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News No dual surnames for married couples in Japan


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
Despite eight years of 'womenomics' and plenty of good intentions, PM Suga yesterday admitted that Japan was "extremely behind" in promoting gender equality. The government on Friday adopted a plan that delays women's advancement goals by up to a decade after failing to reach even half of the 30% target by 2020 and other measures.

Japan especially lags in women's advancement in politics. Women account for less than 10% of lawmakers in the more powerful of its two-chamber parliament. About 40% of local assemblies have no female members or only one. Suga's 20-member Cabinet has only two female ministers.

Source: Japan delays gender-equality goals in new five-year plan : The Asahi Shimbun

While Japan ranks highly on a range of international indicators, it persistently trails on promoting gender equality, ranking 121 out of 153 nations surveyed in the 2020 global gender gap report of the World Economic Forum. Just 14.8 percent of leadership positions in politics and business in Japan are occupied by women, "lagging extremely behind internationally," the Cabinet Office said in the new five-year plan.

At the same time, conservative lawmakers reused to consider different surnames for married couples.

Japan's Civil Code requires a married couple to share a surname, and conventionally, the burden has largely fallen on women to change names after marriage. The draft gender equality promotion policy had included wording positive about different surnames, but such language was dropped amid opposition from conservative lawmakers.

When Abe first announced his 'plan' years ago, it pissed me off. It was such blatant lip service. (There's a 50/50 chance i griped in a thread here at the time.)

if they actually do something, for example, setting up school programs which create work experience opportunities or mentor programs for girls, I'd be all for it. But just saying you're going to do better into press microphones and passing the ball up the field isn't gonna cut it
Marukawa Tamayo, Japan's minister for women's empowerment and gender equality, confirmed that she signed a document that opposes dual surnames for married couples and claimed her "personal belief" would not affect her duties. Marukawa is married to Taku Otsuka, a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party but uses her maiden name during her activities as a lawmaker.


The document, dated Jan. 30, was sent to members of the Saitama prefectural assembly, which is seeking to adopt a written opinion calling for a system that allows married couples to use separate surnames. Fifty Upper and Lower House members of the LDP signed the document to express their opposition to such a system. At a news conference on Feb. 24, Marukawa said that she agreed with the contents of the document and signed it. But she also noted that she is in a position to promote gender equality within the government, and that she intends to put her ministerial duties before her own opinion. Marukawa also doubles as minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, an event that is committed to ensuring gender equality. "I will do whatever I can, including setting aside my own thoughts, to gain the understanding of the international community to hold the Games," she said.

Source: Gender-equality minister signs paper opposing dual surnames : The Asahi Shimbun


Japan's Supreme Court ruled that forcing married couples to choose one common surname is not unconstitutional.

Article 750 of the Civil Code stipulates "a husband and wife shall adopt the surname of the husband or wife in accordance with that which is decided at the time of marriage." The provision applies only to Japanese couples as foreigners married under the country's system are able to keep their family names. Critics say the provision originating from the 1898 Civil Code reflects the traditional concept of marriage as an arrangement involving families rather than individuals. Usually, a woman left her family to become part of her husband's family. As of 2015, 96% of married couples in Japan used the husband's surname, according to government data.

The family register law stipulates a couple must determine a shared surname to have their marriage registration accepted. The 2015 top court ruling said the practice of using the same surname was "well-established in society" and there is no gender inequality in the system. But among 15 justices, five, including all three women, said prohibiting separate surnames was unconstitutional, citing the disadvantages involved in changing a name. The court acknowledged individuals who change their surnames, in most cases women, could "feel their identities lost" and face other disadvantages in terms of social credibility, but said people are not forbidden to go by their maiden names in the current system.

