Japan on Wednesday opened a debate on lowering the age of adulthood from 20 years old to 18 in what would be the country's first redefinition of coming of age in modern times.
Japan's age of adulthood -- at which a person can legally vote, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and can no longer be spared the death penalty -- is high by world standards, with most developed countries designating 18 as the key age.
But public opinion is divided on lowering the age, with some public health advocates arguing that Japan should instead make it more difficult for young people to drink to combat alcohol abuse.
Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama had instructed an advisory board to begin studying a legal change to the age of adulthood, ministry officials said.
While officially the board is only looking into the issue, momentum for change has been mounting. Parliament in May last year revised a law to allow people aged 18 to cast votes in referenda on the constitution.
The advisory board hopes to reach a conclusion by March next year. If it recommends a change, the government would start work on revising hundreds of laws that involve age.
Japan first set 20 as the age of adulthood in 1876 as it launched a modern legal code following more than two centuries of seclusion. The 20-year-old cut-off was based on tax regulations dating back to the eighth century.
Every January, Japanese turning 20 celebrate Coming of Age Day, in which the new adults dress in formal kimonos, pray at Shinto shrines and hear speeches from local officials on their new responsibilities.