Instead of spending the days before her wedding happily planning for the big day, Kaori Oguni was agonizing over the prospect of losing her maiden name and with it, she felt, part of her identity.
Oguni is one of five people suing the government of Japan, the only country in the Group of Seven with a law requiring spouses to adopt the same surname.
The women say the law is unconstitutional and violates married couples’ civil rights, and are demanding compensation.
“By losing your surname … you’re being made light of, you’re not respected … It’s as if part of your self vanishes,” said the 41-year-old translator.
A decision by the Supreme Court, due on Dec. 16, coincides with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to draw more women into a shrinking workforce. Despite that, many in his conservative ruling party are opposed to any legal change.
An 1896 law says spouses must adopt the same surname to legally register their marriage. The law does not specify which one, but in practice, 96 percent of women take their husband’s name, a reflection of Japan’s male-dominated society.
Conservatives say allowing couples to choose whether they share the same surname or not could damage family ties and threaten society.
“Names are the best way to bind families,” Masaomi Takanori, a constitutional scholar, told NHK public television.
“Allowing different surnames risks destroying social stability, the maintenance of public order and the basis for social welfare.”
Others say it is time for a change.
“The world is more oriented towards individuals…