Home ยป The Legal Drinking Age in Japan and Drinking Laws in 2023
drinking age in japan

The Legal Drinking Age in Japan and Drinking Laws in 2024

Japan can be quite strict about age and activities like drinking alcohol. It could be easy to make a mistake through ignorance that could land a person in prison, or result in a fine. Here are some of the laws around alcohol consumption and other consumption worth knowing before heading out for a night on the town.

Heck, Japan can even be strict about bringing medication to Japan when traveling, so it’s not difficult to imagine them being particular about other things like drinking as well.

What is the legal drinking age in Japan?

20 is the minimum legal drinking age in Japan. Set all the way back in 1922, it’s since been the legal age for both alcohol consumption and purchase.

Just like in the US, the legal adult age and drinking age are different. As of April 1st, 2022, one becomes an adult at the age of 18. The change to the civil code from 20 to 18 allows one to engage in all sorts of necessary activities to live, including leasing an apartment and signing contracts without parental consent. However, drinking alcoholic beverages is not included.

Do you need to show an ID card in Japan?

Officially, Japan requires travelers to carry their passport at all times. If you are living in the country as a resident, your Japanese Residence Card is required instead. However, it will depend on the drinking establishment if such IDs are checked.

While we do not recommend walking around Japan without your passport, in case you don’t have it on you, you may still be able to buy alcohol. Any ID that clearly identifies your age and is either in English or Japanese may be acceptable to most establishments, including your driver’s license. Plus, many bars and izakayas do not card before they sell alcohol.

Is drinking in public legal in Japan?

Drinking in public in Japan

Yes, Japan allows drinking alcohol in public. There are few restrictions to drinking in public spaces, including parks, the street, and even the train. Keep in mind that although legal, consuming alcohol in some places may be socially frowned upon, such as the aforementioned train.

Along with drinking, public intoxication is also permissible. It is even common for both men and women to indulge to the point of falling asleep on the street, where they will not be accosted.

Do be careful where you fall asleep, however. A number of deaths last year from people falling asleep literally in the streets made the news in 2022.

Can you smoke in drinking establishments?

Since 2020 smoking has generally been banned in all establishments. Some small restaurants or eating venues may be grandfathered in to allow smoking while imbibing.

Prior to 2020, regulations for smoking in bars and restaurants depended on local ordinances. This change may come as a surprise to repeat visitors of Japan who may be accustomed to consuming alcohol alongside smoking in many of the pubs and bars of Japan.

For larger restaurants, designated smoking areas are often in place.

Like the country’s legal drinking age, the legal smoking age is also 20.

Do drinking establishments close early in Japan (like the US)?

Last call more or less does not exist in Japan, except for where establishments choose to close up shop. Alcohol may be purchased 24 hours any day of the week throughout the country. Many bars, clubs, and restaurants that serve alcohol stay open into the morning hours.

How much alcohol can you consume and drive in Japan?

When you travel to Japan, unlike many other countries of the West, Japan has a low tolerance for alcohol and driving. This means much smaller amounts of alcohol in your system may be counted as drunk driving than in other countries. Specifically, a BAC of 0.03 could land a person driving under the influence charge, while a BAC of 0.08 could lead to a driving while intoxicated charge.

A DUI in Japan is punishable by imprisonment of up to 3 years. In addition, a fine of up to JPY 500,000 (USD 3400) may be applied to offenders. A DWI, driving while intoxicated, has more severe penalties applied. In either case, drunk driving may also cause a person to lose their driver’s license.

The law also holds passengers responsible. If you are riding in the car with a person considered under the influence, you may also face penalties.

Can foreigners who are under 20 drink in Japan?

Can foreigners who are under 20 drink in Japan?

Though the drinking age may be lower in other countries, the law extends to both residents and those visiting Japan.

Buying alcohol or consumption for those under 20 years of age is prohibited via the Minor Drinking Prohibition Act. Those caught selling to or purchasing alcohol for minors may face severe penalties.

What other activities can a person under the age of 20 not engage in Japan?

Besides limiting the legal drinking age to 20 and above, the government seeks to prevent underage drinking and other activities commonly associated with drinking or vice.

Age restrictions in karaoke

Japan restricts the hours available for karaoke depending on the person’s age. A popular pastime for both adults and young people, karaoke establishments allow those under 16 years of age to stay until 6 pm. Those up to 18 may stay until 10 pm.

