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Should married couples in Japan be allowed to have different family names? Survey investigates

29 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

When a couple gets married in Japan, usually the wife takes her husband’s family name. However, it’s not shocking for the guy to give up his family name and take his bride’s instead. It’s not the norm, but it’s definitely something that’s more common in Japan than the U.S.

What you won’t see, however, is couples who tie the knot and each retain their family name. As a matter of fact, that kind of arrangement is illegal under Japan’s current constitution, which stipulates that a married couple must have the same family name.

However, as time goes by social attitudes can shift and evolve, and in recent years an increasing number of people have been voicing their opinion that the requirement that married couples share a family name should be repealed. To gauge the public’s feelings on the matter, public broadcaster NHK conducted a randomly-dialed telephone survey last month, gathering responses from a total 1,534 people across Japan aged 18 and up.

When asked how they felt about the idea of men and women being allowed to retain their own family names after marriage, 62 percent were in favor of it, compared to just 27 percent opposed. What’s more, the survey participants showed even stronger support for letting married couples both keep their pre-marriage family names among respondents in all age brackets under 70.

Meanwhile, there was a pronounced dip in support for the idea among survey respondents in their 70s, out of whom only 48 percent are in favor of it. That’s still, thogh, a larger group than the 40 percent of respondents age 70 to 79 who said they’re opposed to giving married couples that option, and in every other age group “in favor of” beat out “opposed to” by a much larger margin.

When asked why they were in favor of letting married couples keep their own family names, the top responses were:

  1. Having more options is better (selected by 56 percent of respondents)
  2. Changing your family name can cause problems at work and in your daily life (18 percent)
  3. Usually it’s the woman who changes her name, which is unfair (12 percent)
  4. I think there are people who like and feel attached to their family name (10 percent)

The number-two response might sound overly dramatic, but changing your family name can cause problems, or at least inconveniences, in Japan. In many work environments, people are known by their last names, and not only when dealing with outside clients. Coworkers, even ones on friendly terms, will often only call each other by their family names, and the same often goes for adult neighbors or other acquaintances in the community. If you get married and have to change your family name, for example, from Tanaka to Suzuki, suddenly everyone has to relearn your name, and things get even trickier if there’s also someone else in the office or apartment complex who already has your new family name.

On the other end of the survey responses, those who were opposed to separate family names for spouses gave the following reasons.

  1. Having separate names will weaken the bonds and solidarity between family members (36 percent)
  2. Parents having separate family name may have a negative influence on children (26 percent)
  3. Having separate family names will confuse other people (18 percent)
  4. There are now more situations than there were before in which someone can continue using their pre-marriage family name (12 percent)

Looking at this list, it’s not hard to see why support was lower for a separate-names option among the oldest age group in the survey. Reasons 2 and 3 largely boil down to the concept of members of the same family having different family names feeling strange and confusing, and they’re more likely to feel that way if you’ve spent the last seven decades-plus with “married couple = same family name” as a rocksteady part of Japanese society. Reason 1, and of course 2, also feel based on the assumption that the couple will be having children, but with fewer and fewer married couples in Japan these day having kids, weakening family bonds is probably something older generations are more worried about than younger ones.

Reason 4, an increasing number of situations in which someone can continue to use their pre-marriage family name, might seem like a contradiction to the “married couples must have the same family name” rule mentioned above. However, while couples are required to have the same last name on official documents such as government, banking, and housing forms, in professional and social interactions, it’s not unusual for Japanese women to continue to go by their maiden names. This is especially the case when a married woman continues working in the same office she was working in prior to tying the knot, in order to maintain consistency for communication with colleagues and customers.

Ironically, though it wasn’t on the list of reasons why for people who support a separate-family names option, “an increasing number of situations in which someone can continue to use their pre-marriage family name” may eventually be the logic behind the decision to repeal the same-last-name rule, should the Japanese government decide to go that way, since it shows that people can potentially continue using their own family name without it causing communication chaos and confusion.

