What Is The Age Of Consent In Japan? And How It Varies By Prefecture

The Age Of Consent In Japan

The age of consent is only 13, which is at the behest of many people in Japan. As such, this is one of the lowest ages of consent around the world.

The age of consent has been enacted in Japanese law since 1907. The supporting Juvenile Obscene Act has been in place since 1947 to add some clarity to the laws. 

Consent Laws For People Under 18 In Japan 

Even though the age of consent in Japan is only 13, it does not mean that it is lawful for a person above the age of 13 to engage in intimate acts with someone who is only 13.

What it means is that a person who is 13 or 14 can engage in consensual acts with a person that is the same age. 

When it comes to people between the ages of 14 to 18, the laws become a bit more confusing. The law does not say whether it is lawful for people in this age range to engage in consensual acts with people that fall in the same age range. 

A person under the age of 13 or 14  is not able to engage in consensual acts with a person and have it be lawful unless that person is also under the age of 13 or 14. If a person uses any type of force against a person aged 13 or 14 for sexual purposes, it is considered a crime. 

A sexual act can be considered a misdemeanor under Japanese law under the following circumstances, which is part of what can make the laws seem very complicated: 

  • A male person under 13 engaging with a person under 18, over 18, or over 20 years old
  • A person under 14 engaging with a person under or over the age of 20 years old 
  • A person under 18 years old engaging with a person under 20 or over 20 years old

Consent Laws For People Over 18 In Japan 

The laws can seem even murkier when it comes to what is considered legal for people between the ages of 18 and 20, as well as over 20. Essentially, people in this age range are legal adults. 

However, the law advises that activity between two people under 20 or between a person between 18 and 20 and a person over 20 may or may not be legal depending on the circumstances. 

For people over 18 but under 20 years old, or for people over the age of 20, the following circumstances would be classified as a misdemeanor under Japanese law:

  • A person under 20 engaging with a person under 14 or under 18 years old
  • A person over 20 engaging with a person under 14 or under 18 years old 

It is a felony for a person under 18, under 20, or over 20 to try and engage in an act with a female person under the age of 13 years old. 

Statutory Rape In Japan

One of the biggest concerns one might have looking at the complicated consent laws in Japan is what constitutes statutory rape.

In Japan, it is considered statutory rape when an act of any kind is forced upon a female person under 13, regardless of how old the offender is. 

Issues With The Unclear Consent Laws 

It can be upsetting for some to learn of the consent laws in Japan because they seem not to explicitly state whether relations between certain age ranges are or aren’t legal.

It can lead to a lot of abuse of the laws and the ability for people to get away with these crimes due to the uncertainty of the law. 

Additionally, the worldwide over-sexualization of Japanese women and girls, it can make Japanese women and girls feel less secure that the law is going to protect them should they experience sexually-based violence. 

Many aspects of Japanese culture have played into this over-sexualization, with a propensity to focus on more youthful-looking Japanese females.

Some examples of this include kawaii girls in anime or maid cafes that have employed underage and very young women. 

Unfortunately, sexually based crimes are prominent in Japan, with 50% of Japanese women, some very young or under 18, saying they have been inappropriately touched without consent (chikan) while on a train. Furthermore, statutory rape rates have increased in Japan. 

How Consent Laws Vary By Prefecture 

Some prefectures in Japan have stricter laws than others regarding age and consent.

Some prefectures also have additional laws to try and prevent sexually based crimes against young people under the age of 18, as well as sexual crimes against anyone. 

One such example is in Tokyo, where the law prohibits sexual activity, consensual or non-consensual, for persons under 18. In contrast, Minami-Tori-Shima Islands hold the age of consent to 13 years old. 

The Age Of Consent And The Japan Child Welfare Act 

The Japan Child Welfare Act states that a person under 18 is considered a child.

Therefore, it would be expected that the above-mentioned consent laws involving people under 18 would be more clear-cut, as anyone under 18 should be considered a minor. 

This Act further explains what actions would be considered unlawful when it involves the expectation of a child to commit these acts.

For example, it’s a criminal act to expect or force a person under 18 to work somewhere that sells products used for sexual purposes. 

Furthermore, unless a woman is 16 years old or older or a male is 18 years old or older, they cannot legally get married. The only circumstance that would allow people under these ages to get married would be with parental consent. 

Criticism Of The Age Of Consent Laws In Japan 

There have been some major instances of uproar in Japan regarding the age of consent laws. The government has not been quick to discuss potential amendments to the laws.

Furthermore, there have been cases of statutory rape where the perpetrator essentially got away with the crime because, in Japan, it is not considered a crime in many cases or certain prefectures. 

A petition in 2020 even called for the age of consent to be raised from 13 to 16 years old. Part of what has caused so many to be outraged by this is a lack of understanding of the age of consent laws in Japan.

This is fair, as the laws are not written in clear language, so they are often left up to interpretation. 

There is also the issue of how legislation differs in some circumstances between genders. For instance, it’s a felony to initiate sexual activity with a female under 13 years old if the perpetrator is 15-20 or older than 20.

However, if a perpetrator of the same age tried to initiate sexual activity with a male under 13, it would only be a misdemeanor. 

Punishments For Sexually Based Crimes In Japan 

In cases of statutory rape in Japan, a person can be sentenced to at least three years in prison and forced to complete labor while in prison.

Someone who victimizes someone over 13 years old for sexual purposes, including assault, unwanted touching, or indecent exposure, can be sentenced to anywhere from six months to ten years in prison. 

It is also considered a sexually based crime in Japan for a person to try and engage in any kind of sexual activity with any person who is impaired or unconscious. 

The Future Of Age Of Consent Laws In Japan 

Consent Laws Throughout Asia Via Wikipedia

In 2017, the Penal Code saw its first changes since it was enacted in 1907. One of the changes requires that the laws be reviewed every three years.

A committee has been set up to undertake these reviews, known as a Justice Ministry Committee. 

The last time the code was reviewed, no change to the age of consent was discussed. However, the committee acknowledged that there is a need to further review current laws in place to protect young people in Japan from becoming victims of sexually motivated crimes. 

survey conducted in 2021 on gender equality in Japan

There has also been some debate amongst committee members regarding how to determine what would constitute an unlawful act should the age of consent be raised.

Ask Japanese Youtube Channel Takes A Look At The Age Of Consent

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.