This article has been written by Manya Manjari. This article will look at the age of consent in Japan in relation to the laws that exist in Japan, along with assessing the factors surrounding such a peculiar provision. This article also draws a difference between several countries relating to the laws of consent. 

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


The legal and moral threshold for sexual activity participation is the age of consent, which is a key factor in human rights and personal autonomy. It is a topic of utmost importance because laws and customs differ according to nations and civilisations. The age of consent has important consequences for individuals, families, and society. Japan, a nation recognised for its extensive history, distinctive traditions, and quick technological development, is a country that had the lowest age of consent among all the developed countries, which has now been raised by the most recent amendment in Japanese legislation. 

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This article explores the complexities surrounding the minimum legal age for consent to sexual activity in Japan. The aim of the article is to shed light on this complex and multidimensional subject by looking at the legal framework, historical context, worldwide comparisons, disputes, protection of minors, the criminal justice system, and cultural impacts.

What is age of consent 

Consent is the permission or approval required to engage in sexual activities. In reference to the Rule 70 of the International Criminal Court (ICC), sexual activity without consent is regarded as rape or a different kind of sexual assault in many jurisdictions. 

The age at which a person is said to be mentally and legally competent to consent to sexual activities is said to be the age of consent.  To protect people from unwanted sexual advances, it is important to establish a legal consent age. An adult cannot claim that sexual conduct with a youngster who is not of legal age for consent was consensual. Sexual interaction may instead be considered statutory rape in many countries. 

Scope of age of consent in Japan

It’s important to realise that the concept of the age of consent extends beyond the realm of sexual activity. Other areas of life, like marriage, contracts, and medical decisions, are all affected by this complicated legal concept. To further examine the age of consent in Japan, it is important to discuss the legislative and judicial modifications and significant court rulings that have influenced its interpretation and application.

According to Article 177 of the Japanese Penal Code, the legal age of consent in Japan was 13 years. However, this does not imply that having sex with someone who is 13 or older is completely legal. This is where the idea that consent is not solely limited to sexual activity comes into play. According to Japan’s Child Welfare Act, unless someone is legally married, which requires a person to be at least 16 years old with parental approval, any act of “fornication” with children (defined as anyone under 18 years old) is considered misbehaviour.

Additionally, “obscenity ordinances” have been passed by each of Japan’s 47 prefectures to safeguard children against sexual exploitation. The age of consent is often set at 18 under these legislations, which had essentially elevated the national average until the recent change. The fact that breaking these laws might result in legal action shows how the Japanese system of the age of consent extends beyond simple sexual encounters. It serves to defend children’s rights to make responsible decisions about their bodies and lives, as well as to safeguard them from various sorts of exploitation.

The age of consent has been the subject of numerous judicial and legislative changes in Japan over the years. The 1999 Nagasaki case was an important case that led to a significant reform. In this case, a 40-year-old man who had consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl was cleared of sexual misconduct charges. According to the court’s decision, the girl had given her agreement, which sparked discontent across the country and led to greater enforcement of the obscenity statutes.

The old Japanese stance on age of consent 

With minors as young as 13 years old being regarded as capable of giving consent, Japan had the lowest age of consent among developed countries, preventing several incidents from being classified as statutory rape. Regardless of whether they consent, having sexual relations with someone under the age of 13 is forbidden. Furthermore, according to Japanese law, having sex with a juvenile aged 13 to 15 may result in legal repercussions if the perpetrator is at least five years older than the minor.

As per Article 176 of the Penal Code of Japan, the age of consent had been showcased as thirteen years. A person who forcibly performs an indecent act on a male or female under the age of thirteen using force or threats will receive a sentence of not less than six months nor more than ten years in jail and hard labour. The same rules applied to anybody who engaged in an indecent act with a male or female under the age of thirteen. 

Evolution of age of consent overtime 

The Napoleonic Code, which was introduced to Japan in the late 19th century and is still in effect today, served as the foundation for the age limit for consent. In addition, women had an average life expectancy of 44 years at the time the age of consent was first established, which was about 1907, and it was customary for them to marry and have children at an early age. The age of 13 was deemed appropriate given the prevailing social mores at the time, particularly in light of the fact that the legal marriageable age was 15. This is one of the reasons why the age of consent has not been changed.

