Legal Age in Japan
Adulthood at 18 and 20 Years Old
Legal age in Japan is 20 years old, but since April 2022, voting age has been lowered to 18 years old. As a consequence, new rights and responsibilities related to living within society are now accessible to younger adults. Japan thus stays in step with the worldwide trend of countries where adulthood is reached at 18 years old.
Emperor Naruhito’s only daughter, Princess Aiko, celebrated her 20th birthday in December 2021 and definitely entered adulthood as defined by law in Japan. On this occasion, she wore a tiara lent by her aunt, and she qualified for representing the Imperial Household in official ceremonies.
The age of adulthood was set at 20 years old since 1876. However, the Japanese Civil Code revised in 2018 came into effect in April 2022, implementing a first step into adulthood at 18 years old for specific situations. By widening the adult population, the Japanese government is trying to prompt the younger ones to take a more active part in society in the context of an aging population and a declining birth rate.
Responsibilities from 18 years old
The legal age in Japan was dropped to 18 years old for all matters regarding administration and civic duties. Indeed, the last revision of the law mainly lowered the voting age to 18 years old and therefore expanded voting rights to universal suffrage elections. It is also aiming at new voters to be treated and considered as full grown adults by society.
Therefore, since 2022, April 2, the new citizens have access to a new range of rights and responsibilities, without the prior consent of their parents or guardians, such as:
- Working (which was already allowed before);
- Exercising a regulated profession, especially in the law fields (even though the actual length of the studies do not really allow it);
- Signing a cellphone contract;
- Applying for a passport;
- Renting an accommodation;
- Signing for a credit card 💳 and / or a loan from a bank (provided, naturally, a sufficient income and having finished high-school);
- Opening a savings account (NISA account available from 2023, January 1rst);
- Unsubscribe to ongoing contracts.
Age of criminal responsibility stays at 14 years old.
Regarding citizenship, it is possible to apply for Japanese naturalization from 18 years old. People with a dual citizenship still have 2 years to chose one of them, but the period for reflection now begins at 18 years old instead of 20.
Marriage age for women in Japan is raised to 18 years old, instead of 16 previously, and the same age as for men. Moreover, people who want to start gender reassignment process can do so from 18 years old and without their parents’ consent.
Young people can now take their driving license exam right on the day after their 18th birthday. It is thus possible to take driving lessons while still a minor. However, the minimum age to drive specific vehicles (trucks, big cars, bus, etc.) stays 20 years old, with several years of actual driving experience.
Renting a car 🚙 is possible according to the date of getting the driving license, regardless of the age. The main driver must prove a long-enough experience of autonomous driving (from 3 months to 1 year) to be able to rent a car. If not, Japanese car rental agencies require that another driver with at least 3 years of driving license ride the car as a passenger.
To help the young people who became adults at 18 years old in 2022, the government set up a helpline: 188 that is pronounced "i ya ya" in Japanese, meaning "no no no!". New or soon-to-be adults can call this number to ask their questions about the lowering of the legal age and the possible scams they may be victims of.
A website is also available, thanks to the Japanese Ministry of Justice, under the URL seinen.go.jp, whose name could be translated as "Signs on the way to adulthood". It provides a Japanese anime-like cute video and a quiz that sums up the rights and duties of the Japanese who turned 18 years old.
Social activities only allowed from 20 years old
The advantages of becoming an adult, such as leisure activities and social life, still require to be 20 years old. The most important ones are:
- Buying and drinking alcohol;
- Buying and smoking tobacco in dedicated public spaces;
- Take part in gambling or games involving money (poker, casino-type pachinko);
- Sport betting (horse races, etc.).
Moreover, residents in Japan only start to pay social security contributions (health insurance and retirement) from 20 years old.
The traditional Seijin shiki ceremonies, that take place on January’s 2nd Monday to celebrate the coming of age, are expected to be organized in the same way as before, that is to say according to the civil year starting on April 2 and for young people celebrating their 18th birthday on this period.
However, local governments in charge of organizing the celebrations may change the schedule to accommodate other important events taking place at the same period for the 18-19-year-olds, such as University admission exams, companies’ recruitment periods and more recently the Coronavirus 🦠 pandemic that challenged the organization of group events.
Some communities consider keeping a ritual ceremony for the 20th birthday (but not the coming of age) and just change its name.
Others have planned 3 ceremonies in 2023, one for each age from 18 to 20 years old:
- In January for those who turned 20 years old;
- In March for the 19-year-olds; and,
- In May for the 18-year-olds.
Foreign tourists and adulthood in Japan
Foreign travelers in the archipelago must comply with the legislation enforcement in the country. Consequently, when a situation requires someone to be 20 years of age for a Japanese, the same applies to tourists, regardless of their citizenship.
It is therefore still illegal for people under 20 years old to:
- Go to a nightclub;
- Play in a pachinko parlor;
- Drink alcohol in a bar or a karaoke; or,
- Purchase tobacco.
Travelers can be asked their age or to show a proof of their age with an official ID.
Note that the adult admission fee for touristic sites is usually implemented from 12 years old. Other fee may be implemented according to the children’s school level. The minimum age to book an accommodation is determined by each lodging individually, for example, renting a room alone in a capsule hotel 🏨 is possible from 13 years old on average.