TOKYO – A Japanese couple who kept their own surnames when they got married in the United States were told by a Tokyo ward office Monday that their marriage could not be registered using the two different names.
Kiyoko Kashiwagi, a movie producer, and Kazuhiro Soda, a film director, were challenging the law that forces married Japanese couples to share a surname, having previously tried to register their marriage with the Chiyoda Ward office in 2018.
The couple, who both hail from the western Japan prefecture of Okayama, wed under separate surnames in December 1997 in New York, where they were residing.
Seeking to have their marriage recognized in Japan, the two filed their case with the Tokyo District Court. In April last year, the court ruled their marriage as “valid,” but dismissed the issue of marriage registry, saying it would be more “appropriate” for a family court to handle that.
With the ward’s refusal to accept their marriage registration, Kashiwagi and Soda will now file their complaint with the Tokyo Family Court.
The stipulation under Japan’s Civil Code that a married couple needs to adopt the same surname only applies to Japanese couples.
Couples who register their marriage in Japan generally choose the husband’s surname, making the issue a matter of gender equality.
Critics say the provision originating from the 1898 Civil Code reflects the traditional concept of marriage as an arrangement involving families rather than individuals. Usually, a woman leaves her family to become part of her husband’s family.
The Supreme Court ruled the provision as constitutional in 2021.
The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recommended that Japan change the system.
Soda, 52, has not been shy about challenging Japanese laws. He was also a plaintiff in a suit that challenged the constitutionality of a law that bans overseas citizens from participating in national reviews of Supreme Court justices. The top court eventually ruled the law as constitutional.