Thousands gather for Japan coming-of-age day despite virus surge

by AFP

TOKYO – Young adults dressed to the nines in kimonos gathered at venues in Japan on Monday to celebrate reaching the age of majority, although many of the usually jubilant events were cancelled over coronavirus fears.

More than a million people in Japan turn 20 this year, the age at which they can legally drink alcohol, smoke and get married without parental approval.

They are traditionally feted each January on “coming-of-age day” with a formal ceremony, originally a rite of ancient samurai families — and now often followed by raucous drinking sprees.

But a record surge in Covid-19 cases and a month-long virus state of emergency declared in and around Tokyo has led many local authorities to scrap or postpone the 2021 festivities.

At Yokohama Arena — within the area under the state of emergency, which is less strict than the harsh lockdowns seen in other countries — women in ornate kimonos, fluffy white stoles and masks sat in socially distanced seating for the ceremony, with the men dressed mainly in suits.

“I was worried… but decided to come because this will be the only chance in my life to wear a kimono (for this ceremony),” one woman at the event told broadcaster TBS.

The arena’s capacity was limited to 5,000, with four separate ceremonies held both there and at another Yokohama venue on Monday. Participants were told to keep their distance and speak quietly to avoid spreading the respiratory disease.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has urged young people to abide by the state of emergency, which asks residents to avoid non-essential outings and requests restaurants and bars to close early.

Last week he said more than half of recent new infections in greater Tokyo were among the under-30s.

The fishing city of Yaizu in central Japan held a “drive-in” Coming-of-Age event on Sunday, drawing some 470 vehicles to the harbourside celebration.

“We are sad to miss a chance to meet as friends, but I’m happy to see the event held no matter how,” a 20-year-old man in Yaizu told the Sankei Shimbun.

Tama in western Tokyo held an online ceremony for residents entering adulthood.

Before the event, the mayor apologised to participants, saying: “I’m sorry … but it is true that infections are spreading. As an adult, please accept this.”