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Across the nation, 1.24 million young people celebrated becoming an adult Monday, Coming of Age Day, in an annual rite of passage for 20-year-olds that — were it not for the novel coronavirus pandemic — would have been celebrated in style with childhood reunions and all-night after-parties.

While many coming-of-age ceremonies were canceled or moved online, thousands gathered in Yokohama on the day to celebrate the once-in-a-lifetime occasion despite inevitable criticism and potential exposure to the virus.

Owing to restrictions on large events, the ceremony was held at two venues — Yokohama Arena and Pacifico Yokohama — and divided into eight staggered ceremonies, four at each location.

The theme for this year’s ceremony in Yokohama was “budding flowers.”

Participants attend a coming-of-age ceremony in Yokohama amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
Participants attend a coming-of-age ceremony in Yokohama amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

“Last year — the final year of your childhood — was a difficult one that, I’m afraid, was memorable not entirely in the best of ways,” said Shinya Koiguchi, superintendent of the city’s bureau of education. Koiguchi spoke on behalf of Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, who was absent due to health concerns that emerged the day before the ceremony.

“From online classes, not being able to see your friends and classmates, and the feeling of uncertainty surrounding graduation and your futures, 2020 made for a tumultuous transition into adulthood,” Koiguchi said. “But learning to appreciate those around you, their health and well-being as well as your own, is now your responsibility as new adults.”

Participants were required to wear masks to attend and have their temperatures taken before entering. They were also encouraged by organizers to resist the temptation before and after the ceremony to mingle with friends, get drinks or hold parties — as is the time-honored tradition on the day.

This year Yokohama greeted nearly 37,000 new adults, the most in any municipality in the country, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency Thursday that took effect on Friday and is set to run until Feb. 7 in Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama.

Coming-of-age ceremonies in Yokohama were originally going to be held exclusively online, according to Takayuki Watanabe from the city’s bureau of education, which helped organize the events on Monday.

Attendees line up for a coming-of-age ceremony in Yokohama while maintaining distance according to recommendations. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
Attendees line up for a coming-of-age ceremony in Yokohama while maintaining distance according to recommendations. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

“After further discussion, we came to the conclusion that, having taken the proper precautions, the ceremonies could be held and we could avoid upending what should be an unforgettable day for young adults.”

The ceremonies held Monday in Yokohama didn’t exceed 5,000 participants or 50% of venue capacity at any given time, in accordance with event restrictions outlined under the state of emergency, Watanabe said.

According to organizers, 2,738 people attended the first ceremony at Yokohama Arena while the subsequent three saw fewer. At Pacifico Yokohama, the first ceremony saw 1,688 participants and fewer in the ceremonies that followed.

In the days and weeks leading up to the end of the year, major cities and prefectures throughout the nation began to log record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 cases for which public officials are struggling to find an explanation.

On Friday, the country saw a record-breaking 7,882 cases nationwide, of which more than half occurred in Tokyo and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama.

Kanagawa Prefecture reported 729 cases Sunday — a record for that day of the week — after seeing an unprecedented 999 cases on Saturday and 838 Friday.

Participants at a coming-of-age ceremony held in Yokohama take photos on Monday. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
Participants at a coming-of-age ceremony held in Yokohama take photos on Monday. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

“This isn’t how I expected this day to go,” said Ayame, a 20-year-old Yokohama native who gave only her first name, as she waited in her seat at Yokohama Arena for the first ceremony to begin. She was wearing a pink and orange kimono stitched with intricate white and red flowers, petals and vines.

“It’s been months since I saw my friends, and I was hoping to see them today, but that won’t happen,” she said somberly. “But I spoke to a few of them on the phone and they’re doing all right, which is what matters the most.”

Her hair was curled into a bun, held together by a pin with a flower dyed the same colors as her kimono.

“I’ll wait patiently until it’s safe to see them,” Ayame said with a grin. “Because that’s what adulthood is about, right?”

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