Coming-of-Age Celebrations in Other Countries

박정은 기자, 김지혜 기자l승인2012.05.01l0호

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Being an adult means that you have become a mature, fully developed person, or a person who has reached the age that you become responsible for your actions legally. University students in Korea often commemorate coming-of-age day by sending their congratulations to other students when they come of age in their 20th year. The purpose of the coming-of-age day in Korea is to give students who enter adulthood pride in reaching the next phase of their lives. However, the real meaning of this day has been lost, and it has turned into just another day to exchange gifts. Therefore, the Observer hopes to recover the true meaning behind coming-of-age day by investigating the coming-of-age celebrations in other countries. The meaning behind coming-of-age celebrations

In modern Western societies, you can legally be considered an adult when you are between 16 and 22 years old. Officially, they are considered adults when they have the rights of adults like suffrage. Many countries have customs to congratulate people who become adults through coming-of-age celebrations or rites of passage.

What is coming-of-age celebration?
Most countries regard an adult as a person who has turned twenty years old. Coming-of-age celebrations are ceremonies that are designed to instill young people with responsibility as a member of society and to give a sense of pride and encouragement to young people when they turn 20 years old.
In most European countries, there is no formal day of recognition to commemorate passage into adulthood, but there are some customs whereby young people are given small gifts or flowers to celebrate the occasion. In many African cultures, young people are considered to be adults after they endure some kind of physical penance or a test of strength. In the Islamic, Christian and Jewish faiths, coming-of-age celebrations are performed through religious rituals.

Coming-of-age celebration in Japan
The second Monday of January every year is the Japanese coming-of-age day. The Japanese consider you to be an adult when you become 20 years old. Twenty year olds have coming-of-age celebrations in their hometown. Boys wear a Hakama, a type of traditional Japanese clothing, similar to traditional samurai clothes. Girls wear a kimono called a Furisode, it has long sleeves and showy patterns, and they accessorize these outfits with fancy belts or hair accessories. Most coming-of-age celebration events in Japan are conducted by local governments. People listen to a congratulatory address made by the mayor or a celebrity and watch performances in a ceremonial hall prepared by the local government. They also go to a temple with their family or meet their relatives. Nowadays, parents prepare a wallet for sons or a handbag for daughters on coming-of-age day as a gift. Ten-thousand yen is usually placed in these gifts which represents a wish for luck with money. Many traditional clothing stores, hair salons and photo studios prepare for coming-of-age day. Photo studios are especially crowded with customers for several months prior to the day because there are so many people in the photo studio on the actual day. The coming-of-age day event is reported in the news extensively. Unlike Korea, coming-of-age day is one of the biggest events in Japan.

Coming-of-age celebration in Indonesia
A tribe in Indonesia, the "Sageoni" celebrates coming-of-age through a ceremony that calls for participants to endure severe pain for a long time. You are considered to come of age at twelve years old and a full body tattoo is applied regardless of gender. The tattoo is applied with a needle made of the bones of animals over 60 days. The black tattoo is colored by applying charcoal powder into the wounds. The charcoal powder is made of the burned inner bark of coconut trees. They endure the pain with the belief that the tattoo on their body is “everlasting clothes” from heaven. After this work, boys and girls have their teeth sharpened with a chisel. They sharpen all their teeth without the benefit of anesthesia over three months. In the past, it was a way to look fierce in competition with other tribes, but now they grind their teeth to make eating meat easier.

