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Male CEO tells court that ban on different surnames for spouses violates Constitution

Yoshihisa Aono, left, speaks at a news conference after the hearing, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on April 16, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A male software developing company CEO suing the government with three others over a legal provision forcing Japanese couples to choose one surname upon marriage argued in the first court hearing on April 16 that the provision is unconstitutional.

The national government is poised to contest the argument in the trial that opened at the Tokyo District Court. In the suit, Yoshihisa Aono, 46, CEO of Cybozu Inc. in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, which is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange First Section, and three other plaintiffs are demanding a combined 2.2 million yen in damages from the state.

In cases of divorce of two Japanese citizens as well as marriage and divorce between a Japanese citizen and a foreign national, those involved are allowed to choose to take separate surnames under the Family Register Act. In cases of marriage between Japanese nationals, however, Japanese couples must choose one surname upon marriage in accordance with the Civil Code.

Aono married in 2001 and took the surname of his wife, "Nishibata," but has since continued to work under his old surname.

The plaintiffs argued in the suit that a lack of a legal provision allowing Japanese couples to take separate surnames "constitutes a violation of the Constitution that provides for individual dignity and essential gender equality." They hold the state responsible for its failure to take necessary legislative measures to allow Japanese couples to choose to take separate surnames.

In the first hearing, Aono pointed out that he is forced to deal with troublesome tasks when he takes overseas business trips because the name he uses in his business activities and his real name on his family registry are different.

He then argued that the legal ban on Japanese couples taking different surnames "is generating wasteful work in modern society where swift decision-making in corporate management is required and where reform of the way people work is a trend of the times."

The three others -- a man and woman who have chosen common-law marriage to maintain their separate surnames and a woman who changed her surname following her marriage -- are demanding 550,000 yen each in compensation for mental suffering.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Code provision that Japanese couples must choose one surname upon marriage is constitutional. In the same ruling, however, the top court encouraged the Diet to hold debate on whether to open the way for Japanese spouses to choose to take separate surnames, pointing out that such a system "could not be deemed irrational."

At a news conference following the hearing, Aono said, "It's important to allow all married couples to choose to take one surname or different surnames in order to respect diverse individual characters."

(Japanese original by Akira Hattori, City News Department)

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