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Majority opposes lowering Japan’s legal adult age

Date Posted: 2008-09-26

By a wide margin, Japanese have told the government to keep its hands off changing the legal age of adulthood downward to 18.

The Civil Code sets age 20 as the legal age to be considered an adult, but the government has been considering a change to the age as it prepares for a 2010 change to a law permitting those 18 and older to cast votes in referendums on the new Constitution. Experts say changing the law has numerous policy considerations, because adjusting the legal age to 18 would impact legal drinking and smoking. Those under 20 are not currently permitted to drink alcohol or purchase tobacco products.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed by the government say they’re opposed to treating 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds as adults. More than 5,000 citizens were polled by the government, in a survey released only days ago.

The survey had 69.4% of respondents opposed, with 26.7% giving the idea a thumbs up. A key answer in why they opposed the change was that most people under 20 are still living at home or relying on their parents for financial support. “Economically dependent on parents, inability to make appropriate decisions, and an inability to take responsibility for themselves,” was one comment offered. Another went farther, saying “the 30-something females in my office are children. Raise the age to 50.”

Nearly 60% --58.5%-- of those questioned said 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds are still economically dependent on their parents. In another response, 57% said they think those under 20 lack the ability to make appropriate judgments, while 55.3% said they don’t think young people can take responsibility for themselves.

The minority backing the legal age reduction thought the current rules prohibiting smoking until 20 were unfair. Another asked “so in Japan, if a boy who is 18 wants to marry a girl who is 18, they can’t legally do it, can they?” Some pointed to other countries, who have set 18 as the legal age, as proof Japan should be moving forward.

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