Coming-of-age celebration in Africa
African cultures have some of the most distinctive coming-of-age celebrations in the world. In most of Africa, the rite of passage to become an adult is conducted through a physical test or enduring physical pain. The traditional coming-of-age celebration of the Hamare tribe is particularly interesting especially for the young men of the tribe. The coming-of-age celebration of this tribe will have a significant impact on its members for the rest of their lives and it will affect their position in the tribe. The ceremony is held on a grand scale. It is a festival involving the entire village and it is an important event that binds the members of the tribe together. The young man invites 3 or 4 people including his relatives and shares alcohol and food with them for 3 days and nights. The coming-of-age celebration is a training process to develop power to live as an independent man and as a man of the tribe. The tribe’s women announce the opening of the ceremony with intense dancing and by blowing a horn. The tribe’s women are whipped by men in the tribe for their blessing. Women bring a long cane and beseech men to beat them. They even fight to be whipped more than other women. A boy who has not gone through the coming-of-age celebration is called ‘Ukli (donkey)’ that means ‘He is not a person yet’ in their society. They have to jump over the backs of cows while they are naked as a symbol of being born again. If a man fails, he is whipped by women and is ridiculed for his entire life. Men of the Hamare are accepted as a real member of the tribe after they pass the coming-of-age celebration. They cannot receive permission to marry if they do not pass the ceremony.

Coming-of-age celebration in Israel
The coming-of-age celebration in Israel is called a Bar Mitzvah in Hebrew. Mitzvah means a contract and Bar means son. The coming-of-age celebration in Israel is for Jewish boys who turn thirteen. The place for the celebration is the Wailing Wall (The Wailing Wall is the only historic site which remains of the second temple of Jerusalem which was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. This is also the center for Jewish pilgrimages). The boys prepare for the celebration starting one year before their 13th birthday. They preach their first sermon on their 13th birthday, and they are recognized as adults through this process. There are three primary characteristics of a Bar Mitzvah. In Israel, girls do not celebrate a Bar Mitzvah. Secondly, the boys' mothers and close female friends congratulate them while watching the celebration and standing on a chair. Finally, the boys should wear the 'Kippa' because wearing a Kippa is described as honoring God. The coming-of-age celebration in Israel has both religious and personal meaning. The religious aspect is that the boys make contact with God personally and not through their parents. Moreover, in personal meaning, this day is one of the most important days in Israel.

The Korean coming-of-age celebration
The Korean coming-of-age celebration takes place on the third Monday of May every year. It was established in 1973 in order to honor the traditional coming-of-age celebration. In addition, the date was established to encourage boys and girls who turn twenty years old and to raise their self-esteem and sense of responsibility. This year’s celebration date is May 21st. The national assembly decided to change the standard from twenty to nineteen due to world trends. Korea has observed the coming-of-age celebration as one of the four ceremonial occasions of coming of age along with weddings, funerals, and ancestral rites as part of Korean traditional society. The real meaning of the ceremony is not to change appearances, but to understand the responsibilities and duties of being an adult. When boys turn twenty and girls turn fifteen, they choose the right day and prepare food and drink for the celebration. The boys bind their hair, wear a top-knot and put on a crown. This is called Gwanrye. The boys are allowed to drink. They wear adult clothes and are treated as adults from that time on. On the other hand, girls wear their hair in a bun and put a binyeo in their hair. This is called Gyerye. In modern times, we can hardly find any examples of traditional coming-of-age celebrations because we usually give and take roses and perfume which is similar to western customs. These days, Hyanggyo, the Confucian temple which has educated local students since the Joseon Dynasty still holds a traditional coming-of-age ceremony. This ceremony is held in order to celebrate coming-of-age every year in Daegu. Thirty adolescents participate in this event and about 200 people come to witness it. During this event, the participants are taught how to drink while wearing a Hanbok, they are given a nickname, and they declare that they have become adults. (There is a custom whereby people thought names were important, so they cannot call out each other’s names carelessly.)

Although the coming-of-age ceremonies differ from country to country, people still want to recognize the maturation of boys and girls as members of society in almost all nations. Each country is also attached to their traditional cultures and many cultures take these celebrations more seriously than we do. We need to consider our actions as adults and take responsibility for them now. Even though we do not need a special ceremony to recognize becoming adults we should take it seriously anyway and understand what society expects from us.

박정은 기자, 김지혜 기자  pos99184@ynu.ac.kr, chiechann@ynu.ac.kr
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