• Kyodo

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The government is finally moving to catch up with the private sector on the use of maiden names in the workplace, with the Japan Patent Office set to become the first state agency to officially permit the practice starting in September.

The change, announced Friday, is part of the government’s push for women’s empowerment and comes shortly after Naoko Munakata, a former executive secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, became the agency’s first female commissioner earlier this month.

Currently, the Civil Code requires married couples to have the same surname. Although it does not say which of the partners should give up a surname upon marriage, it is customary for a wife to take the husband’s surname.

While the use of maiden names in the workplace has become widely accepted in the private sector, the government’s ministries and agencies have been slow to adopt the rule as they often deal with legal documents. But many workers have been asking for change partly because of the inconvenience brought on by surname changes through marriage.

The Japan Patent Office has so far permitted the use of maiden names on a limited number of documents, such as internal papers or personnel lists, but it will allow maiden names to be used on other documents, including administrative punishment notices for companies or other ministries.

As for documents such as pay slips that involve tax payments and social insurance contributions, surnames in family registries will continue to be used.

The Supreme Court is also set to allow judges to issue rulings and warrants from September under their maiden names.

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