September 2, 2012                                               By Nana Hanta (17)

According to the survey conducted by the Cabinet in 2001, 29.9 % of the respondents felt that married couple should always use the same surname and opposed any revision of the current law, down from the 39.8 % who felt this way in 1996. The percentage of those who favored allowing married couples to use separate surnames even in the household registers, however, rose from 32.5% to 42.1%.

Dural-surname System, Pros and Cons
Fujiko Sakakibara, lawyer and professor of Waseda Law School

The result indicates an increased interest in dual-surname system in Japan. So I interviewed three people on this issue; Fujiko Sakakibara, lawyer and professor of Waseda Law School who advocates for the change, Tsugio Watanabe, who is married but not registered to keep individual surnames, and Lower House member Shizuka Kamei who opposes any changes.

Sakakibara said there are three major advantages to dual-surname system. “First, people do not need to give up their original names which may be the symbol of their identity. They also can protect from others their privacy on marital status. Next, changing surnames risks losing credibility on past business performance but the dual-surname system allows people to avoid such troubles and encourages women’s social advancement. Finally, under the single-surname system, the custom of women giving up their original names persists, but the dual system fosters the sense of gender equality, symbolizing the equality between husbands and wives.”

Watanabe said, “All we want is the right to choose separate surnames. It will not affect the couples who favor single surname, so I see no disadvantages.”

On the other hand, Kamei was the one who virtually blocked the implementation of the dual-surname system amid the big chorus of politicians demanding the change during the Hatoyama administration. Kamei, who has been active on the front lines of this issue, said, “I don’t see the point of discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the dual-surname system, since it is not an absolutely necessity. The current system is convenient so why should we abolish it and cause needless chaos?”

On May 16, 2012, The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in “World Health Statistics 2012” that the birthrate in Japan was 1.4%, ranking 175th out of 193 member nations. With the falling birthrate, marriages of people without siblings increase, causing the ends of “family names.” Sakakibara pointed out that “Many couples want to retain their surnames because they regard the names as inheritance from their parents and ancestors.” Dual-surname system is an incentive measure for marriage and birth. It is time for us to take some concrete steps.