However, until roughly 2000, there wasn’t much tight legal oversight of the matter, which resulted in a worryingly high frequency of prostitution involving high school girls. Legislators felt compelled to act after realising the gravity of the issue. As a result, new regulations and ordinances were passed, and throughout the late 1990s, the police cracked down on this problem severely. 

Comparison with Asian countries 

Different Asian nations have different minimum and maximum consent ages, which range from 13 to 21 years old. Many Asian nations have marriage laws that dictate that people must be married before they can engage in sexual activities. Having sex with someone who is not old enough to consent is called statutory rape and is illegal in your country.

Asia has certain nations that have very young consent ages, such as Japan at 13 at the lowest, China at 14, and Myanmar at 14. Others, such as Cambodia, Syria, and Laos, have placed it at a somewhat higher age of 15.

The age of consent has been set at 16 in a number of nations in the area, including Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. There are several nations, like Israel and Taiwan, that permit consensual sexual behaviour between people with an age difference of a specific amount.

On the other side, some Asian nations have raised the consent age. Bahrain set it at 21, while South Korea set it at 20. The differences in each nation’s legal, social, and cultural traditions may be seen in the age of consent.

Comparison with Western countries 

Criminal litigation

In North America

The minimum and maximum ages for consent in North America range from 16 to 18, depending on the jurisdiction. The legal age of consent in the United States varies from 16 to 18 years old, with the majority of states placing the age at 16 or 17. near-in-age exemptions, which permit sexual contact between children who are near in age, such as a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old, exist in several states. There are close-in-age exemptions for sexual behaviour between kids who are near in age, ranging from 12 to 16 years old, in Canada, where the age of consent is 16. 

In South America

The minimum and maximum ages for consent in South America range from 13 to 18, depending on the nation. Although there are stringent restrictions banning sexual activity with adolescents under the age of 14, Brazil’s legal age of consent is 14. The age of consent is 18 in Chile and several other South American nations. 

In Africa

In Africa, the legal age of consent ranges from 11 to 18 years. The age of consent is as low as 11 years old in several nations, including Nigeria, making it one of the lowest ages in the world. Other nations, like South Africa, have a 16-year-old minimum age for consent. In Turkey, the legal minimum age of consent is 18, and having intercourse with a juvenile under 18 is against the law. 

In Australia

While some jurisdictions have “close in age” exemptions that permit sexual contact between people who are close to age, the legal age of consent in Australia is 16 years.

In Europe

In Europe, the legal age of consent varies from 14 to 18, depending on the nation. The legal age of consent in the majority of European nations is 16. However, in certain nations, if the sexual partner is also a juvenile, the age of consent might be decreased to 14 from 16 years old. It is important to note that there are laws that forbid sexual behaviour with children in some situations, such as when the kid is in a dependent position or the offender is in a position of authority, even though the age of consent is lower than 18 in some nations.

In Russia

The legal age of consent in Russia is 16. However, engaging in sexual activities with a kid under 18 is punishable by law. Yet, due to a lack of funding and victim assistance, the Russian government has come under fire for not doing more to combat child sexual assault.

What brought forth the change

A Justice Ministry panel in Japan has proposed raising the age of consent from 13, which is now the lowest among the G7 nations, as part of a series of changes to the penal code. Making voyeurism a crime and defining the criteria for rape charges are two other suggestions made by the group.

Concerns regarding the limited definition of permission in Japan’s current statute have been voiced by activists and survivors for some time, prompting the suggestion to raise the age of consent. Over time, there have been instances where judges and prosecutors have used the law in a way that made it difficult for survivors seeking justice.

Various incidents that showed the faulty implementation of the existing law made the necessity for change clear. For instance, in a 2014 Tokyo case, a guy was acquitted despite having sex with a 15-year-old girl who was refusing to cooperate. The girl’s capacity to resist was not considerably hindered, according to the court, and the low age of consent regarded her as an adult. Similar to this, public uproar increased in 2019 when many sexual assault trials ended with the accused perpetrators being cleared.

