Faces of Tokyo Series: Coming of Age Day at Meiji Jingu

January 15, 2009 · Print This Article

A flickr friend gave me the heads up about the good photography opportunities at Meiji Jingu Shrine on Coming of Age Day, or Seijin in Japanese.  It was also a chance for me to finally meet that flickr friend, Vladimir Zakharov, whose photography I have been a fan of for some time.  I of course assumed there would be a good number of other photographers there, as Meiji Jingu is perhaps the most popular shrine for such events in Tokyo.  I had heard that the girls did not mind posing for the cameras as well.  I had no idea how much they did not mind and how much the photographers were willing to give them orders!

In general, Coming of Age Day in Japan is for girls (and to a lesser degree boys) that turned 20 years old in the past year to get dressed up in kimono and go to a shrine and make a prayer/wish for their future.  The kimono the girls wear for Coming of Age Day are much more brightly colored and flamboyant than the kimono you will see older women wear to important social events.  

The girls above are not being glib about their praying.  They are in fact tiring of being given orders on which pose to pray in by a bossy ojisan (middle-aged Japanese man).  To my great surprise, several ojisan photographers would literally walk girls over to where they wanted to photograph them then proceed to give them orders on how to pose and where to look.  Perhaps even more amazingly was how many girls were willing to comply!  At most in exchange they got someone to take a photo of them with their own small digital cameras.  In return, the photographers got to take shots of them with unobstructed backgrounds or in the act of praying/making a wish.

This was actually kind of comical and in good spirits though.  I laughed often as one ojisan was saying things like, “ok, stand up straight,”  “please move the hair out of your eyes,” etc.  I was also thankful as it allowed me to get some good shots with good backgrounds as well!

This is how it went:  the girls in kimono would enter the shrine area and boom, like paparazzi, photographers would gather around them, presuming they were pretty girls.  Yes, chubby and less pretty ones were virtually ignored!  Many girls willingly stopped and posed for the photographers.  They would even turn and look at each person’s lens if requested.  This went on anywhere from 5 minutes up to one girl who stood around for 20 minutes.  She loved the attention obviously.  Other girls looked less comfortable with it.  

As for myself, I felt bad as first, but then realized this is how things worked so joined in and got some experience as being a paparazzi!  I never gave an order or asked for a girl to look into my lens, nor did I get right up in anyone’s faces as I saw several photographers do.  (my close-up shots are with a long 80-200mm lens)

All in all, I think it was an experience the girls, and at least myself, will not soon forget!

One of my first shots (of 1,000) that afternoon...great closed eye smile. She knows how to come of age gracefully These two girls were my favorites of the day.  I loved the nonplussed expressions on their faces.
She was taken to this spot specifically to be posed by an ojisan, I can't believe she complied! The ojisan wanted a photograph of her from the back, so she turned around. My two favorite girls getting tired of being ordered how to pose while pretend praying.
Her braces make her look way under 20 years old. She knew how to pose well, back nice and strait.  She let herself e taken to this spot.  I think the same ojisan was hearding them all to this spot. I'd be careful putting those fingernails anywhere near my eyes.
Coming of Age Day kimonos are much more vivid than the usual ones worn by obasans for other occasions. I often thought the lower half of the girls looked more interesting. A rare girl who chose a more refined and elegant kimono and look for Coming of Age Day.
Standing tall and proud giving the photographers just what they want. Random people would ask to pose with the kimono clad girls. Some came as couples.  I did not alterations to that dude's face.  Needless to say he's way above his paygrade.
The ONLY girl wearing glasses I saw today, so had to feature her. Dude, seriously, could you get closer?? This girl was the queen of posing, she stood for at least 20 minutes letting herself get photographed.
A peculiar choice of bangs placement I thought. She was posing with her tongue out on purpose, nice. Each girl, I think, made it over to the actual shrine to pray before leaving.
About to toss her ¥10 yen coin and make a prayer and/or wish Her eyes seem to have a lot of thought behind them. Another long poser, I got several shots of her in different places myself.
Many girls wore some kind of floral adornment in the hair.  Oh, and that's a real fur shawl. She had very high hair, somewhat Kramer like.  

