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Tokyo court dismisses Japanese filmmaker couple's claim to file separate surnames

Kazuhiro Soda, left, and his wife Kiyoko Kashiwagi are seen at an online press conference on April 21, 2021. (Mainichi/Koji Endo)

TOKYO -- The Tokyo District Court on April 21 dismissed a claim by filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda and his wife Kiyoko Kashiwagi demanding that the Japanese government acknowledge their marriage while letting them retain their respective surnames, as is recognized in the state of New York where they wed.

    Soda and Kashiwagi filed for marriage in 1997 in New York, where they lived, without changing their last names; the state allows married couples to keep their names. In June 2018, the couple submitted a marriage notification to the Chiyoda Ward Office in Tokyo while keeping separate surnames, but it was rejected based on a provision in the Japanese Civil Code that states married couples must have unified single surnames.

    The couple subsequently filed a lawsuit arguing that the Family Register Act is flawed for lacking provisions that allow Japanese couples who file for marriage overseas and retain their names to document their marital relationship in their family registries.

    In the ruling, the district court found that Soda and Kashiwagi's marriage itself was "established and valid" even before acceptance of a marriage notification with a unified last name in Japan, because married couples in other countries can choose to keep their own surnames after marriage or change their last names to share the same one.

    At the same time, the court dismissed the couple's claim that not having their marriage with differing last names recognized under their family registries causes disadvantages in a number of procedures, and stated that they are "only abstract risks." It also denied the couple's claim asserting flaws in the Family Register Act, and said that a lack of provisions for individuals marrying overseas "cannot be ruled to be unreasonable."

    In an online press conference following the ruling, Soda said, "While our claim was dismissed, the ruling clearly states in writing that we are a married couple. I believe in a practical sense that we won the case." Kashiwagi also hailed the ruling, commenting, "I think this is a big step forward to realizing the introduction of a selective post-marriage surname system (in Japan)."

    (Japanese original by Koji Endo, Tokyo City News Department)

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