*Source: NHK News Web via *Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

29 Comments
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Meanwhile, there was a pronounced dip in support for the idea among survey respondents in their 70s, out of whom only 48 percent are in favor of it. That’s still, thogh, a larger group than the 40 percent of respondents age 70 to 79 who said they’re opposed to giving married couples that option, and in every other age group “in favor of” beat out “opposed to” by a much larger margin.

This is Japanese politics in a microcosm. According to the ministry of Justice, Japan is the only country in the world that doesn't allow separate surnames.

The government pandas to the will of the elderly demographic. There are more of them (Around 30% of the country is over 65.) they vote in higher numbers and perhaps most importantly their votes count for almost double or triple due to the vote-value disparity that has been deemed unconstitutional by Japanese courts on numerous occasions.

The de-population of rural areas caused by young people who prefer to live in large urban cities means that their votes count for far less. The LDP has been ordered to fix the disparity but is unwilling to surrender its advantage. And so the LDP political monopoly continues.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

If you get married and have to change your family name, for example, from Tanaka to Suzuki, suddenly everyone has to relearn your name, and things get even trickier if there’s also someone else in the office or apartment complex who already has your new family name.

I guess this could be easily ameliorated by always using given names. I mean to say, their purpose is surely to distinguish people of the same family name from the same families.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Majority of Japanese public supports it.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

They should be asking why on god's green earth it would be prohibited to have the name of your choice.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Do whatever you want. It's your life. We only live it once.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

The article states, “What you won’t see, however, is couples who tie the know

????

I think this should be "knot."

Moderator: Thank you. It has been corrected.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Definitely in favor to choose what you want!

The most stupid discrimination is in case of international marriage, Japanese can choose her/his name!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

NHK conducted a randomly-dialed telephone survey last month

This is of course an important source of bias, an important segment of the population do not answer a call from an unknown number now.

And I have a small problem with the headline, the survey can help understanding about how having different family names is considered in the current society, but as an argument about if it should be or not allowed what is needed is to see what positive and negative effects this change would have. If there are more positive effects then it should be allowed, independently of how it is considered.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan is the only country in the world to demand that married couples must share the same surname.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Sure. What's the difference?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Of course yes. It's such a common sense thing. Too bad Japan still stuck in the previous century in so many ways. Even many of its citizens see this as a necessity and yet, the dinosaurs still prevail.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Changing your family name can cause problems at work and in your daily life (18 percent)

I need more clarification on what that means? Not to mention I thought the culture looks down on people who are presumed to not be married yet when 30 plus?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My girlfriends parents have names taken from each others families, so it is a double barrelled surname. Before that how ever, her mothers surname was already double barrelled so she opted to drop one name and then the name joined his. My girlfriend has the same name as them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many Japanese hangups over this one but how can it be changed without amending the Constitution?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

how can it be changed without amending the Constitution?

Easy. Amend the constitution. It isn't written in stone.

CHAPTER IX

AMENDMENTS

Article 96. Amendments to this Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification, which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast thereon, at a special referendum or at such election as the Diet shall specify.

Amendments when so ratified shall immediately be promulgated by the Emperor in the name of the people, as an integral part of this Constitution.

https://japan.kantei.go.jp/constitution_and_government_of_japan/constitution_e.html

It's only been around since the end of the war, anyway. The ink is barely dry.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

cleo

amending the Constitution requires a third vote of the Diet and a majority in a referendum. The Constitution has never been amended. Article 9 is the one wanted by the LDP.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A closer look at the Constitution;

*Article 13.** All of the people shall be respected as individuals. Their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness shall, to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare, be the supreme consideration in legislation and in other governmental affairs.*

*Article 14.** All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.*

*Article 24.** Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.*

With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.

