TOKYO -- The legal age of adulthood in Japan was officially lowered from 20 to 18 on April 1. In addition to those turning 20 on April 1, some 2 million young people aged 18 and 19 officially became adults in Japan the same day, meaning they can now be responsible for certain legal decisions and live independently.
The lowered age of adulthood is aimed at encouraging young people to play an active role in the future development of the nation amid a declining birth rate and aging population. But what does the change mean in concrete terms?
First, those aged 18 and 19 are now able to enter into contracts of their own accord. That means they can take out loans, and sign up for smartphones and credit cards. It is hoped that this will stimulate economic activity and boost the emergence of young, talented entrepreneurs.
Japan's Civil Code states that those with parental authority over minors are to designate their place of residence, decide if they can work, and manage their assets. Since this authority now expires upon the child's 18th birthday, 18- and 19-year-olds will be able to freely decide where they live, choose their own career path, and live in society as independent adults.
The age at which young women can get married will also change. Up until now, males could marry at 18 and females at 16, but with the legal amendment, this has been aligned at 18 for both sexes. The difference was based on the presumption that females developed physically and mentally earlier than males, but this was amended from the perspective of gender equality. Nevertheless, the age at which adults can adopt a child remains at 20, due to the heavy responsibilities involved.
The age of adulthood is the basis for age requirements under many laws besides the Civil Code. As a result, those aged 18 and 19 can now seek qualifications as doctors, certified public accountants and judicial scriveners, among other jobs only open to legal adults.
From the age of 18, people will also be able to receive 10-year passports, which could previously only be obtained by those aged 20 and over. Furthermore, under the Act on Special Cases in Handling Gender Status for Persons with Gender Identity Disorder, the age requirement for applying to change one's sex has been lowered from 20 to 18.
At the same time, there were some activities that legislators decided should not be changed to match the age of adulthood under the Civil Code. From the perspective of preventing damage to health and curbing delinquency, the age requirement for drinking and smoking has been kept at 20. The age for public gambling, such as betting on horse and bicycle racing, also remains 20, due to worries over gambling addiction risks.
(Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamamoto, Tokyo City News Department, and Shuhei Endo, Political News Department)