Legal Ages in Japan

Izakaya Cultural tips
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Writer’s profile

Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.

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In the same way that there are age restrictions on some actions such as drinking and smoking overseas, there are also many activities that are restricted by age in Japan. But with a culture and society so different from many western cultures, how do you know how old you need to be to do what here in Japan? This article is a detailed introduction to some of the more common legal ages in Japan so you can avoid finding yourself in an unexpected snafu.

1. Driving

Japan drives on the right side of the road, unlike the U.S.

In Japan, the age to obtain a motorcycle and car driver’s license varies depending on the type of passenger vehicle. In the case of cars, the minimum age to get a standard license is 18. 

Most Japanese go to a driving school before getting a driver’s license although there is no legal obligation to go to a driving school, it is very difficult to get a license without going as there is no such thing in Japan as a learner’s permit. 

Motorcycle licenses however can be obtained at the age of 16 and likewise, you’ll need to either attend a driving school or find other means to practice before taking the test.

2. Drinking

One unique feature of Japan is that sometimes, alcohol is sold from a vending machine

In Japan, people are allowed to drink alcohol after the age of 20. This is because drinking alcohol at an early age can be dangerous to one’s physical health and can also have a negative impact on one’s mental state. 

For this reason, restaurants, retailers, and other establishments that sell alcohol may require buyers to show a photo ID with their date of birth, if they look younger than 20 years old. If the buyer cannot show a photo ID, the store is not allowed to sell the alcohol to the customer under any circumstance.

3. Smoking

In Japan, many people will smoke socially although typically, only in a smoking section

Cigarettes, like alcohol, are made available after the age of 20. This is for the same reason for drinking as to protect the health of children, and avoid the dangers of early addiction.

Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive, and if a child becomes accustomed to smoking at an early age, it can lead to serious health problems down the road.

Recently, however, secondhand smoking has become a social problem on a grander scale and children have been the main victims. In order to protect children’s health, cigarettes have been banned in principle on school grounds with little to no exception.

4. Voting

In general, one’s political views in Japan are private and political topics are not hotly debated

Electoral voting in Japan is open to anyone over the age of 18 with Japanese nationality. However, restrictions are often placed on local elections and elections for one’s own municipality. The requirement is that the person must have lived in the land where they are currently living for a certain number of days after turning 18. 

Incidentally, if you want to run for an election, the age limit depends on what kind of legislator you want to be. For example, there are two types of members in the Japanese Diet: members of the House of Representatives and members of the House of Councillors. The House of Representatives members must be at least over 25 years old, and the House of Councillors members must be at least over 30 years old.

5. Gambling

Although western-style casinos are not popular in Japan, the pachinko industry is thriving

Japan is a country where various forms of gambling and public gambling are fairly popular. The most well-enjoyed form of gambling in Japan is pachinko slots. Anyone over the age of 18 can try their luck in pachinko parlors however any high school students or below are out of luck.

There are several other types of public gambling in Japan such as horse racing, bike racing, boat racing, and motorcycle racing. All of them allow you to bet money on the victor but you must be at least 20 in order to cast a bet. Oddly enough, there is no age limit to enter such facilities and so if you just want to watch and enjoy the race, there should be no problem. 

Another odd tidbit of information is that there is no age limit on lottery tickets which can be bought anywhere, so even children can buy them in theory.

6. Renting a car/apartment 

renting an apartment
Renting an apartment in Japan is not just the rent money. There are many things such as key money, a deposit, and a caretakers fee as well

A rental car can be rented by anyone who has a valid driver’s license. Therefore, in Japan, where you need to be at least 18 years old to obtain a driver’s license, even minors can still rent a car. However, those who have a provisional driver’s license, which is issued only to practice driving on the road, cannot.

As of April 2022, minors under the age of 18 are not allowed to rent an apartment. However, there are exceptions to this rule, as there are cases where high school, college, or work is too far from the parent’s home and the minor is forced to live in a nearby apartment. 

Therefore, there are only two circumstances that can circumvent this rule. The first is that the minor is already married. And the second is that the minor has parental consent. 

7. Wearing a Helmet

Motorcycle helmets are compulsory for all motorcyclists, regardless of age in Japan. Prior to 1986, as the population of motorcycle users increased, accidents became more frequent in the 1970s and 1980s. In order to protect the safety of drivers, motorcycle helmets became mandatory for all road users regardless of age. If you go down any roads by motorcycle, be sure to wear a helmet for your safety!

8. Part-time Jobs

Part time job
Many students try working at cafes or convenience stores for their first jobs

If you want to work part-time in Japan, be aware that the law imposes an age limit. In Japan, you are allowed to work part-time after the earliest start of the fiscal year (March 31) after you turn 15. In other words, even if you have already reached the age of 15 in junior high school, you cannot be hired for a part-time job until March 31.

 However, there are exceptions in extreme cases. As long as the child’s work is done out of school time, the work itself is easy to do, and it does not adversely affect the child’s health and welfare, the child can be allowed to work only in non-industrial occupations such as a child actor. Another example is helping out with the family business.

These are just eight of the age-restricted activities in Japan, but did any of them interest you? If you compare them to similar laws in your own country, you may find some differences or similarities.

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