A Different ‘Coming of Age’ Day

Coming of Age Day in Yokohama, Japan

Yokohama on Coming of Age Day makes visiting the Meiji Shrine for the same event seem rather tame.

I’d always heard that Yokohama did a good ‘seijin no hi’ or ‘Coming of Age Day’. I’d never been but today, rather than do the usual ‘go to Meiji Shrine’ thing, I decided to listen to my wife and head off to Yokohama instead. I’m very glad I did. Not only was the area around Yokohama Arena packed with 20 year-olds dressed up in traditional clothing but one section of the throng, the ‘yankees’ or young hooligans, young gangsters, yakuza…. well, they truly kicked-off with the Police.

I arrived in Shin-Yokohama around 1.45pm as the afternoon session of coming of age ceremonies at the Arena finished around 2.35pm and I figured there’d be plenty of action with kimono-clad-ladies and young men in their own traditional dress. There were. After an initial recce of the area, walking on the elevated walkways and getting some shots down into the streets, I picked a spot up by a convenience store where a crowd of roudy youths had gathered and were attracting a rather large Police presence.

I got some nice shots of groups of girls and their boyfriends and began to get some good shots of the Police too; there were a lot of them and they were herding people around from one side of the road to the other. There was obviously something brewing, so I stuck around.

I’d been using the Nikon with the 80-200mm on for shooting from the overhead walkways and I’d got a few shots in the street with it too. But in this sort of close-quarters environment the Epson R-D1 rangefinder comes into its own. Sporting the 21mm Avenon lens [made, coincidentally, in Yokohama] I began to mingle with the revellers. The 21mm is 32mm on the Epson’s DX sensor and that makes for a nice lens in crowds. I generally shoot it stopped-down to f/8 as that gives me zone focus between 1metre and infinity. I’d set the camera at 400ISO and was shooting at around f/5.6 most of the time today, as I wanted to keep the shutter-speed up… an idea that proved useful later on when things got going.

Plying the crowds now on the opposite side of the street I’d started from [after being moved on by the Police], there was a sense that something was about to happen. Several small groups of lads, who I’d seen earlier on getting tanked-up on sake, wine and tequila, were getting edgy. Their girlfriends too.

The Police started to actively move in on the crowd and were trying to get everyone back towards the station area.. to no avail it must be said. 

Two of the young men I’d seen and shot pictures of earlier – one in particular who I’d shot getting a 2litre bottle of sake tipped into his mouth – started kicking off. One threw a punch, a shot which I was right on top of the pair of the men to get, as I’d been sticking to the pair of them like glue; sure I was that they were getting too macho with each other and it that it would soon end in blows.

Then all hell broke loose and for a few moments I failed to get any sharp shots, the action was moving so quickly. But I stayed with the crowd and right in the thick of it. The Police and the kids were paying little attention to me. I had my press badge and armband on and was feeling pretty brave, so I just stuck with it and mixed right in with everyone.

A few of the kids were – when they weren’t in the fray – posing for me. It was mad.

It’s gotta be said that most of the kids heading to the Arena for their coming of age ceremony were perfectly behaved. And, although the youth wing of the yakuza – which these kids most obviously were – treated me very politely, they are a bunch of badly-behaved and ignorant louts. Polite, pleasant and charismatic but not a great advert for Japanese youth.

However, it all made for a superb day’s photography.

I later went into Yokohama and shot a few more laid-back shots of kimon0-clad ladies in the night-time streets. All very relaxed after the ‘rumble’ of the afternoon.

So, here’s the punch that started it all off…

Coming of Age Day in Japan, gangster stylee

And one of the main men, feeling very happy with himself after the action had died down…

Coming of Age Day in Japan, gangster stylee

Some ladies in kimono…

Coming of Age Day in Yokohama: ladies in kimono

A few more of the ladies….

Coming of Age Day in Yokohama: ladies in kimono

And here is a slideshow of the whole shoot, the build-up, the fight and the aftermath. I’ll post some of the shots I took with the Nikon later. These shots in the galleries were all made with the Epson R-D1 and are straight out of the camera apart from one or two of the images which were slightly cropped.

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