Post by Raka Sarkar, Japan Studies Intern
This past semester, we were incredibly fortunate to have exchange students visiting us at Pitt from Yasuda Women’s University in Hiroshima, Japan. Having crossed a vast sea, they chose to come here, to us, to study English at our English Language Institute, from August through the middle of January. Thanks to the Asian Studies Center’s facilitation, I (and many other students of Japanese like me) was incredibly fortunate to be able to have one of these wonderful, talented, and brave girls as my conversation partner.
However, the time that they chose to be here is incredibly significant in Japan for not one, but two reasons. New Year’s is an incredibly important time for people of Japanese heritage, as it is a time when family unites to usher in the new year together and pay their respects. However, for a number of the girls who came here to Pitt, 2017 was the year that they turned 20, and officially came of age in Japan—the age that they will finally be recognized as adults, ready to enter society, their futures bright with new possibilities.
As a result, Coming of Age Day (成人の日, Seijin no Hi) is a national holiday held on the second Monday of January, where young people dress in their finest traditional clothes, and are celebrated during ceremonies held at schools and prefectural offices. Any young women will wear furisode, a style of kimono with long, elegant sleeves that fall around one’s ankles, and men can dress up in either traditional dress with hakama trousers or snappy Western suits. The photos that come out of Japan at this time every year are stunning to watch, but this year, looking at them was bittersweet—the girls studying abroad with us could have been celebrating in style back home, but in chasing their passion, they were brought here.
Thus, we decided that we should bring a Coming of Age ceremony to them. On Wednesday, January 10, a ballroom in the University Club was rented out, and following a rousing performance by Pittsburgh Taiko, students from Yasuda, as well as students from Pitt and Chatham, all twenty, processed in, dressed in resplendent kimono and formal wear. Speeches were given about responsibility, about the opportunities lying in wait for them as adults, and all that their English education would provide for them. A calligraphy demonstration captivated the audience, and gifts were exchanged, before everyone was set free to mingle, dance, celebrate, eat toasted almond cake, and spend time with host families and friends.
Seeing this new side to the Yasuda students—dressed in their finery, heads held high as adults, I personally felt overwhelmed. It was such an incredible privilege to witness their coming of age across the sea, and smother them with all the love we could before they return home to their families and teachers. My conversation partner flies home on Sunday, and while I will worry and fuss over how these last two years of her college career will fare, the photo I have of her, in her dazzling red kimono, with flowers in her hair, will remind me that she’s a stronger, braver, and more capable woman than she was before. I look forward to the next time we Pitt students can meet with the Yasuda students again.