Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hiroshima: Coming of age

The Japanese love to celebrate. They have holidays for everything, and coming of age is no exception. The second Monday in January is basically a giant birthday party for everyone who has turned twenty over the last year.

Twenty is a magic number in Japan. To turn twenty is to become an adult. You can drink, smoke, drive and vote.

Wikipedia will tell you that "many women celebrate this day by wearing furisode (a style of kimono with long sleeves that drape down). What Wikipedia does not tell you is that these beautifully dressed young women head to local parks and gardens to have pictures taken, much like Senior pictures for high school students in the states.

On our first day in Hiroshima we arrived too early to check in to our hotel and decided to spend the afternoon at Shukkeien Garden.

It was a beautiful place with everything you could ask for from an Asian garden. We meandered along gravel paths along the shore of a lake that reflected forests of bamboo and stoic old man trees.

The intention of the designer was to put all the wonders of nature in this tiny space. So a steep hill served as a mountain. One bank of the river was paved in smooth round stones to simulate a beach. And footbridges crossed streams pretending to be rivers.

Because we were there on coming of age day, the garden held an added element of beauty the designer never could have planned for - young Japanese women in furisode.

When I saw the first girl I raised my camera and took a picture. She noticed my attention and smiled for the next one.

We spent the next thirty minutes wandering around the garden looking for the perfect opportunity to snap a photo. I don't often wish for one of those big cameras with the removable zoom lenses. Most of the time they seem like more trouble than they're worth. But that day - what amazing images I could have captured.

These are the best of the ones I took. They're the kind of pictures that make me stop and wonder, "How did I get here?" It's funny to think that some of these girls were probably asking themselves the same question.

I leave you today with a quote from Tim Cahill, "I am living out my adolescent dream of travel and adventure."