"Separate surnames for husband and wife are in effect!"
In July of last year, popular Kagawa Prefecture-based blogger Yosuke Yano, 39, wrote on his blog for the first time about how and why he took his wife's surname a decade ago. Yano is his original family name, which he continues to use in his day-to-day life.
He posted out of a desire to give acquaintances who read the blog a detailed explanation of why he and his wife have separate surnames. Through Twitter and other means, however, Yano's story spread far beyond those he knew.
"I was surprised. The impact was unexpected," he said. "I guess it's rare for a husband to speak up about using separate surnames."
Yano and his wife, 39, originally lived together without officially marrying. When she became pregnant, however, they registered their marriage and Yano changed the surname on his family registry to that of his wife. He was prompted by the discomfort he felt toward the status quo of women "obviously" being the ones who change their surnames.
"It sends kind of an unspoken message that men are the leaders in society," he said. "I wanted my children to learn, naturally, that men and women are equals."
Yano has three children, with the youngest in kindergarten and the eldest in the fourth grade of primary school. Yano said he tells his kids, "There are lots of families in the world where the members have different surnames."
According to a demographic survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 3.8 per cent of men took their wife's surname among the couples who married in 2014. Such men have always been a minority, but the figure was up 2.7 percentage points from 40 years ago. The number of men taking their wife's surname is on the rise.
However, some men feel that changing their surname has been a burden.
One of them is a 29-year-old male company worker in Saitama Prefecture who married three years ago. His wife is the older of two sisters, and he acceded to his father-in-law's wish to take their family name. Soon, however, he was deluged in paperwork to change the name on his bank account, driver's license and elsewhere.
"I learned how difficult it is for women who change their surnames," the man said with a bitter laugh.
He uses his original family name at the travel agency where he works, but "I sometimes feel how inconvenient it is having two last names," he said. On one occasion, when working as a travel escort on a cruise, he was prevented from using his credit card on board the ship, being told that "the name is different from that on the boarding list."
He had been registered as a passenger under his old family name. Luckily, he was able to use a separate card that still carried that surname.
"It's possible under the law to take either spouse's surname upon getting married, but most men think that the problem of the same surname system has nothing to do with them," said Kaku Sechiyama, a professor of gender studies at the University of Tokyo. "Just once, I'd like them to consider how it might feel to change their surname."
If it becomes possible for married couples to use separate surnames, solutions are likely to be found for the problems experienced by those who have chosen to use their original family name in daily life or who are cohabiting. Some, however, have voiced concern over the influence that use of separate surnames will have on children.
According to a 2012 public opinion poll by the Cabinet Office, 67.1 per cent of respondents said they believe that it has an "unfavorable effect on children" if married couples use separate surnames. This far exceeded the 28.4 per cent of respondents who felt it does not.
"Married couples using separate surnames means that mothers or fathers will have different surnames from their children," says Akira Momochi, a professor of constitutional law at Nihon University. "Husbands and wives who choose to use separate surnames are probably satisfied, but they shouldn't forget the feelings and perspectives of their children, who have no say in the matter."
Among those who accepted the use of separate surnames by married couples in the opinion poll, 23.5 per cent said they would actually want to have a separate surname from their spouse if the system were implemented. Forty-nine per cent said they would not.
"When parents decide to use separate surnames, children are left with feelings of anxiety and the uncomfortable sense of 'why are we different?' compared to the majority of families whose surname is the same," Momochi said. "We also can't deny the possibility that it will be a cause for bullying."
Momochi also said that a child's relationship with his or her parents changes as part of the growth process, so they may eventually say things like "I wish I had the other surname."
The use of separate surnames by married couples affects many people, and there is a pressing need to deepen discussion on the matter.
A Supreme Court ruling will be handed down Dec. 16. on whether a Civil Code stipulation preventing married couples from using separate surnames is unconstitutional.