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On the subject of important days this month, another event in the Korean calendar that sees a lot less attention now than it once received is 성년의 날 -- the coming of age ceremony held for men and women turning twenty years old. Held every third Monday in May, there are slightly different rituals conducted for each sex. This year the event falls on 18 May, today, although the government has also instituted a program where ceremonies are performed each month rather than once per year.

The KNU Times suggests that the ceremony has been practiced since the days of the Mahan Confederacy (100BCE-300CE) but offers no source to back up the claim. An article from last year's event from Korea.net, meanwhile, reports that the impetus for this event comes from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). More specifically,

The first written record of Korea's coming of age ceremony is found in 965, during King Gwangjong's reign (925-975). It was written at the time that the young crown prince was presented with new grown-up garments to wear. It became a popular custom of the upper class people by the time of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) where social codes were necessary to uphold various family rituals.

From what I can tell the ceremony was initially held once a year and everyone who was turning twenty that year took part. This is also the case with Japan's coming of age ceremony, Seijin shiki; 成人式, although I am by no means an expert on either event. The new monthly offerings are an initiative supported by Seong Youn-ho of the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs and take place in a few different locations. This article from the Chosun Ilbo mentions a collaboration between the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family and Sejong Center for the Performing Arts to bring the ceremony to the Namsangol Traditional Folk Village in Seoul. From the JoongAng Daily comes the following quote, that "the national government gives 20 million won ($14,500) per year to regional community centers and schools that hold coming-of-age rituals."

The ceremony itself is broken up into several parts for both men and women. Special garments are added at each stage to signify the procession of steps, with men tying their hair into topknots and wearing a gat (갓; a cylindrical hat made from horse hair) while women were adorned with a binyeo hairpin (비녀). An interesting quote about the hairpin comes from the previously-cited JoongAng Daily piece and respondent Choi Jee-hyun:

“Honestly speaking, friends my age don’t care much about tradition,” Choi said. “For example, we hardly wear hanbok [traditional Korean clothes] anymore.” For Choi, the ceremony was important because she had to endure something physically painful. “It hurt when a binyeo [hairpin] was put in my hair, but I realized I had to put up with this kind of pain to truly become an adult,” she said.

The next part of the ceremony involves drinking - for men it's their first sip of wine; for women it's tea - and assuming a pen name meant to embody an aspect of Confucian virtue. Unfortunately, there's also some conflicting information out there concerning some of the details of the ceremony. Most of the photos I've seen online indicate that women wear a green jeogori (저고리; the upper part of a hanbok) and red chima (치마; the lower, skirt portion). However, Food in Korea offers that the jeogori should be yellow. Oh well. Like I said above, I'm no expert.

For the contemporary coming of age ceremony, the KNU Times article mentions that there are three gifts commonly received as part of the celebration. A bottle of perfume, twenty roses, and a kiss. Which goes some way toward explaining why a search for 성년의 날 on Naver yields the following image:

For more information on the subject I would recommend the JoongAng Daily article first, as well as the Korea.net site. Nate 지식 also has some info, along with Food in Korea. Plus the KNU Times article from above.

Not sure if anyone is familiar with Park Ji Yoon, but she made a video for her song "성인식" (Sunginshik) that includes the lines

I'm not a girl anymore
Don't hesitate anymore
As much as you've waited, I've waited for today too.
Give me twenty roses, so that I can feel your love.
As I wait for you, I now close my eyes.
Which sure sound like a reference to Korea's coming of age ceremony. You can check out the video below. I heard the same exact song on a PSY album but I'm not sure who released their version first. For anyone who was in Korea during the winter of 2002 you'll immediately be able to recognize PSY after hearing this song of his. If the Park Ji Yoon video doesn't load - and it does seem to be slow at the moment - you can check it out on YouTube here.

Image credits: Top image from JoongAng Daily. Kimono image from Jean-François Chénier on Flickr. Tea drinking image from Nate 지식. Perfume image from Newsis on Naver. Video originally found through blogger Gravity.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 19th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
How common?
I wonder how common this is. I just asked Good Man--he didn't do it and neither did his sister. (This is Amanda.)
May. 20th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
Re: How common?
Apparently it's not very common at all. I asked my Korean teacher about it this morning - she's in her mid-30s and lived in Daegu before moving to Ilsan when she got married - and her reply was that university students might do something, but neither she nor her friends did anything. The 부원장님 at my English academy said that she received roses, while of my five Korean co-teachers one had received 20 roses and a cake for 성년의 날. Both recipients are in their mid-30s.

My 27 year old co-teacher said that nobody has observed that day for a long time; after I showed her the articles she said that it was probably only something for people who are really into traditional culture. I can understand forgoing the traditional ceremony but I am curious on why some (a few?) people give roses but others (many?) don't. With all the other "couple's days" in Korea it seems ripe for promotion.
May. 19th, 2009 01:19 pm (UTC)
That was one of the first KPop songs I ever heard! So much better than Wonder Girls... ;)
I remember studying the Coming of Age Ceremony in my Japanese culture class. But I thought it was more a legal thing on New Year's. I'm bummed I didn't hear about this from my co-workers.
May. 20th, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)
The Park Ji-Yoon version? I'm still not sure who came out with it first, although if both versions have lyrics about roses it would make a little more sense for a woman to be the original singer compared to a male vocalist.

I asked my Japanese classmate about Seijin shiki and she said it's mostly just a time for people to dress nice and meet with high school friends who are attending different universities. Apparently each city's mayor also makes a (long) speech before everyone goes out to party. Seems the city of Chiba gives 20 year old's a free pass to enter Disney World Japan for that day, which makes it a popular destination.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )