In Japan, turning 20 is cause for a national holiday. Since 1948, the country has held Coming of Age Day to celebrate when 20-year-olds gain the right to vote, as well as buy cigarettes and alcohol.
But this year, Japan’s demographic problems cast a shadow on the festivities with the smallest coming-of-age cohort since the government began tracking birth data in 1968—only 1.2 million Japanese were born in 1993 and turned 20 in time to celebrate the holiday, down from a peak of 2.46 million in 1970.
The numbers reflect one of Japan’s biggest challenges: its elderly population is outpacing the number of young people. As of Dec. 1, there were an estimated 6.18 million people between the ages of 20 and 24, but 7.66 million between 70 and 74.
And so the faces of young men and women who presented themselves in suits, kimonos, and other garish outfits at ceremonies throughout the country on Jan. 13 were just another reminder of how quickly youth fades.