Created for expats living in Japan

Age Restrictions in Japan: Drinking, Smoking, Voting & More

A Japanese person's age is significantly linked to their social position from their early school years until they obtain a job and even into retirement. For around 140 years, the age of adulthood in Japan was set at 20 years old and even a special celebration called “Seijin no Hi” (or Coming-of-Age day) is held on the second Monday of January for young man and women who have reached this age. The laws and rules of society change over time, and the age of adulthood is no exception. In fact, the legal age of adulthood in Japan has been lowered to 18 as of April 1st, 2022. While it may not affect traditional celebrations such as "Seijin no Hi," it does cause changes in marriage, property rental age, and so on.

Since 18 has become the age of adulthood in Japan, one may think that almost everything somebody can do would begin around that age. However, this not the case and certain activities may require different age. Whether you already live in Japan or are considering moving there, there are some age limits that you should be aware of.

6 Important Age Restrictions in Japan you Should Know

1. License of Motorbikes & Other Vehicles

There are many Japanese age limitations to be aware of, depending on the vehicle: Motorcycles with a displacement of more than 50cc but less than 400cc are restricted to those aged 16 and above, whereas motorcycles with a displacement of more than 400cc are prohibited to those aged 18 and up. It is confined to people aged 18 and up for regular automobiles. To drive heavy vehicles, you must be at least 20 years old and have at least 2 years of driving experience with regular cars (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. Learn more about renting a car and driving in Japan below:

Buying a New or Used Car in Japan

Driver's License in Japan

2. 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.

3. Voting Age in Japan

The voting age in Japan is 18 years old. 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.

4. Marriage Age in Japan

For both Japanese and non-Japanese people, the minimum age for marriage in Japan is 18 years old. It is also important to know that according to the Japanese Civil Code, the age restriction in Japan are not the only one 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. After all the paperwork is complete, a wedding isn’t far behind. You can learn more about marriage registration in Japan by checking "A Guide to Getting Married in Japan." After all the paperwork is complete, a wedding isn’t far behind. Learn more about Japanese weddings here: "Japanese Wedding Etiquette: 7 Steps from RSVP to Afterparty"

5. 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. Here are some educational options in Tokyo: "School Grade and Age Structures in Japan."

6. Property Rental Age

Not surprisingly, there are age restrictions in Japan relating to property rental. The minimum age to rent a property is 18 years old, and 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 18 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.

There are many additional steps involved in renting an apartment or house in Japan. While the process may seem daunting at times, PLAZA HOMES is here to help. Feel free to contact us about the different rental options available!

More Age Restrictions in Japan

Gambling (Horse racing, Pachinko etc.)

The age limit for gambling in public sports (horse racing, bicycle racing, boat racing, auto racing) is 20 years old. Pachinko is not allowed for persons under 18 years old. Please note that even if they are 18, high school students are not allowed to enter and play in pachinko halls.

Taking out a loan / Getting a credit card

There are also a number of things that can be signed up to once you turn 18 without parental consent. For instance, taking out a loan, getting a credit card and signing up for a mobile phone. It is important to note that excessive borrowing could be a problem, especially when it comes to loans and credit cards.

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.