Japan Just Upheld a Law That Requires Women to Have the Same Name as Their Husbands


The number of American women keeping their last names is on the rise and a conversation about this gendered norm has undeniably grown in recent years. But this Western reality is hardly universal. In fact, it's been illegal for Japanese women to have a last name different from their husbands' since the 19th century — a ruling that, though recently called into question, was just upheld, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

The decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by five Japanese women who argued the law is unconstitutional and violates married couples' civil rights, according to the GuardianWhile Japanese men can technically change their last name to their wives' maiden names, only 4% do, and Japanese women who use their maiden name professionally are burdened with extra barriers due to the discrepancy from their legal name, according to the Wall Street Journal.


While all three women of the 15-member Japanese court, in addition to two male justices, argued that the law violates the nation's constitution, it was upheld Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"By losing your surname ... you're being made light of, you're not respected," Kaori Oguni, one of the five women involved in the suit, told the Guardian before the decision was made. "It's as if part of your self vanishes."

Despite upholding this law, however, the Supreme Court did strike down another law Wednesday that had previously upheld a sexist ban that only prevented women from remarrying within six months of a divorce. The court did still uphold a 100-day waiting period, but it has yet to be approved by Parliament.


These marriage-related rights are hardly the only ones for which Japanese women are still fighting. Many Japanese women face particularly sexist work environments, including maternity leave-based harassment and discrimination, Al Jazeera reported in June. Additionally, though Japan has the third largest economy in the world, it also has second-largest gender wage gap in the Organization for Economic and Development Cooperation, according to the Globalist. In fact, Japan ranks 104 out of 142 countries in terms of gender disparities according to the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report.

Their efforts may have fallen short of a feminist victory this time, but hopefully these women's refusal to accept the status quo will launch future efforts to address sexism that's still evident in the nation.

h/t the Guardian