Coming of Age in Japan
Coming of age is a significant event in the life of young people all over the world. It means that you can legally do many things that some have wanted to do for quite a while. In Japan, turning the age of majority is a big deal, and there is even a special day to honor those who came of age the year before. From which age people are regarded as an adult in Japan? And what new privileges and obligations come with adulthood?
Legal Age of Adulthood in Japan
The legal age of adulthood in Japan is 20 years old as of 2020, but after long discussions in the Diet, it was decided that the age of majority will be lowered to 18 in 2022. The age of 20 was set by a law dating back to 1896. During the feudal time in the Edo period, coming of age was around 15 as many people didn’t live to old age during those days.
Is the same legal age of adulthood applied to everyone? No, there are some exceptions. Once you are married, you will be regarded as an adult. At this moment, the age you can get married is 18 for men and 16 for women, but that age will be changed to 18 for both males and females in 2022. Another exception is made for certain members of the Imperial Family; the Emperor, the Crown Prince, and the eldest grandson of the Emperor. They are regarded as adults from the age of 18.
What Happens Once You Become an Adult?
These are some of the most important implications of coming of age in Japan;
- Marriage: once the law changes in 2022, you can legally get married once you reach adulthood, because the age of legal adulthood will be lowered to 18, and at the same time, the legal age to be able to get married will become 18 for both men and women.
- Voting: you will be able to vote once you become an adult. At this moment you can only vote from the first election after you turn 20, but some young people will be happy to be able to vote from age 18 from 2022. Putting yourself up for election, however, is a different story. To stand as a candidate of the House of Representatives, you need to be 25, and you need to be at least 30 for the House of Councilors or to become a governor of one of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
- Money loans: once you become an adult, you can sign a loan agreement when you buy expensive products such as a car, motorbike, or even a mortgage.
- Certain protections are removed: it is not all fun and games though, as certain legal protections are removed once you reach adulthood. Children are well protected by the law. Most of the laws are, however, applied by age and not by the fact if you are adult or not. Some laws are applied to people over 18, for example, when it comes to labor law and juvenile law. You are never given the death penalty, no matter what you have done, before you become 18.
Drinking and Smoking
Even though the age of adulthood will be lowered, the age to be able to buy alcohol and cigarette will remain the same as now, which is 20 years old. You can buy alcoholic drinks at liquor stores or at convenience stores, but you may be asked to show your ID if you look younger than 20. For added legal protection of alcohol selling establishments you also need to touch the “Yes” button on the monitor of the cashier when prompted “Are you older than 20 years old?”, no matter how old you look.
When you buy cigarettes, it is the same at the cashier, but you can also purchase them by the vending machine. How do they check whether you are an adult? In Japan you can get a kind of ID card called “taspo”, that you have to apply for with your photo and ID. You need to touch the taspo card to the sensor of the machine when you buy cigarettes, which makes it harder for minors to buy them.
By the way, the proportion of people who smoke in Japan has been decreasing year by year. It was 49% in 1965, but it has decreased to only about 17% in 2019. Lately, Japan has joined the rest of the Western world by decreasing the number of places where you can smoke. Most restaurants in Tokyo have become non-smoking in 2020 as a preparation for the Olympics. Also, in many places in Tokyo, you are not allowed to smoke other than in the designated smoking areas. If you are a smoker, you need to be careful about where you smoke during your trip in Japan.
In Japan, there are 4 types of gambling that are controlled by the government and therefore legal; horse racing, bicycle racing, motorbike racing, and motorboat racing. Anyone can watch the races, but you need to be 20 to buy a betting slip.
Then there is Pachinko, which looks a bit like a pinball machine game. This is a type of gambling that is in the grey zone. In order to avoid gambling rules, you can win a prize that is not money which you can exchange for money around the corner. You can play Pachinko from age 18.
The Takarakuji, or regular lottery, is different as you can buy lottery tickets regardless of age. Participating in the lottery is very popular in Japan, especially around the New Year. In Japan, one lottery ticket tends to be very cheap, so many people buy dozens or sometimes even hundreds of tickets at the same time. This makes it quite a big job to check whether you have won something, but of course, this is part of the fun.
Many kids can’t wait until they can finally drive a car themselves and look forward to the day they are old enough to enroll in a driving school. In Japan, you can actually get a driver’s license before becoming an adult. Once you become 16, you are allowed to get a license for a small motorcycle. And once you become 18, you can obtain a driver’s license for a car.
Getting a driver’s license is notoriously expensive and difficult in Japan. First, you need to go to a private driving school to learn about traffic laws and driving techniques. It normally takes two to three months and costs 250,000 to 300,000 yen (2,500 to 3,000 USD)! Then you have to take the exam, which means that you have to drive a pre-set course in exactly the way they want you to drive it. You have to learn the route by heart, and one mistake means that you have to re-take the test. Also, if you want to drive a larger motorcycle or larger car, you need to have a different license.
Coming of Age Day
The second Monday of January is Coming of Age Day which is a national holiday. New adults who turned 20 during the year before are invited by the local government to attend an official ceremony to welcome them to the adult world. The ceremonies are usually held at the halls of the schools or local concert halls. If you live in Urayasu City in Chiba Prefecture, you are lucky enough to be invited to Tokyo Disneyland! These ceremonies are often reunions of former classmates two years after they graduate high school and after moving away for college, so for many, it is an event to catch up with old friends.
New adults participate in the ceremony with formal wear. Women often wear colorful kimono with long sleeves. Most don’t own a kimono like the one they wear during this ceremony, so they rent it. For many of them, it is the first time to wear a formal kimono (except for those who did the 7-5-3 ceremony for children), so they need someone to help them into the kimono. It is quite difficult to put on and wear unless you practice. Some men may wear kimono, but most of them will wear a western-style formal suit. During the ceremony, the mayor will give a speech and the new adults make a toast with beer or sake. This part of the ceremony will change after 2022 because they will then have to wait two more years after becoming adults to drink alcohol.
If you travel to Japan in January, you may come across young ladies wearing beautiful kimono. If so, they are likely wearing it for the Coming of Age Day ceremony.
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