In Japan, More Women Fight to Use Their Own Surnames
TOKYO — Japan’s Constitution promises gender equality, and the prime minister says he wants a society where all women can “shine.” But many women say it is hard to do that when they cannot even use their own surnames.
东京 —— 日本宪法承诺性别平等。日本首相称，他希望在日本社会，所有女性都能“发光”。但是很多日本女人称，这一点很难做到，她们甚至不能用自己的本姓。
Under a Japanese law that dates to the Meiji era, more than a century ago, all married couples must use one surname. In theory, a couple may choose either the husband’s or the wife’s last name, but in practice, 96 percent of women assume their husband’s.
Recent court rulings indicate that the law is unlikely to be softened anytime soon, despite rising criticism.
Yoko Uozumi is happily married with a 4-year-old daughter. Two months ago, she took a job in the photo framing business where her husband also works and decided to use only the surname that she was given at birth.
Uozumi, 36, said she did not want customers to confuse her with her husband, Shigeru Otsuka, as most employees are known primarily by their last names in Japan.
Using her birth surname went beyond convenience. It was also a declaration of empowerment.
“I feel more independent,” Uozumi said. “I feel more who I am.”
The choice she made, however, is not available to all Japanese women. This month, a Tokyo District Court declined to grant a high school teacher’s request to use her original name at work.
不过，不是所有的日本女性都能像她那样自己做决定。本月，一家东京地方裁判所(Tokyo District Court )拒绝了一名高中教师在工作中使用本姓的要求。
That decision came after Japan’s Supreme Court ruled in December that the law did not violate the constitution or place an undue burden on women because an increasing number of employers now permit women to use their birth surnames professionally.
Critics were disappointed by the Supreme Court decision because it did not strike down the legal prohibition against separate surnames for married couples, leaving it to the Parliament instead.
Among democratic countries in the developed world, Japan ranks low on gender equality in health, education, the economy and politics. Despite recent high-profile examples, women hold very few powerful positions in politics or business, while many working mothers complain that day care is inadequate.
The marital naming law, supported by many conservatives who believe that women belong predominantly in the home supporting their husbands and families, is seen by some as another vestige of discrimination against women in Japanese society.
In the Tokyo District Court case, the three judges, all men, ruled that the teacher’s employer, a private school in Tokyo, could not be compelled to let her use her birth surname at work. Citing surveys that show about a quarter of women use their original surnames in the workplace, the court said doing so was “not deeply rooted in society.”
The plaintiff, who has remained anonymous in the publicly available court documents, declined an interview request through her lawyer. In court filings, the teacher, described as recently married, said students and colleagues knew her by her given surname. She asked to be allowed to continue to use it on letters home to parents, attendance records and report cards.
In the United States, where women may legally keep their surnames after marriage, there is still a strong social convention among heterosexual couples for wives to take their husbands’ names. Even the highest estimates show only one in five U.S. women keeps her surname when she marries.
“Naming is really one of the last socially approved kinds of sexist behavior," Laurie Scheuble, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in an email.
“随夫姓真的是最后一些得到社会认可的性别歧视行为之一，”宾夕法尼亚州立大学(Pennsylvania State University)的社会学家劳丽·朔伊布勒(Laurie Scheuble)在接受邮件采访时写道。
In Japan, advocates for women, including lawmakers across the political spectrum, say they simply want women to make their own choices about their names.
“I don’t want to make a law where every couple has to use two different names,” said Kimie Iwata, president of the Japan Institute for Women’s Empowerment and Diversity Management. “But I want the society to make a law that is generous to everyone and accepts diversity.”
“我不想制订一项法律，要求所有夫妻必须使用不同的姓，”倡导女性赋权的21世纪职业财团(Japan Institute for Women’s Empowerment and Diversity Management)的会长岩田喜美枝(Kimie Iwata)说，“但我想让这个社会制订一项对所有人宽容、接受多样化的法律。”
While campaigning recently for the leadership of the opposition Democratic Party, Renho Murata said she wanted to help change the marital naming law. (Murata goes simply by the name Renho, and her Twitter handle is @Renho-sha, using her birth surname.)
Seiko Noda, a member of the House of Representatives from the governing Liberal Democratic Party, said she had advocated the right to separate surnames for a quarter-century. “We lawmakers have to destroy this wrong practice,” Noda said, lamenting that many of her fellow Liberal Democrats did not care about overturning the law.
野田圣子(Seiko Noda)是执政党自民党(Liberal Democratic Party)国会众议员。她说，25年来，她一直倡导夫妻使用不同姓氏的权利。“我们立法者必须消灭这种错误做法，”野田说。她哀叹很多自民党党员对废除这项法律不感兴趣。
Noda’s husband, formerly Fuminobu Kimura, took her last name.
“Whenever he has bad luck, he always complains, ‘Oh, it’s because my surname changed,'” Noda said. She said he now supported an overhaul of the marital naming law. “He understands how much burden women had to go through,” she said.
Public opinion polls show a significant shift in views on married couples using a single surname. In 1976, close to two-thirds surveyed by the Justice Ministry said the law was fine as is; that had dropped to just over one-third in 2012.
In the absence of legal reform, some couples choose not to legally register their marriages, even though women in such relationships have fewer legal protections.
Mizuho Fukushima, 60, a member of the upper house of Parliament from the Social Democratic Party who has repeatedly proposed a revision of the single-surname law, said she had remained in a common-law marriage for nearly four decades with Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer with whom she has a daughter.
现年60岁的福岛瑞穗(Mizuho Fukushima)是社民党(Social Democratic Party)参议员。她多次提出修改夫妻同姓法。她说，她和身为律师的丈夫海渡雄一(Yuichi Kaido)的事实婚姻存续了近40年，他们有个女儿。
“When I met him, I was Mizuho Fukushima, and my identity is Mizuho Fukushima,” she said.
A younger generation of working women say their original surnames carry professional clout that they do not want to lose when they marry.
“My name is my brand,” said Miyuki Inoue, 28, who works in sales at a human resources consulting firm. She married three years ago but continues to use her original surname at the office.
“I don’t want to waste the trust and good reputation that I’ve built in my career,” she said.