I can't find any mention at all of 'husband and wife must share the same family name'. It looks like it can all be sorted through ordinary legislation, no need at all for any constitutional amendments.

Apart from the bit about marriage being between both sexes; the same-sex marriage crowd have a tougher hill to climb.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Imagine allowing the opinion of geriatric voters who are majority out of running for wedding and marriage choices, to control the options available to marrying couples.

But like in most places it’s a choice that will probably hav little effect across the board, but simply having the option is just too common sense. I read that countries like the UK only see something like 6 percent of couples choose the wife’s name or change at all… so what would an even more traditional country do… gee let’s think about it

2 ( +2 / -0 )

cleo

it seems it is not the Constitution but the Civil Code. Although I had read it would require a change in the Constitution.

Since Japan's civil code was created in the 19th century, it has been a requirement that married couples both use the same family name.

The code was amended in 1947 to remove the stipulation that only the man's surname can be chosen.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-04-20/why-japanese-couples-have-little-choice-over-their-surname/103661542

So the Civil Code needs an amendment to all for women to keep their names but would also require a change to the family register system.

For 10 tens in Japan my partner used her family name but then decided to change to my own.

According to a study, it won't be long before all people are called Sato.

https://www.arabnews.jp/en/japan/article_119036/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Couple's surnames are not the problem in Japan. The problem is so many couples who don't know how to maintain a marriage. Learn how to do that well and your surnames matter little.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

it seems it is not the Constitution but the Civil Code

Is it not the nature of the family registry system (Koseki) that makes it difficult to change? I guess changing that could be a headache for many, and so it just trundles along.

According to a study, it won't be long before all people are called Sato.

I'm scratching my head on that one. Is that right? My crude calculation suggests the pattern won't change. (I haven't had breakfast yet, so I'm probably wrong.)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Is it not the nature of the family registry system (Koseki) that makes it difficult to change? I guess changing that could be a headache for many, and so it just trundles along.

Getting rid of the Koseki system would be extraordinarily difficult due to the fact that it is tied to so much of the entire administration of the country (births, deaths, marriages, divorces - all revolve around it).

On the other hand, merely amending it to allow two married people to maintain different surnames wouldn't cause the same kind of chaos and is very much do-able.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

According to a study, it won't be long before all people are called Sato.

Please, don't give that "study" the dignity of using it as an argument for or against anything. It operates on the assumption that a statistical anomaly in a single year -- the surname "Sato" seeing a disproportional bump -- continues for the next 500 years. It may very well be an April fools' joke.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Apart from the bit about marriage being between both sexes; the same-sex marriage crowd have a tougher hill to climb.

Not really, in a recent Tokyo high court ruling, the court explicitly said that that part of the constitution doesn't imply a ban on same-sex marriage, and that in fact not allowing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-high-court-says-not-allowing-same-sex-marriage-is-unconstitutional-media-2024-03-14/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Here is a fact, when a man marries a woman in Japan, and this goes way back and she has no brothers to carry on the family name her husband could and can take on her family name. This was and is usually done with wealthy families and I believe it is also easier when it comes time when inheriting, however, on this point I am not sure on.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm all for married couples having the right to use different surnames.

And laws, the constitition, can me amended.

But the archaic Koseki system used in Japan at the core of every Japanese person's identification isn't suited for it. Which requires changes at a pretty deep level.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Having same surname wasn't a big deal when women left employment upon marriage to be full-time housewives.

But that's incompatible with modern economy where educated women seek a full career.

Thus women must be allowed to keep surnames upon which she may have built her career on.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Must be ok to keep original surnames when marrying foreigner. My Japanese wife kept her maiden name when we married and of course I kept my surname as well.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My Japanese wife kept her maiden name when we married and of course I kept my surname as well.

That's because when you got married, your wife started a new koseki -- for herself, and only herself. The marriage is recorded, but as a foreigner you can not be added to the koseki. Consequently you don't fall under the "one family name per koseki" rule.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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