Marukawa Tamayo, Japan's minister for women's empowerment and gender equality (see above), uses her maiden name in politics. Her husband's surname is Otsuka (found on JT today). Wouldn't that destroy her family unity and affect her children, too?
Marukawa Tamayo, Japan's minister for women's empowerment and gender equality (see above), uses her maiden name in politics. Her husband's name is Otsuka (found on JT today). Wouldn't that destroy her family unity and affect her children, too?
Only if it were allowed in official documents (戸籍). That would rip the very fabric of society apart.
If a couple cannot decide whose surname to take, choose by lottery or, in modern times, start an online questionnaire. 😄

Married couples in Japan must select only one surname for registration. Tamura and Ishikawa both wanted to keep their family names. If one of them had a surname like Domyoji that was "so cool that everyone envies it," the other would be willing to accept it. But both Tamura and Ishikawa are quite common surnames in Japan. A 30-year-old husband and wife in Kyoto Prefecture who faced a similar problem were featured in the "Otoko to Onna" (Men and women) column of The Asahi Shimbun's Feb. 14, 1971, morning edition. They picked their family name by lottery.

Fifty years after the article was published, Tamura and Ishikawa reached a solution: They asked strangers on the internet which surname "sounds better." They paid each respondent 10 yen (9 cents) on a questionnaire site. After about an hour, 300 individuals responded. Ishikawa won by a 7:3 ratio, and they adopted the more popular one. Asked about the defeat, Tamura said, "There is no choice since we had promised to accept the outcome with no hard feelings."

Movie director Kazuhiro Soda and his wife, Kiyoko Kashiwagi, married in the United States and retained their surnames. Today, their official notification of marriage to Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward office was rejected. The couple will now request the Tokyo Family Court to order the local ward authorities to accept the document. Good to see that the courts continue to be challenged.

Kashiwagi and Soda were married in New York in 1997 and had retained their separate last names. When Japanese are married abroad, they are supposed to submit a marriage notification document at a Japanese diplomatic establishment in the country where they reside. But the two did not do so because they knew that they had to choose one of their surnames to register their marriage under the existing Japanese laws. They had expected that Japan would eventually follow in the footsteps of other countries around the world and adopt a dual surname system for married couples. In an official Japanese marriage register, a couple must check a box to show which of the last names they will use upon marriage: either the husband's or the wife's. When they submitted the document in 2018, they checked both boxes. The ward authorities denied the registration, citing the Civil Code and the Family Registration Law. Article 750 of the Civic Code stipulates married couples must use a single surname, while Article 74 of the Family Registration Law has a similar rule for its marriage notification procedures.

This couple, who got legally married in the US, showed up to the Chiyoda Ward office with the marriage certificate in hand, and Chiyoda Ward just says, "lol, no".

I wonder what the official position is, then. Does the Japanese gov't not recognize it as a valid marriage at all? Like the US marriage license is without meaning? Does the government really claim, then, that these two people are single? Seems to raise some interesting questions.
This is utterly baffling to me.

The interesting thing is that (as no doubt many members of this forum know) for international marriages that take place in Japan, both husband and wife retaining their surnames is the default state, and additional paperwork is required to change one's name.

Actually, I just typed that, but I'm wondering if it's also true in the case of a non-Japanese wife marrying a Japanese husband. For the reverse, it definitely is the case. (My wife assumed she would take my last name, but was told that she would not unless a separate application was filed, which we decided not to do.)
Keeping up the pressure: on the occasion of International Women's Day, representatives from dozens of women's rights groups delivered a joint statement to lawmakers urging them to do more to change the 125-year-old civil code, which forces married couples to choose one surname.

Public support for a dual-surname option has grown, with surveys showing a majority now supports the option for married couples to keep separate surnames. Some couples have also brought lawsuits saying the current law violates the constitutional guarantee of gender equality since women almost always sacrifice their surnames. [...] PM Fumio Kishida's conservative governing party faces growing calls to allow more diversity in family values and marriage. Many in his Liberal Democratic Party support traditional gender roles and a paternalistic family system, arguing that allowing the option of separate surnames would destroy family unity and affect children. Rally organizer Yoko Sakamoto, a long-time activist calling for the change, said it's time to push harder. "We should even think about not voting for candidates who oppose the change in next elections," she said.

