The coronavirus pandemic has heightened distress felt by unmarried Japanese couples in long-term relationships as they face the prospect that, should one partner become ill, they would not be afforded the same rights as married couples.

Uncomfortable about relinquishing their respective family names, they felt their only option was to remain as common-law couples. For this reason, they want a change made to the civil code that would give them legal recognition as a family, changing a requirement that married Japanese couples share a name.

"We prepared our marriage document immediately after April's declaration of a national emergency against the virus," said a 46-year-old nurse who has been with her common-law husband for 19 years, gazing at the document, mostly filled out but with the space for the family name remaining blank.