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Japan keeping in step with world by changing age of majority for 1st time in 146 yrs

A group of young women take a selfie at a coming-of-age ceremony in Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture, on Jan. 10, 2022. (Mainichi/Takeshi Nishimura)

The revised Civil Code will come into effect on April 1, officially lowering the age of majority in Japan from 20 to 18. This will mark the first time in 146 years in the country that a change is introduced to the basis for one's adulthood. While youths can expect to engage in social activities earlier in life, they will also have to be responsible for their actions.

    Japan's age of adulthood was set at 20 years in 1876 under a proclamation issued by the great council of state in the Meiji period (1868-1912), serving for a long time as the basis for adulthood in Japan. Today, however, the age of majority is set at 18 as a world standard. The latest revision to the over-a-century-old Civil Code came about as a result of discussions over procedures necessary for constitutional amendments and lowering the voting age.

    The catalytic event for the change was the 2014 enactment of the revised national referendum law for constitutional revisions which stipulates processes and measures to amend the Japanese Constitution. A constitutional amendment requires a majority of yes votes in a national referendum. Under the revised referendum law, the age for people to become eligible to vote was lowered to 18 with a view to encourage active social engagement among young people. This spurred discussion over what to do with the voting age and the age of majority.

    According to the Justice Ministry, of the 35 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries, 32 have set their legal age of majority at 18, and Japan is the only G-7 major economy to have had the adulthood age set at 20. Under these circumstances, the revised Public Offices Election Act, which was passed in 2015, lowered the voting age from 20 to 18, and it was decided that the Civil Code -- the law that sets ground rules for social life -- would keep in step with the election law.

    The revised Civil Code enacted in 2018 lowered Japan's age of majority from 20 to 18 and raised the legal age for women to marry from 16 to 18, the same age regulation as that for men. The revised civic law is going to take effect in April, along with the revised Juveniles Act, under which 18- and 19-year-olds who commit a crime will face harsher punishment as "specified juveniles." The legal age for drinking, smoking and public gambling, on the other hand, will remain at 20.

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamamoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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