Five people in Japan are reportedly preparing an unprecedented legal challenge against the Japanese government. Why? They claim that a civil law forcing them to choose a single surname after marriage violates their constitutional rights. If they succeed, married men and women in Japan will for the first time be able to retain their own surnames, removing one of Japan’s few remaining legal obstacles to gender equality.
In the vast majority of cases in Japan, women are required to relinquish their maiden name after marriage, although a small number of men take their wife’s maiden name as their new surname. Critics, however, say the time has come to modernise the law surrounding marital surnames in Japan – the only G8 nation with laws governing such matters.
The five challengers of the law argue that the law’s requirement that a single surname be chosen contradicts articles of Japan’s constitution guaranteeing individual liberty and equal rights to husband and wife. The five are also seeking 1m Japanese Yen each in compensation …
… from the government. Previous attempts to change the law have been made, the most recent being in 1996 when an amendment that would have given married women the right to retain their maiden names was blocked by MPs who claimed it would undermine the family unit.
A report in the UK’s Guardian this week included a contribution from Kyoko Tsukamoto, who changed her maiden name after marrying in 1960 but retained it in daily life. Tsukamoto reportedly told the Guardian that:
‘My husband and I still love each other, but this and the issue of Tsukamoto are different. I thought I would get used my husband’s name, [but instead] I felt a strong sense of loss growing inside me.’
Critics also say that the law ignores dramatic post-war changes to the role of Japanese women in the home and the workplace. Th movement for change gathered particular pace in the 1980s when more women entered the workplace, with many women saying that changing their names after marriage was detrimental to their career prospects. Yet the Japanese seem to be divided over the issue as a whole – a 2009 survey showed 49% of respondents were for a change in the law, with 48% opposed to an amendment.
I think that, as a developed country which promises independence and equal rights between husband and wife, Japan needs to update this law. Though I intend to take my husband’s name if I ever get married, I’d be kinda pissed if someone told me I had to, no choice, no questions asked. Japan needs to seriously question why they are the only G8 nation to still have laws regarding marital surnames. The way I see it, Japanese women rock (they certainly live a hell of a long time), and such laws are a barrier to them attaining true workplace and gender equality. If other countries have successfully let married women keep their maiden names, then Japan certainly can too.