Japan’s Legal Age is Now 18

Japan's Legal Age is Now 18

In Japan, the legal definition of maturity dates back to a decree issued in 1876, when the minimum age was set at 20. However, due to a change in the Civil Code, this age requirement has been lowered to 18 as of April 1, 2022. The Civil Code establishes this as the legal age at which a person can engage in a binding contract without needing prior consent from a legal guardian.

This means that at the age of 18, a person can legally sign a contract for a smartphone, a credit card, an apartment lease, or a large loan contract for a vehicle or English language school without the knowledge or approval of their parents. Before this April, parents could revoke their minor children’s signatures on contracts after the fact, but now, anyone 18 or older is legally bound by the agreements they make. However, the there is no change in the legal age for drinking or smoking.  

To make women’s marriage eligibility equal to men’s, the legal age of marriage has been raised from 16 to 18, effective April, 2022 and without further action on the part of parents. Individuals experiencing gender dysphoria can now legally file a petition for gender reassignment after turning 18 years old.

What Was the Reason for Changing the Legal Age?

The government of Japan has stated its desire to allow young people to make their own choices and play a larger part in society.

Have there been Critics of this Move?

Concerns have been raised about an increase in the number of vulnerable young individuals who fall for scams. Those less than 20 used to be able to get out of a bad contract by claiming they were underage. This is now only applicable to people under the age of eighteen.

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How will the new Juvenile Law affect those under the age of twenty?

Meanwhile, modifying the Juvenile Law will lead to harsher penalties for juvenile offenders.

Criminal law will no longer treat persons aged 18 and 19 as specified youths beginning in April. Due to this, individuals may be transferred from family courts, which often hear cases involving young offenders, to prosecutors for formal criminal proceedings. To date, criminal trials have only been held for children 16 and older whose purposeful actions resulted in the death of another.

After the changes are implemented, juvenile offenders under 17 will be treated differently than those who will soon be considered adults regarding recommendations for custodial sentencing for a certain offense. Prison terms for those 17 and under will be limited to 15 years, while those 18 and older face up to 30 years behind bars.

The only crime for which a minor can be tried in court is murder under the current law. The new rule would broaden this to include a broader range of offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences of at least one year in jail and may even include the death penalty.

The government will also reevaluate the age range for which media outlets are prohibited from publishing mugshots of criminals alongside their identities. Once an offender is properly indicted, such information could be disclosed, but the ban would still apply to anyone under 18.

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