Newly minted Japanese Supreme Court justice will issue rulings under maiden name, breaking with long tradition

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Yuko Miyazaki, newly appointed to the country’s top court, says she will issue her legal judgments under her maiden name — Miyazaki — becoming Japan’s first woman to abandon the court’s long tradition of using one’s legal name after marriage.

Miyazaki, 66, who has more than 30 years experience as a lawyer and is a member of the Daiichi Tokyo Bar Association, officially took her seat at the Supreme Court on Tuesday. She is the sixth woman to assume a position on the bench in the court’s history.

“I’ve been using my maiden name Miyazaki while working as an attorney, so it’s natural that I should keep using it,” Miyazaki told a news conference Tuesday at the top court in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.

In December 2015, the court’s Grand Bench upheld the constitutionality of the Civil Code provision requiring couples to use the same surnames when registering their marriages. The law dates back to 1898.

But the court changed its own policy on the use of maiden names last September.

“I don’t see any problem in a system allowing freedom to choose one’s name,” Miyazaki said. “Now that values among people are becoming more diverse, it is extremely important to allow as many options as possible.”

Miyazaki married at an early stage in her career and took her husband’s name. She reportedly registered with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations to practice as attorney using her maiden name.

Miyazaki, who graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Tokyo in 1976 and Harvard Law School in 1984, is recognized worldwide for her legal consultations and publications on taxation in stock dealings and other financial issues. In the 1980s, she worked for the World Bank Group.

In September 2016, Miyazaki was honored with the title of 2015 International Tax Contributor of the Year by Bloomberg BNA, a stand-alone Bloomberg subsidiary that serves as a source of legal and financial information. For more than two decades, Miyazaki wrote for Bloomberg BNA, mainly about international taxation.

On the day of Miyazaki’s announcement, a group led by Yoshihisa Aono, president of software giant Cybozu Inc., sued the central government seeking a change to the Family Register Law, which forbids Japanese couples from using different surnames after marriage. Aono legally took his wife’s family name. The group seeks changes in the law that would give them the right to use their premarital surnames.