|"DAWN" Newsletter of The DAWN CENTER
|< Japanese Women Seen through Data >
|Discussions on Surnames of Married Couples
|Japan's current Civil Code stipulates that a newly-married couple
must use the same surname. Legally, either the husband's or the wife's surname
can be selected. However, in reality it is women who change their surnames after
marriage in 98 percent of the cases. This change in most women's surnames causes
a great deal of inconvenience in daily life. Women must renew license cards, passports,
and other documents, including bankbooks. In addition, women must register new
personal seals, which are an essential and inevitable part of Japanese society.
In short, women must obtain a completely new identity. Because of this, a large
number of women use their maiden names as pseudonyms whenever possible, especially
if they have jobs, essentially resisting, as much as possible, the requirment
for identical surnames.
Resistance to the surname requirement is growing. The more women participate in
the labor force, the more many feel resistance to the inconveniences caused by
changing surnames. Above all, many women feel subordinated to the "ie"
(patriarchal family) of their husband because of the change in their surnames.
In addition, public opinion polls show that ever increasing numbers feel that
couples should be able to use separate surnames if they wish.
The Civil Code revision has been considered at the Committee for Discussion of
the Legal System for six years. In the June, 1997 session, this bill was again
fully deliberated. However, as no vote was held, the revision has again become
null and void. Compared with many important bills passed in a short time, this
revision has a profound meaning in Japanese society. Those against the revision
say, as their main reason for opposing it, that "separate surnames will lead
to the collapse of the family and the society."
The Civil Code revision includes more than just a change in the law regarding
separate surnames. In addition, the revision includes: (1) Changing the marriageable
age to 18 for both men and women. The current law requires minimum ages for marriage
to be 18 for men and 16 for women.(2) Setting the re-marriage prohibition period
to 100 days after divorce instead of six months, for women only, under the current
law. This remarriage delay period was established to avoid the ambiguity of paternity;
a child born within 200 days after the marriage or 300 days after the divorce
is presumed to be a child of the marriage. (3) Allowing separate living over five
years as a grounds for divorce. (4) Eliminating discrimination in terms of inheritance
against illegitimate children.
The opinions of ordinary Japanese men and women on this issue can be seen in the
results of a survey carried out by the government.
|On Freedom to Choose One's Surname After Marriage
|(from a poll on Family Law conducted by the government in June,1996)
|When asked about revision of the surname, 39.8% of the respondents chose,
"A couple should have a single surname, and there is no need to revise the
Civil Code." A total of 32.5% selected "Not against revising the law
to allow either of couple to use their pre-marriage surname, when either of them
wants," while 22.5% chose "A couple should use a single surname, but
the law can be revised to allow husband or wife to use pre-marriage surname as
pseudonym when he or she wants to use different name." These two groups,
55% of the total, indicate a growing acceptance of separate surnames in Japanese
|The 701 respondents (32.5%) who answered that they were not against revising
the law, were also asked, "Do either you and your spouse want to use your
pre-marriage surname if the law is revised?" To this, 16% answered "Yes,"
while 51.5% said "No." Acceptance of separate surnames is obvious, but
whether individuals would take advantage of legalization of separate surnames
is another issue.
|When asked, "What would you feel if your surname were changed at your
marriage?" The highest percentage (43.4%) said, "I think I would feel
a joy that a new life would begin." It is also interesting that there was
a large difference in the response by men and women.
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