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Japan’s parliament on Friday raised the age of sexual consent to 16 from 13, a limit which had remained unchanged for more than a century and was among the world’s lowest, amid calls for greater protection of children and women.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/japan-raises-the-age-of-sexual-consent-to-16-from-13-which-was-among-the-worlds-lowest

Why was the age of consent as low as 13 in Japan for a long time, is there an official explanation for this? I know that most prefectures had their own local laws and it overrode the age of consent for the whole country, but I am wondering if there was an explanation as to why the age of consent was so low before it got raised to 16. Did the Japanese government give an official explanation for this?

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  • Please no comment debates about what you think the age of consent should be. This is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 9 at 9:05

1 Answer 1

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The answer is in the PBS article you linked to:

Japan in 2017 revised its criminal code on sexual crimes for the first time in 110 years. A series of acquittals in cases of sexual abuse and growing instances of sexual images taken of girls and women without their consent have triggered public outrage, prompting the new revisions. (Ref. 1)

Laws are made to deal with a social ill and / or to influence a social behaviour. And laws once made tend to remain unchanged unless there is a need to do so - in other words, laws tend to evolve with changes in a society. The age of consent remained 13 for a long time because Japanese society did not consider it a problem due to conservatism and / or lack of awareness on why it was problematic.

56-year-old Hiranao Honda has objected to raising Japan’s age of consent from 13 to 16. During a recent debate with his party colleagues, he said, “For example, if you’re near your 50s and you had consensual sex with a 14-year-old child, you’d be arrested. That’s wrong,” according to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. (Ref. 2)

But as awareness increased that there is link between the low age of consent, outdated laws and sexual abuse of teens (a social ill) the debate in Japanese society caught the attention of Japanese politicians. So they addressed the concerns of their society by making appropriate changes to Japanese consent and criminal laws on sex crimes.

... The changes enacted Friday make sexual intercourse with someone below age 16 considered rape. They specify eight scenarios of “consentless sex crimes,” a new term for forced sexual intercourse, including being assaulted under the influence of alcohol or drugs, fear, or intimidation. They also ban the filming, distribution and possession of sexually exploitative images taken without consent. The statute of limitations for sex crimes was also extended by five years, to 10 years for consentless sexual intercourse. That crime is now subject to up to 15 years in prison, while “photo voyeurism” can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment.

The changes were sparked in part by a case in Nagoya in which a father who raped his 19-year-old daughter was acquitted by a court which ruled that while the daughter did not give her consent, she did not resist violently. The decision prompted nationwide protests. (Ref. 1)

Note that changes in the law only happened after public outrage and nationwide protests - i.e. due to political activism by members of Japanese society:

Japan's laws regarding sexual consent drew significant attention in 2019, after a string of defendants charged with sexual crimes were acquitted. It led to the Flower Demo movement, with groups of sexual violence victims and their supporters gathering once a month to demand changes to sex crime laws. (Ref. 3)

References:

  1. Japan raises the age of sexual consent to 16 from 13, which was among the world’s lowest

  2. Japanese Politician Regrets Saying It’s OK to Have Sex with 14-Year-Old

  3. Japan raises age of consent and redefines rape

(I know it is a simplistic answer. But sometimes it is as simple as that - the world's oldest democracy, the USA, also has many 100+ year old laws in its statutes, some of which are outdated or no longer relevant but still remain law because it hasn't been recalled or revised.)

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    "did not consider it a problem" That would make sense if that was the case but would it maybe be possible to cite some sources for that? I know, it's probably hard to find people saying "we do not consider this to be a problem" but maybe testimonials from Japanese politicians saying "we thought this is okay" or something like that. Commented Jan 9 at 7:50
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution it would be a circular definition. It didn't seem to be a divisive change, so it's reasonable to assume that the resistance was mostly apathy
    – Caleth
    Commented Jan 9 at 9:08
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution I'll try to find some statement by Japanese politician but it may be difficult as I don't speak Japanese. I wouldn't call this "educated guessing" though - it is a fact that laws are changed only when politics demand it. For example, child marriages are still legal in 80% of US states. There is currently a political campaign in the US to ban child marriages but it seems to have limited success - Students against Child Marriage.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jan 9 at 16:52
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution You could say the same about other things such as child marriage in the US where it is legal in most states and some even have no minimum age to get married. thehill.com/changing-america/respect/equality/….
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 9 at 17:30
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution I found one quote by a Japanese politician defending the lower age of consent and have updated the answer.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jan 9 at 17:49

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