Age Restrictions in Japan: Drinking, Smoking, Voting & More
Age matters a lot in Japan. From the earliest school years until a person finds a job and even into retirement, a Japanese person’s age is connected strongly with their status in society. The age of 20, when a person is said to have become an adult, is commemorated in a special celebration called "Seijin no Hi" (or Coming-of-Age day), held for young man and women on the second Monday of January.
Since age 20 is widely considered to be the most important stepping-stone in a young person’s life, one would think that almost everything somebody can do--from smoking to driving and of course, voting--would begin around that age. But in Japan, you actually have the right to do a few things even before that! Whether you already live in the country or are just thinking about it, here are some age restrictions in Japan that you should keep in mind.
6 Important Age Restrictions in Japan you Should Know
License of Motorbikes & Other Vehicles
Depending on the vehicle, there are several Japanese age restrictions to take note of: Motorbikes that are over 50cc~under 400cc are restricted to people aged 16 or older, while motorbikes over 400cc are for those aged 18 and over. For ordinary vehicles, it is restricted to those aged 18 and above. You have to be 20 and over with at least 2 years of driving experience with ordinary vehicles to be able to drive heavy vehicles (Trucks, etc.).
The biggest advantage from owning a motorbike or other vehicle in Japan is that you can get wherever you want, whenever you want. While leasing or buying a car in Japan and getting a license can be quite a lengthy process, it’s certainly an option worth exploring for those who live too far out of city centers or who would simply like to take to the road for adventure.
Drinking and Smoking Age in Japan
Especially for people who hail from countries where drinking and smoking starts at 18, the age restrictions in Japan for buying and drinking alcohol, as well as the smoking age in Japan, may be surprising: You must be 20 years old and in possession of a valid ID (for foreigners, a residence card will do). When you want to buy alcohol, simply present it, much as you would in your own country, pay up, and be off with your chosen libation. In Japan as in other countries, you may be stopped if you are judged to look too young--a situation that is flattering to some and a hindrance to others!
Cigarettes are available at convenience stores all over Japan. Every cigarette variety and brand is numbered, and it helps to remember what number of cigarette you prefer when buying in the convenience store (keeping in mind that cigarette numbers will vary by store). Just say “(Number) onegaishimasu (please),” and wait patiently as the person behind the counter passes you your tobacco.
While you are never allowed to actually retrieve your own cigarettes in a store, there are numerous vending machines for cigarettes in Japan as well. But buying cigarettes from one of these requires something called a Taspo Card, a system implemented to reinforce Japanese age restrictions and prevent minors from buying cigarettes in the first place. Application for the Taspo Card is free of charge.
Voting Age in Japan
Just last year, the voting age in Japan was lowered to 18 years old to increase young people’s awareness. 18-year-olds are currently informed about their (new) right to vote and have seminars and lectures at school concerning voting and its importance.
Expats who have lived in Japan for a long time may notice that the topic of politics is not usually discussed. Not only is politics a sensitive topic of conversation, most youth voters have historically had no interest in the subject – or even in voting. Some reasons for this may include, among other things, a feeling that votes don’t change existing policy, a lack of satirical political tradition, and a lack of basic education about why voting matters.
Whatever the reasons for it, the low number of voters has become an issue in Japan, and in the 2014 Lower House Elections, only 32.58% of voters aged 20-29 voted, a far cry from those aged 60-69, with 68.28% of people in the age group having voted. Back then, the legal voting age in Japan was 20 years old.
Marriage Age in Japan
For both Japanese and non-Japanese people, the minimum marriage age in Japan is 18 for men and 16 for women. However, if you are under 20, approval is required by law from your parents or legal guardians. It is also important to know that according to the Japanese Civil Code, the age restrictions in Japan are not the only ones to be aware of. In cases where you or your partner are from another country which has a higher minimum marriage age, that higher-age restriction still applies.
Be aware that, while some wards and prefectures have taken steps toward recognizing it and even in some cases issuing certificates which are not legally binding, same-sex marriage is still not legal in Japan. However, in cases of transsexual couples where one partner is legally recognized as a man and the other as a woman, the usual marriage laws do apply.
Marriage application procedures do require several documents, including a certificate of civil marriage registration (called the kekkon todoke) and, if your partner is Japanese, their family registry (basically a family tree, known as a koseki tohon). At whatever stage you are in the process, it is advisable to have a valid passport, your residence card, as well as an official inkan or hanko (an ink stamp you use for bank accounts, rental agreements, etc.) so that you can verify your identity at all times. Marriage application can be a long process, but it is worth it in the end! After all the paperwork is complete, a wedding isn’t far behind.
Mandatory Education Age
It is interesting to note that in Japan, high school is not required; neither is there a required test, such as the GED in the US, as its substitute. Nine years of mandatory education is required in Japan, with 6 years in elementary school (age 7-12) and 3 years in junior high/middle school (age 13-15). Japanese students who did not attend high school but nonetheless want to enter university must take the daiken (literally, a university [entrance] exam) before applying.
Children are grouped according to the Japanese school year (which starts from the 1st of April to the 31st of March). This means that depending on your child’s birthday, the year he or she will start school will be affected. Children born before the 1st of April can enter school the same year they turn 6, but children born from the 2nd of April onwards must enroll the following year, when they are close to becoming 7 years old. Happily, young students up to 12 years old can get discounted bus and train fares that is half the price of adult fares as long as they apply with a school ID.
Moving to Japan can be hard for you, but sometimes, it is harder for your children. Checking out the different educational institutions and international schools before your arrival to Japan can help ensure that your children adjust well and settle in smoothly.
Property Rental Age
Not surprisingly, there are age restrictions in Japan relating to property rental. The minimum age to rent a property is 20, but this is one Japanese age restriction that is flexible: People under that age are required to get parental consent. In addition, several documents are required to prove that you are able (financially) to pay your rent. This ranges from showing a certificate of eligibility from your school, to asking your parents to become your guarantors.
Please note that in Japan, the need to have a guarantor is not limited to young people; whether 20 or 60, foreigners in Japan will always require one. If you are working for a university, business or other large institution, they may be able to sponsor you; an older Japanese friend or mentor who can prove responsibility may also do so. Of course, if you have a Japanese spouse whom you will be living with, they will sign the lease.
Get Wise to Age Restrictions in Japan
The Japanese proverb "Kame no kou yori toshi no kou" means "the older, the wiser." While that may or may not be the case for everybody, at least knowing about some of the more important age restrictions in Japan will help you to be more knowledgeable about the Japanese law of the land, so that you can enjoy it at any stage of life.