which means they can vote, drink and smoke. It is even a major annual holiday for the Japanese but the date of celebration may vary a little but it is usually on the second Monday of January. It used to be on the 15th January every year but the tradition changed after the year 1999. On this day, the woman who has turned 20 wears bright colored, long-sleeve kimono with lots of decorative accessories and men wearing new suits will be seen visiting the shrines and temples to pray for an excellent adulthood and blessings, and later milling around town and celebrate.

Coming of Age is an interesting event in Japan indeed. I will write more about it in my future post.




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