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Majority of under 40s in Japan support selective surnames for married couples: survey

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, is the only party leader not to raise their hand when asked if they would support the submission of a bill to introduce a selective surname system in the next Diet session, at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- A majority of people in their 40s and younger answering a recent nationwide opinion poll in Japan said they support the idea of selective separate surnames for married couples, while 50% of over 70s favored a shared surname.

    The survey, jointly conducted by The Mainichi Newspapers Co. and Saitama University's Social Survey Research Center, was held for the first time in two years between November 2021 and January 2022.

    When asked their thoughts on the "selective surname system," which would allow married couples to choose to keep their own surnames after marriage, 44% of respondents said couples should be able to choose whether to have a shared surname or keep their premarital surnames, exceeding the 30% who said couples should share the same surname. Additionally, 25% said that a shared surname should be used on the family register, and that original family names should be kept as commonly used names.

    In the previous 2019 survey, 35% of respondents supported selective surnames, 36% backed a shared name, and 27% preferred premarital names in common use. Although simple comparisons cannot be made due to differences in how questions were asked, it does indicate growing support for selective surnames for married couples.

    The latest survey also shows opinions are clearly divided by age: the majority of those in their 40s and under supported selective separate surnames, while those in their 60s were closely divided on the use of selective separate surnames, shared surnames and commonly used names. About 50% of over 70s supported shared surnames.

    The survey also asked whether respondents would share the same surname or use separate surnames when marrying if a selective system was introduced. For married respondents, the answer assumed it had been implemented by the time of their marriage. Forty-five percent said they would prefer to share the same surname as husband and wife and do not mind changing their own last name, followed by 21% who preferred to use a shared surname but not change their own. Only 10% of respondents said they would choose separate surnames, and 22% were unsure.

    Even among those supporting the selective system's introduction, only 20% said they would choose separate surnames, and 40% said they do not mind changing their own surname. By age group, around half of people in their 50s or younger said they do not mind altering their last name. In relation to the issue, debate in the Diet has not progressed due to opposition from ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s conservative wing, and it appears the introduction of selective surnames is not perceived as feasible among the public.

    Regarding whether or not same-sex marriage should be legally recognized, 46% of respondents answered that it should. The second most common answer was undecided at 37%, followed by 16% who said there was no need to.

    There were large generational differences in the proportion of respondents who answered "should be recognized," with 71% among those aged 18 to 29, 65% of people in their 30s, 57% of respondents in their 40s, 49% of those in their 50s, 39% of respondents in their 60s, and 25% of the over 70s.

    In 2021, momentum was gaining in the Diet for the law for the promotion of LGBT understanding's enactment, but it failed amid opposition from some LDP members. On same-sex marriage, the largest share of LDP supporters -- 42% -- said they were undecided, followed by 34% saying it should be recognized and 24% who said there was no need to recognize it.

    The survey was mailed to 2,400 people randomly selected from voters' registries in 240 locations across Japan. Of them, 1,315 people returned valid responses.

    (Japanese original by Nanae Ito, Political News Department, and Ko Sato, Poll Office)

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