In one case, a man had intercourse with an unconscious lady against her will, but the court viewed her earlier involvement in a drinking session and her brief response as indications of consent.

These incidents, coupled with intense public outrage, resulted in retrials where the perpetrators were finally convicted. The Flower Demo movement was started by activists to show support for those who had been sexually assaulted and to call for reform of the judicial system.

The One Voice Campaign organised by the Spring is only one example of the several NGOs, demonstrators, and politicians that have worked together to raise awareness and demand the required changes to the penal code. These parties have emphasised the significance of a survivor-centred strategy for combating sexual assault and fought for legislative adjustments that give survivors’ rights and safety first priority.

The proposed changes aim to fix the problems with the current legislation and redefine rape. By criminalising voyeurism and establishing more precise parameters for rape case prosecution, they hope to bring Japan’s age of consent in line with international norms. These modifications are meant to start a discourse about consent and non-consent in Japanese culture, which is the need of the hour.

Recent developments in the age of consent laws in Japan

The inconsistencies between national and local regulations not only cause confusion but also run the risk of subjecting children to abuse and exploitation. It was believed that things would change as Japan continued to struggle with these problems and that stronger and more reliable protections for kids would result.

So finally, the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice in Japan presented a draft proposal for the revision of the Penal Code involving sex offences during a meeting on October 24, 2022. The age of consent would be raised under the proposed plan from 13 to 16 years old, with some restrictions. According to the idea, sexual conduct involving minors between the ages of 13 and 16 would only be illegal if the offender was “five years or more” older than the victim.

According to the Ministry of Justice, this need for an age gap intends to protect consensual sexual actions between people who are close in age from being punished by the law. This part of the legislation is modelled after identical clauses in the Age of Consent statutes from other nations. For these reforms to advance, the new law was to be passed by June 21, 2023. However, it was passed on June 16, 2023. The primary changes have been brought forth relating to the definition of “rape”. It was previously defined as sexual intercourse or indecent acts performed by force, assault, intimidation or taking advantage of an individual’s unconscious state or inability to resist. The new definition however goes beyond the scope of just sexual intercourse, it also includes non-consensual sexual intercourse and this change is important at a place where consent is still not properly understood. 

The new law also gives out eight scenarios of “countless sex crimes” which were before challenging for the victim to establish or prove but now, the scenarios would be assisting the victim in proving their stance in case of any confusion. These situations are forced sexual intercourse, assault, any consequence of refusal, astonishment, any violent sexual activity under the influence of alcohol, drugs, fear and intimation. The revised law would acknowledge these and hence the victims who were unable to resist previously due to shock, psychological reactions, social and economic status of their attacker now have the ability to use force to save themselves.  

The maximum sentence for the crime of rape under the new legislation is 15 years of jail. It remains illegal to have sex with a minor between the ages of 13 and 15 if the offender is five years older than the victim. Furthermore, by making “upskirting” or photo voyeurism illegal, a new crime has been created. As a result, it is now illegal in Japan to take, publish, or possess images of someone’s genitalia without their express consent. Additionally, it is unlawful to take pictures of people being coerced into sexual postures without their consent. The legislation specifically forbids the sexual filming of youngsters without a legitimate purpose. 

Offenders will face a maximum three-year prison sentence or a fine of 3 million Japanese yen, or around 17.20 lakh rupees. Protections for minors are also included in the modified statute. It makes “grooming,” which entails developing a bond with a youngster in order to take advantage of or control them, illegal. Additionally, it is now illegal to request to meet with juveniles under the age of 16 for sexual purposes or to obtain explicit photos from them.

Landmark cases 

The Junko Furuta Case (1989)


In this case, a sixteen-year-old girl named Junko Furuta was abducted by a group of four teenagers. She was then subjected to several acts of violence, sexual assault, and prolonged torture for 44 days. She was also raped over this period several times and was eventually burned alive and her body was encased in concrete. This case gained extreme media attention and is regarded as one of the most brutal crimes of Japan. Regardless of crimes of such heinous nature, due to the laws in Japan revolving rape, the perpetrators were sentenced to imprisonment and now roam free.


