Since 1896 married couples in Japan have been legally obligated to take the same surname. However, five women are attempting to eliminate this antiquated rule by suing the Japanese government.
According to The Guardian, “the women say the law is unconstitutional and violates married couples’ civil rights, and are demanding compensation.”
The law does not specify which surname a married couple must take, but, similarly to the United States, patriarchal ideology has resulted in 96 percent of women taking their husbands’ names.
The country is split on the issue at present. Translator Kaori Oguni, one of the women engaged in the lawsuit, tells The Guardian that “By losing your surname...you’re being made light of, you’re not respected...It’s as if part of your self vanishes.”
Gesturing to the gender imbalance in Japanese society, Oguni continues, “If changing surnames is so easy, why don’t more men do it? The system is one that says, basically, if you’re not willing to change, you shouldn’t be getting married.”
In the meantime, more conservative citizens buck against this potential change. Constitutional scholar Masaomi Takanori tells NHK public television, “Names are the best way to bind families. Allowing different surnames risks destroying social stability, the maintenance of public order and the basis for social welfare.”
Many women, however, would consider this transition a mark of progress. And for those who must maintain two names—one professional, one married—repealing the current law would mean no longer living with two separate identities.
Two courts have so far ruled against the women, and only 52 percent of the population claims to be in favor of the right to choose. But perhaps the next court decision, due December 16, will bring forth a meaningful change.
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