Ninety-six percent. This is the proportion of married couples in Japan that share their husbands’ last names (Rich). On December 16, 2015, the Supreme Court of Japan decided that Article 750 of Civil Code which requires married couples to have a single last name was constitutional in spite of the raised voice of women who wanted to ban that rule (Soble). Although the law does not state which last name should be used by couples, many couples in Japan choose to use the husbands’ names after their marriage (Rich). Women changing their last names might seem natural because of the tacit rule which has been culturally shaped, however, the law is outdated in today’s society where more women are expected to play bigger roles outside the home. Therefore, separate surnames between married couples should be approved to correct inequalities in gender.
First of all, the law does not suit Japanese society today where a feudal family system called the ie-system has already been legally abolished. The Ie-system was introduced by the Meiji administration to reinforce the power of fathers as heads of the family. The law was revised in 1947, and the “ie-system” was abolished (The Japan Times). This change enabled married couples to decide which last name to use as a family, and this fact let the Supreme Court say that “there is no formal inequality between two genders” and that this law does not contradict with any article of the constitution (The Japan Times). However, considering the fact that 96 percent of couples choose to use the husband’s name (Rich), it is extremely unbalanced and thus far from equal. This disparity might have upheld the unwritten “husband-first” idea even after the “ie-system,” therefore it should be changed.
Secondly, changing names is important for everybody because it relates to self-recognition. According to Edward Deluzain, a writer and researcher of Behind the Name which is a well-known website where people can look for the etymologies and history of their names, names are one of the important things that tie a person to the world where one lives. In other words, since a name sticks to a person from birth, it gives a strong impact on the relationships between the person and society. For instance, one Japanese couple talked to The Japan Times about why they had decided not to get married even after 40 years together. Mizuho Fukushima, a partner of Yuichi Kaido, said, “I am Mizuho Fukushima and I didn’t understand why I had to be absorbed and merged” (qtd. in Ito). Yuichi Kaido, also said, “I felt like I was going to completely lose my identity by becoming Yuichi Fukushima, which also happened to be the name of an acquaintance of mine” (qtd. in Ito). The example of this couple tells that, without names, individuals cannot receive enough responsibilities in the world, which avoids building a clear identity (Deluzain). Since names are connected to identity and is an essential parting of becoming conscious of a person, changing names might result in the loss of identity or a great change of personality. Therefore, it should not be necessary to take a name away from anyone.
Moreover, this law is not deeply considered about difficulties and troubles to change last names. When women change their names due to marriage, they have to leave their family registry and re-enter her husbands’. In addition to this official procedure, married women would have other trouble if they continue working. Since Japanese people do not use first names at their work place, one has to decide whether to continues to be called by the original last name of her parents though she officially has a different name, or go by her husband’s surname. If separate surnames between married couple is allowed, women would not need to worry about those updates every time they marry, or they divorce, which reduces stress for women.
Some might argue that using separate surnames in married couples would lead to the inconvenience for their children because they would have two last names. However, Japanese people might feel complexity and inconvenience only because they live in the country where people have just one first name and one last name. Middle names are commonly used in the world, and people have two last names in Spanish-speaking countries. Based on these facts, Japan can also be more flexible to having more than two parts of a name. One possible new system is enabling children to choose whether they want to combine their parent’s last names to make it one last name, or allowing them to choose whichever they want at a certain age, for example, when they become 20 years old. Some might oppose this idea insisting that a single last name strengthens the unity of families. Yet, even if a family has different last names, bonds are shaped through joyful experiences family members had, tough times they overcame together, or just the ordinary days they have spent. Therefore, separate surnames for married couples would not be a problem of unity.
It always takes time and a lot of steps to changes something. When the convenience of using a single last name is weighed against the inequality of gender or identity, it seems clear which should be more respected. In a recent survey, 48 percent of people in Japan support the movement to change the surname law (McGee). The diet and the Japanese Supreme Court should not wait anymore to make a positive step for the future where women are proud to be independent without gender inequality.
Deluzain, Edward. “Names and Personal Identity.” Behind the Name. Behind the Name, n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
Ito, Masami. “What’s in a Name? Japan Debates Whether to Allow Spouses to Adopt Separate Surnames.” The Japan Times. The Japan Times, 17 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
McGee, Oona. “Why Married Couples in Japan Must Have Same Surname.” Japan Today. Japan Today, 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Jan. 2017.
Rich, Motoko. “In Japan, More Women Fight to Use Their Own Surnames.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.
Soble, Jonathan. “Japan’s Top Court Upholds Law Requiring Spouses to Share Surname. “The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 2 Jan. 2017.
“Supreme Court’s Surname Ruling.” The Japan Times. The Japan Times, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.