Here's an eye-opening interview Asahi conducted with Sasaki Tomoko, a former Upper House member of the Liberal Democratic Party, lawyer and prosecutor who worked to promote an optional dual-surname system. She said opposition by a particular party segment has been startlingly fierce: a refusal to listen to logic has been the biggest obstacle to progress on the issue of giving married couples the option of using separate surnames.

Her office received over 1,000 faxes, some of which said Japan would "no longer be able to retain its national polity" if dual surnames were permitted. Others said such a measure would "lead to dismantling families." Still, others called her names such as "leftist" and "unpatriotic."

The biggest hurdle lies in the way that logic doesn't matter to the opponents. They talk about "national polity," about "leftism," and about "Japan's good morals and manners." They have no theory, so there is no way to talk to them. There is simply no way even to get near them. Lawmakers backed by groups opposed to the dual-surname option probably cannot afford to express their approval, whatever they may think personally. In view of what I experienced, I find it hardly surprising that the dual-surname option has yet to become a reality 20 years since then. It's just taking too much time. So many people have been inconvenienced during all this time. And those people have probably given up hope on Japan, which has never gotten around to realizing something so simple as a dual-surname system.

I guess the non-application of logic is not restricted to dual surnames.

I really don't see how this is a "woman's rights" issue. Its "weird" in the West for a husband to take his wife's name. Here in Japan its fairly common and has been for a long time.

The whole "dual name" thing just sounds like people trying to be "fancy" for no practical purpose. On the one hand, I think the government should butt out. On the other hand, is there a good reason to give the bureacrats this headache? I mean, I have little compassion for those tools of the government, but, doesn't this lead to confuse about what the kids will be called? You can't just keep joining last names up forever.

I can understand why these people are just like, "For the love of Cthulu would you two just a pick a damn name and move on?"
Might be wrong on this but I think in most international marriages with the Japanese spouse generally speaking if it's a woman the Japanese lady maintains the Japanese passport and all the documents legal documents through the city hall are usually in the ladies maiden name then again I might be wrong but I haven't seen it otherwise personally.
Might be wrong on this but I think in most international marriages with the Japanese spouse generally speaking if it's a woman the Japanese lady maintains the Japanese passport and all the documents legal documents through the city hall are usually in the ladies maiden name then again I might be wrong but I haven't seen it otherwise personally.

Interesting. Some of us may be talking past eachother.

I am taking dual names to mean combining husband and wife names into something like "Smith-Tanaka" rather than operating under two separate surnames....with say one name on the passport and a different one on the driver's license.

Combining names would require a passport change no? Or is there some established standard where if one surname matches the double surname the official just accepts it with no further checking? Like if Mariko's U.S. driver's license says "Mariko Smith-Tanaka" but her Japanese passport just says "Mariko Tanaka" but she needs two forms of ID to get a credit card, the credit card company is fine with the disparity.
Interesting. Some of us may be talking past eachother.

I am taking dual names to mean combining husband and wife names into something like "Smith-Tanaka" rather than operating under two separate surnames....with say one name on the passport and a different one on the driver's license.

Combining names would require a passport change no? Or is there some established standard where if one surname matches the double surname the official just accepts it with no further checking? Like if Mariko's U.S. driver's license says "Mariko Smith-Tanaka" but her Japanese passport just says "Mariko Tanaka" but she needs two forms of ID to get a credit card, the credit card company is fine with the disparity.
I read it as allowing them to keep their maiden name as their legal name while the husband keeps his name. The current law forces the couple to pick one or the other. But re-reading it it's not entirely clear to me now.
I had to read this twice to grasp the impact: Keidanren, Japan's most prominent business group, urged the Japanese government to enact a dual-surname option, saying that the current system mandating a shared surname hinders corporate activities.