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13 Responses to “Faces of Tokyo Series: Coming of Age Day at Meiji Jingu”

  1. on January 15th, 2009 3:00 PM

    Coming of Age at Meiji Jingu Shrine with pushy photographers!…

    At Meiji Jingu Shrine in Yoyogi on Coming of Age Day, Seijin, many photographers and 20 year old girls came together for a weird kind of symbiosis. To my great surprise, many of the girls WANTED to be photographed and posed willingly. Ojisans even ga…

  2. on January 15th, 2009 3:07 PM

    Now these are some nice photos. I almost gave up on young Japanese women until I saw these photos. Especially, the comment you made about all of them making it to the shrine to pray.


  3. on January 15th, 2009 8:54 PM

    the older man with the camera just had to get as close as possible to his subjects, hahah!


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Yes, and that rotund man was not in her face for just a quick shot, he was up in her grill for over a minute snapping away like crazy, still staying even when she turned away in embarrassment.


  4. on January 15th, 2009 11:11 PM

    Excellent shots Jason! As I said on flickr I really like the first one as it is much more interesting than the ‘cliche’ head shots, also the white scarf (looks like a ?) is a wonderful capture, coincidence or was it the direction of an ojisan?


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Thanks j-eye. Yeah, it was a real challenge to get non-cliche shots, especially since there were so many photographers around and getting the best angle, or the traditional best angle was out of the question and the domain only of the most pushy ojisan photographers.

    I call that scarf thing a shawl in my mind. I saw her starting to take it off, and thought somewhere in that movement I’d be able to possibly get an interesting shot.


    Chris (i-cjw.com) Reply:

    I’d second (third? forth?) the comments about that top photo. Unique and evocative, I love it.


  5. on January 15th, 2009 11:26 PM

    Great shots- like the lower halves one, and the girl shot through the looped scarf. Great colors. All a bit manufactured, but I suppose that’s unavoidable- part of the fun even.


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Thanks, I think the lower-halves one is my favorite shot of that day as well (I took 1,000 shots total!).

    Don’t know what you mean by them all being manufactured though. You mean that they were posing? Some are candids as well.


  6. Dale
    on January 17th, 2009 11:00 AM

    Hey Mr Paparazzi!
    I was there before it got too crowded and could take some unobstructed shots of the girls freely walking around the shrine – mostly candid photos, though perhaps generally the posing ones give the best “classical” scene overall.

    You missed the huge gathering in front of the Shibuya Town Hall, where they have their offical “city” ceremony.

    One thing about taking such photos, if you do get some real gems, it’s a shame that you can’t share them with the model you took them of (ie. no contact). I’d at least like to give that back (especially when photos they will have of themselves will be less-than-ideal cell-phone, compact cam pics)


    Jason Collin Reply:

    Yeah, having the ojisans pose the girls definitely helped a lot, otherwise all shots would have had busy backgrounds. I do like to take candid shots, and managed to get a few, but getting posed shots was also a nice change too since it’s extremely rare to find girls in kimonos just posing out on the street.

    I thought why didn’t the girls ask the ojisans for copies of the photos or something? Especially since they were being posed, etc. Maybe they did and I just didn’t see it or realize it.

    I was just taking a break leaning against a pole at the shrine and became aware a Japanese girl was photographing me. A few minutes later I saw her again and gave her my business card and asked her to send me a copy of the photos. She was surprised I had noticed her photographing me. Told her it was obvious, especially to another street photographer! No copies sent yet though.


  7. on January 21st, 2009 3:01 PM

    […] Nihon Sun Photo Gallery was a beautiful shot of  Mt. Fuji and you can see more great images from Seiji no Hi by Jason Collin on his website […]

  8. on May 26th, 2017 7:33 AM

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