National / Social Issues

Cybozu chief to file joint lawsuit against the government over marriage surname rule

Kyodo, Staff Report

A man and a woman plan to jointly sue the government over claims that a law forcing couples to use the same surname upon marriage caused them psychological suffering, sources have said.

Yoshihisa Aono, the 46-year-old president of software development firm Cybozu Inc., and a woman in her 20s will file the suit with the Tokyo District Court next spring, seeking a total of ¥2.2 million ($19,400) in damages, according to the sources.

Both Aono and the woman adopted their spouse’s surname after marriage but are demanding the right to use their pre-marriage name through a change to the Family Register Law.

While Japanese citizens who marry foreign nationals have the option to keep their surname, the law does not allow that freedom to Japanese couples. Divorcees, meanwhile, can choose whether to retain the same surname regardless of nationality.

In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Civil Code provision that requires married couples to use the same surname for official matters.

But Tomoshi Sakka, the lawyer representing the two plaintiffs and others in a similar lawsuit to be filed with the Okayama District Court said the “disadvantage is obvious compared with Japanese marrying a foreign national.” He said the law should be supplemented so that it allows married people to use their pre-marriage name when signing official documents even after changing it in their official family registry.

Aono claims that he built trust and status in his business using his pre-marriage name but has been forced to use the surname he adopted after marriage on public documents, according to the sources.

Aono has told media outlets that he adopted his wife’s surname because she insisted on retaining her maiden name. Aono now uses his pre-marriage name for his official hanko (personal seal) and other official documents, but he said doing so costs several million yen.

The woman in the case, who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture, said she has an attachment to her maiden name and that her identity and pride were lost due to the surname law, the sources said. She has said she is hesitant to have a child because the child’s surname wouldn’t match her maiden name, which she uses at her workplace.

The plaintiffs argue that the law is unconstitutional in that it fails to ensure the essential equality of the sexes and individual dignity. Many companies and public offices allow employees to use their pre-marriage names at work. But generally, only registered surnames can be used on official documents like passports

They claim the government is responsible for a legislative failure despite repeated recommendations for a revision by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.