This is the first time Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) has asked the government to consider introducing a dual-surname option for married couples at an official meeting. During the meeting with Ayuko Kato, the minister in charge of women's empowerment, executives from Keidanren's member companies discussed the promotion of women. Masahiko Uotani, the Keidanren Diversity Promotion Committee chairman, said, "The difference between the name on the passport and the business name hampers the continuing careers of researchers who work for international organizations." Uotani, also the chairman of Shiseido Co., cited specific examples of "being locked out of hotels or meeting places on overseas business trips." "We would like the government to demonstrate strong leadership to realize a dual-surname option," he said. After the meeting, Kato told The Asahi Shimbun, "I'm taking the request from the business community seriously."

The Justice Ministry's Legislative Council proposed revising the Civil Law in 1996 to allow married couples to maintain separate surnames. However, the proposal was met with strong opposition within the Liberal Democratic Party, which prevented its submission to the Diet until now. Japan is the only country legally requiring married couples to have the same surname. The government has been allowing maiden names to be included on driver's licenses and other documents. Still, the business community has indicated that this allowance has not spread to the international business arena.

As I recall, when I got married in Japan, as a foreigner marrying a Japanese national, it was merely a matter of adding my name to her koseki record. I chose to take on her family name (since changed back to the original), although I was under no obligation to do so. I wanted to make life easy on any potential future children. I think that we never got around to updating my name on her koseki, though. That meant that when we got a divorce, I had to do so under my 'maiden' name, as that was the one listed on the koseki.

My current wife and I have separate last names, which we did because she has an established career. Changing her name to mine would cause her a lot of trouble professionally. Conversely, I am theoretically open to changing my name to her family's name, but there is no need. Also, I've changed my name twice now. It's a lot of hassle.

Also, apparently in China it's common for husbands and wives to have different surnames. Even though they have a family registry system similar to Japan. When they have a child, though, I am told it is customary for the child to take the husband's family name.

Although interestingly, my younger brother married a woman from Taiwan, and I guess that there he is officially part of her family after doing some kind of registration at a government office somewhere. I'm sorry to be so fuzzy, but I really don't know the details. What I do know is that due to this, he is allowed to visit the family grave, but she is not. I don't really understand it either, but this is what I'm told by them.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed by a group of 12 individuals with the district courts of Tokyo and Sapporo. Their aim is to challenge the constitutionality of legal provisions that mandate married couples to share the same surnames. This issue has been raised before, leading to separate Supreme Court rulings in 2015 and 2021, affirming that the requirement aligns with the Constitution. However, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit emphasize that the situation has evolved. Lobbyists actively advocate for an amendment, and public opinion appears to favour abandoning the existing rule. Among the 12 plaintiffs, there are five common-law couples and one married couple. These individuals reside in Tokyo, Hokkaido, and Nagano prefectures. A 2022 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research revealed that 61% of respondents support the idea of couples having separate surnames. This represents an increase from 50.5% in 2018 and 41.5% in 2013.

Last month, Masakazu Tokura, who chairs Keidanren, Japan's biggest business lobby, said the organization supports changing the current rule to allow married couples to have separate surnames. Tokura said he is puzzled by the fact that this issue has been taking so long to resolve; a Justice Ministry panel had recommended a revision of the Civil Code to allow separate surnames in 1996. He added that Keidanren will come up with a proposal by the fall, with an aim of mitigating burdens on women. One of the plaintiffs of the lawsuits filed on Friday said that problems often arise when she has to go overseas on business trips as an employee of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The 58-year-old plaintiff asked that her real name not be disclosed and goes by Kumi Nitta.

Japan Couples Sue to End Surname Law, This Time With Business Backing
Japan it was Japanese people do don't bring your stupid *** I'm better than the Japanese government so if you're going to listen to what I say not with the Japanese government feels best for the Japanese people all that come through Japan that want to put their their feelings over the Japanese culture they can really go take a **** in the outhouse in the backyard mask t
The heat is up: Kagawa Prefecture has achieved a significant milestone by becoming Japan's first prefecture, where all local assemblies have unanimously passed a statement advocating for national legislation allowing married couples to choose separate surnames. This progressive move reflects the growing momentum in favour of granting couples the freedom to retain their family names after marriage.

