Today is known as seijin no hi (成人の日) or The Coming of Age Day which is held on the second Monday of January every year. Basically all young people who turn 20 that year celebrate seijin no hi. Celebrations are held all over Japan with people who are turning 20 usually in formal dress.

Kiyomi and I had reason to be near Okazaki Castle and next to the river that runs next to the castle was a large group of people, Red Cross, blood mobile, table, cooking etc. We went down, were given some, something to eat, not too sure what it was – sliced beef, steamed veggies all in a soup, quite nice, and since it’s free who’s complaining. I though maybe they had a seijin no hi celebration and wanted to get rid of the extra food. Maybe… these thoughts were quickly discarded as I noticed, and this really grabbed my attention, a few people walking around in their swimming trunks (with a thin cotton robe thrown over) in ~5c weather which was blowing a hell of a gale (the kind that cuts right through you)! What’s going on here? I then found out that every year a group of people go for a swim in the river!

Fast forward 30 minutes…

When it was time for the ceremony to begin a few people made speeches, (it was said that the conditions today’s were the worst in 10 years) and a few of the swimmers were introduced. It was then I noticed that age or sex didn’t seem to matter, as the people swimming that day ranged from 5 to 65.

After the speeches and the introductions were done the “leader” stood up in front of the swimmers and gave a motivational speech, (get the blood flowing I guess), and finished by bending knees and elbows and shouting “Yosho!” and extending knees and elbows. Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!… Yosho!!

Then the leader along with two others walked to the edge of the river, bent down and quickly scooped water over them selves (to lessen the shock when they got in no doubt) and entered the river with each person carry a masu (?) wooden box which was a small portable shrine. This was all done to purify the river.

After purifying the river it was time to wish for good luck, this was represented by a man with yumi (?) or bow and a ya (?) or (burning) arrow in the middle of the river who fired it into the sky. Everything went well – arrow went up, man didn’t get burnt – good luck holding.

The first swimmer then dived into the river saw halfway and then back. Three people then got into the river with small boards (blank) and brushes and proceed to write their names on the cardboard while swimming. Really hope they had short names as out of the water it was freezing, I would hate to think how cold it would be IN the water. Two of the name writers had finished their names and had gotten out of the river and into the tub of hot water waiting for them, the other, one old gentleman, was still swimming away writing his name. Don’t know if he had a very long name, was a bad writer, had forgotten how to spell his name or was simply showing off. I suspect the latter.

After than it was time for the children present to get in and swim, once in they had no reservations swimming around, though they did tend to swim faster as they came back towards the shore (and the waiting hot tub).

Finally some swimmers swam across the river (instead of merely out and back in). No hot tubs on the other side – when they emerged on the other side they got the biggest applause from the onlookers. The hardest part was, I suspect, after getting out the wind (which was still blowing) would have frozen their bodies, and then with frozen bodies get back into the cold river and swim back. I suspect the waiting tub of boiling water would have been motivation enough to do this.

That was pretty much it, would I do this? NO WAY. Not in a month of Sundays. It was cold enough without the inevitable heart attacks of jumping into freezing cold water or out of cold water into boiling hot water. But these people have been doing this for 15 years (as was said in the opening speech) so I guess by now they ought to be used to it.
You can see pictures of the event in our photo gallery.

— David

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