Purpose Self-regulation is the capacity to regulate attention, emotion, and behaviour to pursue long-term goals. The current study examined the associations between role model presence and self-regulation during early adolescence, controlling for hopefulness, using a large population-based data set from the Tokyo Teen Cohort study. Methods Adolescents, aged 12 years, identified a role model using a single item on a paper questionnaire: ‘Who is the person you most look up to?’ Level of hopefulness was also assessed using a single question: ‘To what extent do you feel hopeful about the future of your life?’ Trained investigators evaluated self-regulation. Results Of 2550 adolescents, 2279 (89.4%) identified a role model. After adjusting for level of hopefulness, identifying a role model was associated with higher levels of self-regulation in comparison to indications of no role model. Hopeful future expectations were also associated with higher self-regulation; however, the beta coefficient was smaller than role model presence in the multivariate linear regression analysis. Conclusions Role model presence was significantly associated with higher self-regulation among early adolescents. Educational environments should focus on support for adolescents with no role models.