I've been under the weather for the past few days and am really not out of the woods yet so I home those who made comments will forgive me for not offering responses. My on-line activity has been relatively limited and I spent all of yesterday in bed.
Yesterday was "Coming of Age Day", a Japanese national holiday, and it has been mentioned in many other blogs as well as can be researched regarding the traditional celebration in Wikipedia. Essentially, the age in Japan that one is considered to be an adult in society's estimation is 20. The holiday celebrates those who have turned 20 in the past year. It's interesting that adulthood comes a bit later for the Japanese than for Americans (where 18 is considered as the age at which one is an adult) but unsurprising since the Japanese spend a longer period of time dependent upon their families and take longer before they are thoroughly immersed in the burdens of adult life.
I thought I would add some of the anecdotal information I've gathered from students because it is rather different from what is usually reported. The students I have asked have said that the main thing they do is go to the local government office to hear a speech from some official. The content is usually pretty boring but is meant to "prepare" them for the change in responsibility they will experience as adults. Aside from that, my students have told me that they receive a gift from the local government. I asked the students if they got it for sitting through this boring speech but was told that this gift is sent via mail to all 20-year-olds registered at the government office.
When I asked what sort of gifts they received, I was told they were boring, pragmatic, and generally the type of things you'd already have if you needed one. For instance, one student got a schedule book. Another got a diary. I asked if our tax money was used to purchase these relatively undesired gifts and was told that the items were provided by donations from local merchants or directly from local merchants. I'm not sure if these gifts are offered to everyone in Japan or if they are more common among the various wards in larger cities since they are probably wealthier and have a larger pool of merchants to hit up for freebie gifts.
Generally speaking, this holiday isn't one the Japanese get all that enthusiastic about. It's really mainly another day off for them. That can be said about a lot of the one-off Japanese national holidays though.