When I hear the term “coming-of-age ceremony,” I still think of Jan. 15.

A revision to the national holidays law has changed the date of the Coming-of-Age Day from Jan. 15 to the second Monday of January. But my thoughts about the day are apparently still affected by memories of the era when it was Jan. 15.

When did the current form of coming-of-age celebration begin in Japan, in the first place?

The city of Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, claims to be the birthplace of the tradition. According to the city, it originated in the “youth festival” that was held in the city in November 1946, when the nation was still in the rough times of the early postwar period.

A local youth association organized the festival to cheer up the community, which was distressed by the nation’s defeat in World War II.

The opening ceremony for the festival was called “coming-of-age ceremony.”

The festival, which lasted for three days, featured a variety of events and attractions, ranging from music concerts and “manzai” comic dialogue shows to a baseball tournament.

Many of the men who visited the festival were wearing “kokumin-fuku,” a khaki-colored wartime uniform for civilian men, according to local history, while a majority of women were in “monpe,” simple baggy work pants, usually tightened at the ankles.

In one corner of the festival venue was a counseling room for people searching for the whereabouts of demobilized relatives who had yet to return home from battlefields.

Two years later, in 1948, the national holidays law came into effect, making coming-of-age ceremonies a national custom.

In a park built at the site of a ruined castle, located in central Warabi, stands a monument titled “Youth.”

Lines from a Japanese translation of the poem Youth by American poet Samuel Ullman (18401924) are engraved in the monument.

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind.”

“You are ... as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear ...”

They are written in crisp and stylish language.

The poem came to be widely known in Japan after it was translated by local businessman Yoshio Okada.

Okada was an expert in spinning who developed his business career in the wool and worsted industry before the war.

When he discovered the poem immediately after the end of the war Okada was so impressed that he translated and kept it at hand for occasional reflection on the poet’s words.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Okada’s death.

I first encountered this poem in my mid-20s. I had long forgotten it until I recently happened to find it written on the monument in the park.

I took advantage of the absence of others and read out the excellent translation of the poem.

I clearly saw the boundary between being young and old that was hard to comprehend for me three decades ago.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 14

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.