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Last Updated: Monday, 8 January 2007, 08:26 GMT
Japanese mark Coming of Age day
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

A young woman in kimono and her mother smile together for a photograph 8/1/2007
The day is a public holiday across Japan
Japan has been marking Coming of Age day, celebrating the transition into adulthood of those who turned 20 last year.

But in another sign of the country's demographic difficulties, the number of youths being honoured is the smallest in nearly two decades.

Twenty is the age when you can vote and drink alcohol legally here.

The celebrations take place at city halls, temples and other public venues like Tokyo Disneyland.

Many of those taking part wear formal outfits, such as traditional kimonos, to mark the occasion.

Young woman in kimonos smile for a photograph 8/1/2007
The future may not be so simple

This year though, there is more evidence of the country's declining birth rate.

Official figures show that just under 1.4m adults turned 20 over the last 12 months.

That is only 30,000 more than the smallest group ever, recorded in 1987.

In fact, taken as a percentage of the total population, the 2006 group is the smallest ever.

That is why experts say the government has to find new ways to persuade these young adults to have families of their own.

Japan is facing a labour shortage and a pensions shortfall. This is the year that millions of the country's baby boomers start to retire.

Many of them who have had jobs for life will be looking forward to a relatively comfortable retirement.

The generation who have just entered adulthood will probably find life is much harder.

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