Fight to Raise Japan’s National Age of Consent Ramps Up

Fight to Raise Japan’s National Age of Consent Ramps Up

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Picture: kiko / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Japan is considering following South Korea and raising the national age of sexual consent - but the effort isn't without hurdles.

Earlier this year, South Korea raised their age of consent from 13 to 16 years of age, a move largely spurred on by the Nth Room sexual exploitation case in which 26 of the victims were underage. Now, advocacy groups and others hope to finally accomplish the same in Japan.

Weak Laws Fail to Protect Minors

The 2017 sexual assault of a minor by her father — and the judge’s dismissal of the case on flimsy legalities — have shone a light on how easy it is for perpetrators to get away with their crimes. While the Penal Code’s articles on sex crimes underwent rigorous revision in 2017, disappointingly enough, the age of consent remained unchanged.

Under Article 177 of the Penal Code promulgated in 1907, the national age of consent in Japan is 13 years old, the minimum age a person can consent to sexual intercourse. Any adult who has intercourse with someone younger than 13 can be charged with statutory rape. However, the Child Welfare Act stipulates a child is anyone younger than 18 years of age; Article 34 in particular prohibits an adult from forcing anyone under 18 to participate in lewd acts.

As is the case in the United States, prefectures and cities have the independence to enact their own age of consent laws in accordance with “obscenity laws” (淫行条例; inkou jourei). For example, the minimum age of consent in the city of Tokyo is 18. The punishment for violating these laws also varies, but usually entails a hefty fine or up to 2 years in prison: an insufficient sentence for a heinous crime, and something advocacy groups also hope to change.


性行為に同意する能力があるとみなされる 「性交同意年齢(性的同意年齢)」 。日本ではその下限は13歳となっていますが、海外と比べると低く、性暴力被害者の支援団体などは年齢の引き上げを求めています。 最近では、韓国が性犯罪に関わる法律を厳しく取り締まるよう改正し、性交同意年齢が13歳から16歳に引き上げられました。 性交同意年齢をめぐる現状について解説します。 …

In a June 11 press conference, NGO Human Rights Now provided a rough outline of their proposed amendments, which included raising the age of consent from 13 years old to 16, the age at which compulsory education ends. The amendments include detailed guidelines on what constitutes sexual assault, including undressing and photographing someone without consent, as well as taking advantage of someone who is intoxicated or unconscious. “Showing examples of what exactly constitutes a crime will lower the bar for victims and prosecutors producing evidence,” stated secretary-general Ito Kazuko.

Sexual assault against children by trusted adults other than parental figures has drawn more attention in recent years. Advocacy groups also hope to make teachers, coaches, mentors, and others who abuse their authority accountable for their crimes.

Committee Member’s Tweet Rings Alarm Bells

In November, the student organization Your Voice Matters started a petition to raise the national age of consent from 13 to 16 years of age. The group gathered over 40,000 signatures and submitted their petition to the Justice Ministry on November 20. This is also the ministry behind the Sex Crimes Review Committee formed earlier this year to propose possible revisions.


The Sex Crimes Review Committee has reportedly drawn closer to a final revision, but a December 9th tweet by one of the committee members has sparked concern and alarm over whether the voices of sexual assault victims and advocates are really being heard. Kazuko Ito has called for the public release of the committee’s minutes in the name of transparency. Spring, a support group for sexual assault victims, started the hashtags #同意なき性行為を犯罪に (“Criminalize Sexual Activity Without Consent”) and #性交同意年齢を16歳に (“Raise the Age of Consent to 16”) to spread awareness and support. One user tweeted the following under the latter hashtag:

“When I was 13, I thought I could have sex going off of the dirty jokes I knew. But when I was 16, I realized how insufficient my own knowledge was, the high risks involved, and how incredibly immature my own mind and body were. Now, at 18, I feel I can finally give my consent.

There are a lot of kids out there who haven’t had their first period yet or don’t know about it. They really can’t consent to sexual activity.”

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This call for raising the age of consent has more to do with preventing adults from getting away with having non-consensual sex with minors and not, as some on the Internet have claimed, about punishing minors who engage in consensual sexual activity with other minors. Sexual assault victims already suffer enough in a society that discourages them from speaking out; having stricter laws in place would go far in helping them bring their perpetrators to justice. As many have pointed out, the original age of consent was established over 100 years ago during a wholly different political and social climate. Raising the age of consent is one step towards promoting a society where the fetishization and exploitation of minors are more thoroughly punished and less normalized.

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Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Alyssa Pearl Fusek is a freelance writer currently haunting the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from Willamette University. When she's not writing for Unseen Japan, she's either reading about Japan, writing poetry and fiction, or drinking copious amounts of jasmine green tea. Find her on Bluesky at @apearlwrites.

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