Now that January is here, Japanese who turned 20 years of age since last April are preparing for their Coming of Age ceremony, a day when “new adults” celebrate their status as shakai-jin (lit. “society-person”), or full-fledged members of society. Each year’s crop of new adults is a bellwether for the current generation, and as Japan ages and fewer Japanese are born it seems that every year brings depressing new milestones. Two years ago it was the news that the number of new 20-year-olds was fewer than the number born in the last Hinoeuma year (1966), when a widespread superstition that girls born in the fifth cycle of the Year of the Horse would be unlucky, headstrong girls who “devour” their fathers and husbands, causing a dip in the number of babies born that year. (This is based on the 400-year-old story of Japan’s most famous arsonist, Oshichi, a girl who fell in love with a boy while fleeing a fire in Edo, so she tried to start another fire a year later in the hopes she could meet him again.). This year the bad news is that the number of new adults is less than 1% of the population for the first time ever.
New 20-year-olds will celebrate becoming adults soon.