Date
24 October 2017
A young Japanese couple relaxes on a beach. Japanese spouses can no longer have separate surnames, according to the Supreme Court. Photo: Internet
A young Japanese couple relaxes on a beach. Japanese spouses can no longer have separate surnames, according to the Supreme Court. Photo: Internet

Japan’s top court rules spouses must use the same surname

Japanese spouses must use the same surname, the Supreme Court has ruled, without saying which name to use.

That makes Japan the only member of the G7, a grouping of the world’s richest countries, with such law after Japan’s top court upheld it, Reuters reports.    

The Supreme Court rejected a suit that claimed the law was unconstitutional and violated human rights.

The ruling coincides with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to draw more women into a shrinking workforce, although his conservative party was against changing the 19th century law.

The statute does not specify which name a couple must take.

In practice, 96 percent of married women take their husband’s name, a reflection of Japan’s male-dominated society.

Many say this takes away their identity.

“My tears wouldn’t stop overflowing when I heard the judgment,” said Kyoko Tsukamoto, an 80-year-old plaintiff who uses her maiden name but took her husband’s name to have children and says she wants to resume her maiden name legally.

“Now I won’t be able to die as Kyoko Tsukamoto,” she told a news conference, her voice shaking.

In 2011, five plaintiffs filed suit against the law.

Many working women have faced the hassle of juggling two names — their maiden name for professional use and their legal married name, required on official documents.

Some couples opt not to register the marriage so they can keep separate names but doing so creates legal headaches including parental and inheritance rights.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling that “it is only reasonable for family members to have the same name”, according to Kyodo news agency.

The court also said that many women are able to use their maiden names in daily life, so their situation has improved, and it called on parliament to debate the issue.

Support for separate surnames is much higher among younger people but public opinion is divided.

In a separate case, the court declared unconstitutional a law forbidding only women from remarrying for six months after a divorce.

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