There are no minimum age restrictions before 6 pm as long as an adult guardian is present. After 10 pm, adults may sing and drink to their hearts’ content.

The drinking age in Japan applies to karaoke establishments. Underage drinking is not allowed.

Age restrictions in Pachinko Parlors

Pachinko game centers feature arcade-style gambling machines similar to slot machines. The law forbids anyone under 18 years of age from entering, with or without a legal guardian. Many places will refuse high school students even if they are of legal age.

In addition to the age limit, there is also a prohibition against drinking while playing in pachinko parlors. One may order drinks while they play pachinko, but only of the non-alcohol variety.

Age restrictions and horse racing

20 is also the age that young adults may engage in betting at horse racing. The same age limit for drinking and smoking applies to the horse tracks.

Why is Japan encouraging young people to drink?

In an attempt to boost tax revenues, the government of Japan launched a contest in May 2022 to increase alcohol consumption. The campaign to encourage young adults to drink is called “Sake Viva!” and is a contest to suggest new ways to make and consume alcohol.

According to data from the Japanese government, drinking has fallen from an average of 26 gallons about 30 years ago to 20 gallons. There are a couple of reasons for the decline. Along with an aging population lowering the number of people in the main drinking age, there is also a growing awareness about the negative health effects alcohol can pose.

Where can I purchase alcoholic beverages in Japan?

Izakayas

Izakayas are a kind of food and drink establishment unique to Japanese culture. Often translated as a pub, they have their own particular culture and style of small dishes.

Usually, izakayas are not great for wine or craft beers, tending to serve popular and common Japanese varieties of alcohol. The menus usually have a few sake, beer, and whiskey options.

For those wanting to eat and drink a lot, there are often “nomihodai” or “tabehodai” options on the menu. Meaning “all you can drink” and “all you can eat” respectively, a set fee allows a person to drink alcohol and eat to the heart’s content within a time limit.

Non-alcoholic beverages are also available for those that don’t wish to drink alcohol.

Convenience Stores

Convenience stores in Japan

Given that drinking is not generally prohibited, convenience stores are another popular location to purchase alcohol and tobacco products. They are stocked with a range of alcoholic beverages, including beer, sake, and chuhai.

In recent years, convenience stores in Japan have begun installing self-checkout counters. Unlike in the United States, it is possible to purchase alcohol via self-checkout. The legal drinking age in Japan still applies to all manners of purchase and is strictly enforced.

Liquor stores

Japanese liquor shops are great places to find craft beers, wine, and other more difficult-to-procure specialty alcohols. You’ll find these shops near subway and train stations, and on the streets in major big cities. They set themselves apart from convenience stores by having (nearly) only alcohol on display.

Vending Machines in Japan

Vending machines dispensing beer used to be fairly common in both large cities and rural areas. While some may still be found here and there, they are less common now.

Generally, the vending machines sell Japanese brand-name beers, such as Asahi and Kirin. You may find some specialty machines, such as the famous one in Echigo Yuzawa Station, that sell a wider range of other kinds of alcohol.

What is there to do at night if I don’t drink in Japan?

If you don’t wish to drink alcohol in Japan, you aren’t alone. Japanese people have become more conscious of responsible drinking, many only drinking low or non-alcoholic drinks. Japan has plenty of options for those who wish to enjoy the nightlife with or without drinking alcohol.

Some of the options include:

  • Bars without booze
  • Movies
  • Bowling
  • Karaoke
  • Late night cafes
  • Manga cafes
  • Game centers

Summary

Japan has a lively drinking culture that offers many options. While visitors are encouraged to enjoy alcohol within the country, it’s important to know the Japanese law regarding the minimum drinking age may be different from one’s home country.

As always, stay safe and drink responsibly.

Also, if you smoke cigarettes, you’ll want to be sure to check out our guide for smoking in Japan as well.

Jonathan Mcnamara

Jonathan is a veteran of the Japan and Korean expat life. He lived in Japan and Korea for almost 10 years, and speaks Korean and Japanese. A blogger, a writer, website maker who's had his share of relationships while living abroad, he's now turned his attention to helping others navigate traveling, living, working, and relationships in Japan.

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