Our Lives Begin Anew In Nagano

We picked the worst snowstorm in 10 years to arrive in Nagano, Japan. I came in January to teach for a year. Traffic was snarled. Snow piled up on the umbrellas of pedestrians. Young women dressed in beautiful silk kimonos for their Seijin-shiki (coming-of-age ceremony) tried to protect their elaborate hair-dos from the snow while navigating snowy streets in delicate slippers.

Mihoko, our guardian angel and friend, met my husband and me at the train station and drove us (and our incredibly heavy suitcases) to her house. Later we went to her parents' home. Harumi, her youngest sister, was to be part of Seijin-shiki. Her train was one of the last to make it through from Tokyo. By morning, the new bullet train line had been closed by the snow.

Seijin-shiki, on Jan. 15, is a national holiday, a milestone in the lives of Japan's 20-year-olds. It marks their entrance into adulthood. They give up childhood gifts of money from parents and relatives and gain the right to vote and to marry without parental consent.

The occasion is greeted with joyful anticipation, anxious hesitation, and nostalgic backward glances at childhood. The ceremonies are celebrated not with the family, but with one's peers at a community's civic center. A local government official welcomes them into adult life, solemnly reminds them of their duties, and urges participants to take them seriously.

Later, at home, there was a festive tea and gifts from family and friends. Many photos were taken. Harumi was resplendent in her attire. The rest of us were rather less so, in layers of long underwear, sweaters, socks, and anything else to keep us warm. If Harumi was cold in her kimono, she didn't say so. Perhaps the day's excitement and the weight of her new status kept her warm.

It was fitting that we'd arrived this day. It marked Harumi's new life as an adult and the beginning of our new life in Japan.

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