Japanese Market Gives Up Checking Proof of Age

Aeon says it will no longer ask all customers to confirm they are adults

Older customers were so bothered by being asked their age that some stores have decided not to do that any more.

It’s a rare adult who is upset by being mistaken for a much younger person, but apparently enough people in Japan have been offended by being asked to confirm they are over the age of 20 that a major supermarket chain has decided to lighten up on checking proof of age.

According to Rocket News 24, Aeon Group says it will no longer automatically ask customers if they are over 20 years old when buying alcohol or cigarettes. 20 is the legal age to buy alcohol and cigarettes in Japan, and Rocket News 24 reports that customers would not have been questioned by cashiers anyway, because the proof of age system is automated.

Under the current system, the customer faces a touch screen at the point of sale. When the cashier rings up the goods, if an item is flagged as needing proof of age, the screen asks customers if they are over 20 years old. The cashier does not ask if the person is over 20 and merely says, “Please touch the panel.”

In fact, the only possible answer on the screen is “yes.” It is just assumed, perhaps correctly, that nobody intending to purchase alcohol or cigarettes would ever choose “no,” so the choice is omitted. But even that easy system was too much for some older customers, who complained that the panel asked them to confirm that they were over 20 when they obviously were older than that. So under the new system, the panel will remain silent on the matter of a customer’s age unless the cashier specifically decides to have it come up. 

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A few isolated opponents have suggested that this new policy could make underage drinking easier. But considering that Japan already has beer vending machines that are easily visited by young people, relaxing the proof of age system at convenience stores seems unlikely to have much ill effect.