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Editorial: Why is LDP backtracking on separate surnames for Japanese married couples?

It appears that moves to allow married Japanese couples to retain different surnames upon marriage are taking a step back, as the government is set to tone down references to such a move in its Fifth Basic Plan for Gender Equality.

    Seiko Hashimoto, minister of state for gender equality, had indicated she intended to include forward-looking proposals in the plan, and momentum had been growing in society toward this.

    But now the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is behind the toned-down expressions.

    The Cabinet Office's original draft focused on the inconvenience associated with forcing people to adopt a single surname upon marriage, and it noted that Japan was the only country that did so. It expressed hope for speedy debate in the Diet, and the government had concluded that it would "proceed with the necessary measures."

    However, conservative factions within the LDP strongly resisted the proposal from the perspective of placing weight on traditional family values, saying that it was guided by public opinion. Specific references to the move were subsequently deleted, and the conclusion was altered to state that the government would "proceed with further consideration" of the matter.

    The Fourth Basic Plan for Gender Equality contained the phrase "a system of optional different surnames for married couples," but this was deleted in the draft of the fifth plan, while parts paying consideration to conservatives, such as "the history of the system of common surnames," were added. We struggle to understand the reason for this.

    A total of 96% of couples in Japan take the husband's surname. When women's surnames change, it presents obstacles in women's work and daily life. There have been more instances in which women are allowed to continue to informally go by their maiden names, but there are limits to doing so.

    During the drafting of the latest basic plan, over 400 submissions requesting the inclusion of a system of optional separate surnames for married couples were received. These included compelling comments from people such as, "We had no option but to choose a de facto marriage" to keep their separate surnames, and, "We can't go ahead with marriage because of concern that my family's name will disappear."

    A nationwide survey conducted in October 2020 by a citizens group and other parties, targeting 7,000 adults under the age of 60, found that about 70% of respondents supported allowing separate surnames for married couples.

    Twenty-four years have passed already since the Ministry of Justice began legal preparations for the introduction of a system that would allow married couples to have different surnames. Furthermore, Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, is in favor of the proposal. The LDP should take a square look at the reality in society.

    Even within the LDP, moves toward introducing the system are spreading, with young lawmakers submitting a request to the government and the party seeking its acceptance.

    Discussion within the party must not be stopped. In the end, the issue of what to do about a surname bears a relation to the individual's way of living. If it is hard to gain consensus, then one option could be to leave the decision up to each party member.

    When it was pointed out to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the Diet that he had supported promotion of separate surnames for married couples in his past activities, he said, "I have a responsibility as a politician about the things I've said." If that's the case, then he should display his leadership.

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