As of 19 March, the Kagawa Prefectural Assembly and all 17 municipal assemblies within the prefecture have formally adopted this statement. Their collective voice emphasizes the importance of addressing the issue at the national level. The call extends beyond Kagawa, as a total of 383 local assemblies across Japan had already expressed similar sentiments by January of this year. The debate surrounding separate surnames has been ongoing for years, and this concerted effort by Kagawa Prefecture adds weight to the conversation. Advocates argue that allowing couples to maintain distinct surnames promotes individual autonomy, gender equality, and personal identity. It also aligns with global trends and recognizes the diverse ways in which families define themselves. While the road to legislative change remains challenging, Kagawa's resolute stance sends a powerful message: the time has come to reevaluate and modernize marital naming conventions.

It's been 28 years since the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice filed a report in 1996 recommending the Civil Code be revised toward the introduction of the separate surname system. The legal reform, however, has not been achieved due to opposition from the Liberal Democratic Party's conservative wing, which claims that the system would "destroy family traditions." A nationwide organization "Asuniwa" based in Tokyo, to which Bosoboso-no-kai belongs, and other parties have turned to local assemblies over the issue, under the slogan "Let's make voices from regional areas heard by the Diet." In Kagawa Prefecture, Bosoboso-no-kai and other groups petitioned local assemblies, and since the Mitoyo Municipal Assembly adopted the statement in December 2020, similar moves had spread throughout the prefecture including at the prefectural assembly. On March 19, the Ayagawa, Tadotsu and Manno town assemblies respectively approved the statement.

Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) and Keizai Doyukai (the Japan Association of Corporate Executives) continue to push the issue, heightening calls for Japan to allow married couples to choose separate surnames. This would reflect the increasing number of women in management and executive posts. They criticized the mandatory single-surname system for "hindering business processes."

Naomi Motojima, a managing executive officer from Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co., faced an unexpected problem over her surname when she arrived in the United States in early February. She was among 13 female executives from Keidanren member companies who were touring more than 10 destinations, including the United Nations and the White House, with the aim of learning about diversity-relevant policies. Motojima was stopped by security guards at the building entrances every time because she referred to herself as Motojima, but her passport showed her officially registered name of Yoshitani. She was let in after explaining that she was part of a formal mission and that her surname had been changed following marriage. "They might not have let me through if I was visiting alone," she recalled. "If the same thing happened before important meetings, my company could be damaged. I noticed the business risk involving the surname issue for the first time then."

Japan's unique Civil Code provisions requiring joint surnames for married couples may face constitutional challenges due to evolving court interpretations of discrimination. Former Supreme Court Justice Ryuko Sakurai, who dissented in a 2015 case upholding the current laws, argued that the provisions denying dual surnames are unconstitutional. She personally experienced professional setbacks when unable to use her maiden name, "Fujii," in her work.

In March this year, common law couples filed a third lawsuit in the Tokyo and Sapporo district courts, claiming that the current surname system is unconstitutional. Regarding this lawsuit, Sakurai remarked, "It's expected to take three to four years for the Supreme Court to issue a ruling after the district and high court decisions," adding, "It is a hopeful observation, but there is a possibility (the law) will be ruled unconstitutional, or something close to it."

Sakurai emphasized that the theory that "indirect discrimination is still discrimination" is now common sense internationally. Although the Civil Code stipulates that either the husband or wife must change their surname, the woman ends up doing so in about 95% of cases. This often results in the disadvantages of name changes falling solely on the shoulders of women, such as not having their professional achievements under their maiden names recognized. All this could be seen as indirect discrimination. Additionally, Japan is the only country in the world with a law mandating joint surnames after marriage, and it has been rebuked three times by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which has called for changes, also based on concerns about indirect discrimination.

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