Saturday, January 9, 2010

Yes, I am twenty

No, I have not vanished off the face of the earth; I am still in Japan. Today was a big "Coming Of Age" ceremony for those who turned twenty within the past year which is the official age of adult-ness in Japan. A while ago I received an invitation to be a part of this ceremony and I was very honored. The invitation was very official and my full name had been printed in Japanese. I went with my friends Cooper Wilson and Marissa Trierweiler and we were told to "dress appropriately." Thanks for being so clear Japan. Cooper and I pulled together some semblance of formal suits, Marissa donned her best formal-wear and we strapped on our helmets setting off for the Culture Plaza.

We made great time on our bikes but got a little lost when the directions Cooper had printed off told us to turn left at the canal. This led us down narrow paths and alleys, none of which ended up at the plaza. As dogs barked at us and people threw us judgmental glances, we could see the plaza over the fence and decided that if worse should come to worse, we would ditch our bikes and hop it. Finally, one last winding trail took us to the back entrance of the plaza's parking lot and we regained our composure, brushed off our shoes and set off calmly toward the front.

Our confidence in our "appropriate dress-wear" faded when a sea of Japanese people in beautiful kimonos and well cut suits flowed into the building. They had all arrived stylishly in their cars and met up with their friends who all looked great. I secured the loose button on my suit coat and we gracefully pushed our bikes toward the corral. After admitting that we all looked and felt like out of place shmucks, we gathered our courage and went inside.

Everyone's hair was done up spectacularly with glitter and flowers, people's kimonos shone with gold threads in their ornate silk patterns, new adults bustled around complementing each other on how wonderful they looked, and here were three white kids standing in the entrance looking somewhat haggard and all too uncomfortable.

We handed our invitations to someone near the door, she gave us complementary cell phone charms, chopsticks and a leaflet, and we shuffled off to the back corner to assess the situation. We had been invited to this special once in a lifetime ceremony and we had no idea what to expect. After a while of standing in admiration and confusion we decided it would be best to take our seats. This proved to be more of a process than I would have thought. We weren't sure if there were assigned seats or if we should randomly sit anywhere. There were guides who could help, but they avoided eye contact and pretended to be busy. After seeing a few other people who seemed to choose their seats at random we elected to adopt the same strategy. We walked down to the middle/front of a large auditorium and sat near the end next to two girls in a row alone. The thinking was that if we left seats between us, someone might have to awkwardly sit away from their group since we assumed the whole place would be filled. After a few moments of us beginning to relax in our seats, the two girls got up and moved to the row in front of us. As if we needed to feel more uncomfortable. Now we were underdressed foreigners sitting in a completely empty row of seats while every other seat in the place quickly filled. Eventually the ceremony started and four brave Japanese people were courageous enough to sit in our row.

What surprised me most about the ceremony was that the audience was never quiet. People gave speeches and there were nostalgic videos, people of importance were there, but everyone kept talking and laughing and texting throughout the ceremony. It was rather strange and I felt irate at everyone. "This would never happen in America," I thought. I have never been a part of such a disrespectful audience.

But it was cool nonetheless. There was a raffle and people won prizes ranging from a digital photo frame to two tickets to Universal Studios Japan. The city's mascot Hikonyan made an appearance and there was an opening brass band that played some Japanese song. Overall I was pleased to go, happy that I was invited and I at least got to see some pretty sweet kimonos.