Coming of Age Day reflections

Coming of Age Day came last Monday with the usual fanfare, gorgeous outfits and sense of time passing. At municipal facilities and shrines across Japan, as well as at theme parks, an estimated 1.21 million people turned 20 years of age. They deserve congratulations on reaching an important milestone in their lives.

What their future holds and how different they are from 20-year-olds in the past, however, is important to consider, especially as the day becomes more casual and commercial. For one thing, this year there were 50,000 fewer than last year. The numbers have been going down each year, but the question remains whether these young people are becoming increasingly adult-like.

This year’s celebrations are linked to the change in the voting age from 20 to 18, making the day a little confusing in its purpose. Along with the new 20-year-olds, around 2.4 million people aged 18 and 19 will be eligible to vote in the Upper House election this summer. One of the most important rights in any society will now be given to people before reaching their Coming of Age Day. At 20, young people have the right to smoke and drink.

Despite all the colorful, smiling photos, young people’s attitudes toward the pressures of a tougher world can be seen in a number of disappointing statistics. A recent poll found that 74.3 percent of the nation’s 20-year-olds were not in a romantic relationship of any kind, compared with 50 percent in 1996. A 2015 survey found that 40 percent of young people in their 20s were not even looking for a relationship. Whatever Coming of Age Day may mean to individuals, it doesn’t seem to mean embarking on a romance.

Other statistics are even more troubling. Young people are suffering from higher levels of depression than in the past. According to research by Hokkaido University professor Kenzo Denda, 1 in 12 Japanese elementary school-aged children and 1 in 4 junior high students suffer from clinical depression. The most common cause of death among people aged 15 to 39 is suicide, the highest among the Group of Seven nations.

Of course, many 20-year-olds and their families and friends take the day seriously and are enthusiastic over the prospects of adulthood. They take the time to think about what it means to move to the next stage of life. In the prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima, many young people posed with photos of the classmates they lost in the 2011 disasters. Their sense of the importance of the day was not lost in the distractions of amusement park rides or alcohol consumption.

Of course, even new adults should enjoy the pleasures of youth, and taking on the burdens of adulthood with too much pressure is not advisable. Japanese society desperately needs more adults who think like adults. The day should be an opportunity not just for those young people to consider what adulthood means, but also for everyone in Japan to reflect on its importance.