Under Japanese law, married couples are not allowed
separate surnames and have to choose one or the other.
About 96 percent choose the man’s surname.
Marriage-Law in the Japanese-Society –
Now a debate over the surname codes has been reignited
as part of a broader examination about entrenched
sexism and “boys’ club” cronyism in Japan.
having separate surnames, reasoning that it would
Marriage-Law in the Japanese-Society –
“damage the unity of a family.”
The country’s new women’s empowerment and gender equality minister,
Tamayo Marukawa, came under fire last month after it emerged
that she joined a campaign with 49 other conservative ruling party lawmakers,
43 of them men, to reject calls for change.
Asked 10 times by opposition politicians why she
opposed women’s right to keep their surname,
she merely said she had her “own opinion” on the subject.
Tomoko Takahashi, a professor of family law at
Seikei University in Tokyo called Marukawa an example
of women who rise within the ruling elite by positioning themselves
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“in the men’s club, so they are not exactly keen to change the dynamic.”
But pressure is growing. An online opinion poll in November
showed that 70 percent of people supported the right of
married couples to have separate surnames,
even if most would still choose to adopt the same name.
It’s not a small matter.
In the workplace, people often know their colleagues only by
their family names. In an instant in 2019, I went from being
Onishi-san (my family name) to Inuma-san (my husband’s last name).
The bureaucracy was bad enough.
I had to change my surname on all official documents,
including everything from bank accounts, passports,
credit cards and online membership accounts.
My married friends soon shared with me their
how-tos for this “secretive ritual” going through various
institutions in the “correct” order, with our
husbands barely aware of the whole laborious process.
In Japan, lockdowns seem to make the heart grow fonder
Then came the issue of which surname I would go by in my work life.
Former clients were confused by my new name.
Others couldn’t recognize me when my new name came up in conversation.
Ayano Sakurai, a gender equality activist,
organized a petition in December asking for a selective surname system
that garnered more than 30,000 signatures in just five days.
Married three years ago, Sakurai said changing her legal surname left her
“feeling like zero and having to start afresh to build an entirely new identity.”
A new identity – Marriage-Law in the Japanese-Society.
Sadly, my marriage wasn’t the first time I had been forced to build a new identity.
Moving to Japan from my native New Jersey was a big
dream to “find my roots.” After all, I had been told far too
many times growing up to “go back to my country.”
It was then that I realized for the first time that
I wasn’t really “Japanese” in the sense of daily life.
The problem wasn’t the fact that I wasn’t fluent in Japanese.
People assumed, however, that I knew the ins and outs of Japanese ways.
I didn’t even know what the rules were.
When the job-hunting season began during my junior year of college,
everyone around me suddenly started to dye their hair back to black
and toned down their makeup. Soon, the entire junior class
was walking around in the office-recruit uniform: black suits
with knee-length skirts and low-heeled pumps.
Since then, I have spent years struggling to conform to
a society that was unwilling to accept my differences.
Things did, however, take a turn for the better when
I decided to go by my English middle name, Julia.
I felt like I could finally be myself.
Yet another problem soon emerged: My male bosses
at the advertising agency where I worked began to feel
uncomfortable with me speaking native English
in meetings with international clients.
In Japan, divorce can mean losing access to children. Some parents want that to change.
“Your English is better than the bosses,”
one male colleague pulled me aside to tell me.
“Flaunting it like that isn’t going to benefit your career.”
I realized that regardless of changing my name,
speaking up and being different will always hold me down in
Japanese society. What’s important is not to give in.
“Young people all say that it’s pointless raising their voices,” Sakurai said.
“But not raising your voice is the same as agreeing to the status quo.
So I think it’s really important for people to continue to raise
their voices to be able to have hope for the future.”
On March 5, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party announced
it would set up a team to discuss the subject,
although the chief of its policy research council chief,
Hakubun Shimomura said the panel would be made up
entirely of men and led by someone “neutral.”
After two years with my husband’s last name,
Inuma, my friends still get confused when I make reservations at restaurants.
They continue to look for a table for “Onishi.” Packages sometimes don’t arrive,
leaving me with messages saying “they can’t find Onishi.”
Onishi is slowly fading away. I now push on, trying to make a mark, as Julia Mio Inuma.