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The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday rejected a damages suit filed by four people arguing that a national law forcing couples to use the same surname after marriage is unconstitutional.

Yoshihisa Aono, the 48-year-old president of software development firm Cybozu Inc., and three others had filed an appeal against the central government after the Tokyo District Court rejected their earlier action, in March 2019, seeking a change to the Family Register Law in order to use their premarital surnames.

Yoshihisa Aono, president of software development firm Cybozu Inc., is seeking a change to the Family Register Law that would give people in Japan the right to use their premarital surnames upon marriage. | KYODO
Yoshihisa Aono, president of software development firm Cybozu Inc., is seeking a change to the Family Register Law that would give people in Japan the right to use their premarital surnames upon marriage. | KYODO

In upholding the ruling, Presiding Judge Hideki Ogawa repeated the lower court’s reasoning that the law in question does not contravene the Constitution.to use their premarital surnames.

Aono said he was disappointed with the high court’s ruling, and that an appeal would be filed to the Supreme Court.

“Our claim is very simple: Japanese citizens are supposed to be guaranteed equal rights, but people who marry foreign nationals are allowed to select their surnames and Japanese nationals aren’t given the same rights,” he told a news conference. “We’re not treated equally.”

The plaintiffs argued that the law fails to ensure the essential equality of the sexes and individual dignity, and demanded the right to use their pre-marital name through the change to the Family Register Law. While the law forbids Japanese couples from using different surnames after marriage, the practice is permitted in marriages between Japanese and foreign nationals.

Aono legally took his wife’s surname — Nishihata — after marriage, but he uses his pre-marital name for business purposes.

The names of the other three plaintiffs in the suit, a woman in her 20s and a common law couple, have been withheld. The group was seeking a total of ¥2.2 million in compensation for psychological suffering.

Tomoshi Sakka, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs who also attended the news conference, said he was hoping the appeal would shed a spotlight on the state of affairs within Japan, and accelerate the already intensifying dual surname debate nationwide.

“We hope our appeal will spur lawmakers to raise this issue at the Diet, look more closely into the hardships faced by many people and swiftly establish a selective dual-surname system,” Sakka said.

According to Sakka, as Japan’s population shrinks, the existing system could result in some family names going extinct.

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