Today is 成人の日(seijin no hi), or Coming-of-Age Day here in Japan. It is a day commemorating everyone turning 20 this year (and by ‘this year’, they mean the current school year which started last April and runs through this March). I’ll be 30 this year and most of my friends are about the same age, so unfortunately I don’t personally know anyone who participated in the ceremony at city hall this morning, but in years past I have seen all the young women dressed to the nines in kimono, with elaborate hairstyles. In fact, many Japanese girls prepare for the ceremony by visiting beauty salons very early in the morning, with some salons opening at 5 or 6 am to accommodate the demand.
Yesterday I went to Nara to see 若草山焼き(Wakakusa Yama-yaki). Wakakusa Yama is a set of three very large hills in Nara, and every year, the day before Coming-of-Age Day, they set the mountain ablaze in a religious festival of renewal for the new year. Starting at 17:50, there is a fireworks display which lasts ten minutes. When the fireworks begin, people light their torches from the bonfire and start walking up to the middle of the hill. When the fireworks end, the people set their torches to the ground and the cold, dry grass begins to slowly burn. More information (in Japanese, of course) and pictures at the Nara Prefectural web site: http://www.pref.nara.jp/narakoen/
My friends and I arrived in Nara a few hours before the event, so we walked around to various places. One of my friends had a friend visiting from overseas, so they went to see the famous 東大寺大仏 (Todai-ji Daibutsu), the Great Buddha statue at Todai-ji Temple. Having been to see it myself on more than a few occasions, I opted to go with my other friends to 奈良町 (Nara-machi), which I had not been to before. Nara-machi is the city’s old merchant district and reminded me of Kyoto’s Gion, though on a much smaller scale. The stores and homes are very old, and walking down the streets of the area feel like taking a trip into the past. We visited the 春鹿 (Harushika: spring deer) sake brewery. For a mere ¥400 we were able to sample five of the different varieties of sake produced there. Sake sampling is called きき酒 (kikizake) in Japanese, and the term can even apply to wine tasting, since sake refers not only to 日本酒 (nihonshu), but to all alcoholic drinks. I enjoyed all five samples and after those, they served us a sweet sparkling sake, too. When we left, we were given a bag to carry home the glass sake cups we had drank from. At the bottom of the glass is the image of a deer, for which Nara is famous. For more on Nara-machi (again, in Japanese), see this site: http://www.naramachi.jp/