Cybozu chief Yoshihisa Aono leads suit against Japanese government for right to use premarital names

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The president of a major software firm and three others sued the central government on Tuesday seeking a change to the Family Register Law that would give them the right to use their premarital surnames.

Among the plaintiffs is Yoshihisa Aono, 46, the president of Cybozu Inc. Aono legally took his wife’s surname — Nishihata — upon marriage, but he uses his pre-marriage name for business purposes. The other three plaintiffs, who declined to be named, are a woman in her 20s, and a common-law couple.

The four filed the suit with the Tokyo District Court, seeking ¥2.2 million in compensation for “psychological suffering.”

The law in question forbids Japanese couples from using different surnames after marriage, a practice that is permitted in marriages between Japanese and foreign nationals. Divorced individuals also have the freedom to choose which surname they use regardless of nationality.

The plaintiffs claim that the different treatment contravenes constitutional rights guaranteeing equality under law.

According to the petition, Aono and the woman in her 20s adopted their spouse’s surnames after marriage. The other two plaintiffs have not married because both want to retain their surnames.

Aono said he adopted his wife’s surname as she insisted she retain her maiden name when they wed in 2001.

“I thought it wouldn’t cause many disadvantages, because I believed it was a common thing (for women) to use pre-marriage names at the workplace,” Aono said during a news conference in Tokyo. “But it turned out to be hard … I’ve been feeling a lot of stress.”

Aono explained that he had to change his surname on official documents such as bank accounts, credit cards and his passport. It also cost ¥810,000 to update his name on corporate stocks he owned, he said.

Even though he has developed his business reputation using Aono, he had no choice but to use his legal name — that of his wife — on several occasions such as making reservations for business trips.

“It not only causes psychological stress but it is also a loss for Japan from aspects of economic rationality.”

In male-dominated Japanese society, married women are often pressured to use their husbands’ name.

Aono said that in Japan, the surname question is often seen as an issue for women. By becoming a plaintiff himself, Aono said, he wanted people to know that the issue actually affects both men and women.

The Justice Ministry declined to comment, saying it has not yet received the petition.

In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Civil Code provision that requires married couples to use the same surname on official documents. In the case, five women sought the right to retain their maiden names after marriage.

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