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On Nov. 29, the Kobe District Court dismissed a suit against the state filed by a woman in her 60s who claimed that the law that allows only men to deny paternity of a child is unconstitutional, since it discriminates against women.

In an interview that appeared in the Nov. 15 Mainichi Shimbun, Masataka Endo, one of the leading experts on Japan’s koseki (family register) system, which is what was at issue in the Kobe case, pointed out that the koseki’s main function is “moralistic” in that it designates the Emperor’s subjects, sets the parameters of an individual’s family and defines who is Japanese. The koseki is deemed irreplaceable, and so by extension poses a serious problem for the minority of Japanese who don’t have them.

Masae Ido has made a career out of figuring out ways for people without koseki to get them. As a former reporter and Diet lawmaker, who has written two books on the subject of mukoseki-sha (people without koseki), understands that the media needs to publicize her work if it is to make any sort of difference.

There are drawbacks to not having a koseki. The government won’t issue you a passport, for one. But Ido has successfully helped mukoseki-sha legally gain koseki, and in many of these cases the reason they didn’t have koseki is the issue of paternity.

The main instrument of the government’s control over paternity is Article 772 of the Civil Code, which states that a child born to a woman within 300 days of the finalization of her divorce is deemed to be the issue of her ex-husband, since it is possible they could have had sex on the eve of their divorce.

Ido understood this situation firsthand. She had been separated from her husband for a long time before finally getting a divorce and then marrying a different man. She got pregnant by her new husband and the baby was born prematurely, before the 300-day cutoff point. When she brought the birth report to her local city hall to get her child a koseki, the clerk rejected the report because it had the name of her new husband in the “father” space.

In order for the real father to be confirmed as such by the authorities, she would have had to ask her previous husband to disavow his own paternity, but she had no desire to communicate with him, so she sued her present husband to “acknowledge paternity” (ninchi chōtei) of the child.

During the first court session, the judge expressed doubt but eventually, the judge ruled in her favor, creating a precedent that the justice ministry has promoted.

The fact that Ido has to jump through legal hoops in order to secure justice for those who seek her help proves how unfair Japanese family law is, and while she continues to assist people who don’t have koseki get them, she knows that it would be better to change the laws so that women have as much right as men to determine the paternity of their children, even if that means getting rid of the koseki altogether.

First published in The Japan Times on Dec. 9.

Warm up

One-minute chat about children.


Collect words related to father, e.g., mother, family, man.

New words

1) paternity: the state of being a father, e.g., “He claims the paternity of their daughter.”

2) unconstitutional: against the law, e.g., “The new law is unconstitutional.”

3) drawback: negative impact, e.g., “What are the drawbacks of being a vegetarian?”

Guess the headline

Without an official f_ _ _ _ _, kids can be stateless


1) What was the case in November about?

2) How is the paternity of a child set in Japan?

3) Why did Ms. Ido file a suit?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What would happen if you didn’t have a koseki?

2) What do you think about this case?

3) Do you have any ideas on improving the Japanese family system?






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