There were several issues raised on this topic. The most important ones were why the victim did not try to mitigate the treatment given to her and her involvement and unstable mental capability.


The perpetrators were sentenced to neither death sentence nor even life imprisonment as they were all under 18. The court taking the view and accepting the arguments from the defence, gave its judgement based on how there was a lack of mitigation of subjected treatment from Junko’s side and how she could have run away or was involved in this situation as she was mentally unstable. They were sentenced to five to twenty years of imprisonment as per their involvement. This judgement threw light upon the deep-rooted dogmatic and conservative laws on crime done against women. This judgement is one of the most criticised judgments of all time.  

Nagoya Case (2020)


In this case, the victim was sexually assaulted for several years by her own father. This was going on since the victim was in the second year of junior high school. She could not do anything as she was under the psychological control of her father. Due to the previous incompetent rape laws, the father was acquitted by the District Court because it could not be proven by the victim that reasonable resistance was not used by the victim. The case went up to the Supreme Court. 


Did the district court falter in its decision to acquit the father?


The Supreme Court convicted the father, and he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for “quasi-forcible intercourse” with his daughter. The court was of the opinion that the daughter had never consented to be violated and was being controlled and abused by her father. She could not do anything as there was a state of extreme fear of doing anything against her father. This decision was celebrated, and it led to several protests and campaigns, which ultimately resulted in the justice ministry of Japan rethinking the rape laws of the country.


The cases mentioned above show an evolution of rape laws in Japan. The first case was a horrific case that is regarded as one of the most painful treatments ever subjected by a human. Despite being subjected to forty-four days of torture, the girl did not get her justice as her perpetrators roam free today. Instead, by taking the defence of the age of the perpetrators and her improper attempts to show resistance, the perpetrators were spared from their crimes with very disproportionate punishments. On the same lines, in the second case, the perpetrator himself sexually harassed his daughter for several years and was acquitted by the district court. The supreme court later overturned the decision, but the father was punished only for ten years. 

This can be used to demonstrate how vague, narrow and insufficient these laws were. Apart from the Junko Furuta case to the Nagoya case, several other rape cases and movements and protests in Japan escalated the changes, which finally led to changes in the Japanese Laws for rape and the Age of Consent, which were of significant concern for the cases. 

Over time, the victim blaming and social stigma related to the Age of Consent and Rape victims have decreased along with sufficient support for victims, which played a major role in bringing forth the change. From the heavy burden of proof placed on the victim, societal biases, and a lack of sensitivity, the case of Junko Furuta arose, but with the Nagoya case as a precedent and movements like One Voice Campaign, even the global  #Metoo Movement, the law was finally changed to pave the way for a better, more secure, certain and comprehensive law for disposal of justice to victims. 


In conclusion, the age of consent, also known as the legal and moral bar for engaging in sexual behaviour, is a critical component of human rights and individual freedom. The legal age of consent varies between cultures. However, this article has concentrated on Japan because of its long history and distinctive customs. Among affluent nations, Japan presently has the lowest consent age, with adolescents as young as 13 regarded as capable of providing permission. Recent events have highlighted the need for revision as concerns about the ambiguous meaning of consent were finally changed, and now Japan no longer remains a country with the lowest age of consent. 

Frequently asked questions

Can minors engage in sexual activities in Japan?

Yes, minors over the age of thirteen and do not have an age gap of more than five years can engage in sexual activities with prior consent. 

For instance, if a minor aged 14 has sexual relations with another aged 15 or 16, with prior consent, it will not count as rape. 

When does the new law become effective in Japan?

The new bill in Japan to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16 has come into action on June 25, 2023. It has been passed by the Diet, i.e., the Japanese Parliament. 

What are Japanese Prefectures?

Municipalities make up prefectures, which are regional entities in charge of more comprehensive regional governance. Japan currently has 47 prefectures.


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