March 1, 2021

A section of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has signalled its opposition to changing a law that forces married couples to have the same surname.


  • In the recent past, Japan has witnessed heated debates over the century-old law, with women’s rights activists pitted against conservative figures.

  • Under Japan’s civil code, married couples are required to share the same surname, thus making the country the only industrialised nation where having different surnames for married spouses is illegal.

  • The requirement was first introduced in 1896 during the Meiji era (1868-1912), when it was common for women in the country to leave their families and become a part of the husband’s family.

  • While the law makes having one surname compulsory, it does not specify which name a couple should adopt. However, in an overwhelming number of cases, couples choose to adopt the husband’s surname at birth. Currently, 96 per cent of women drop their maiden name in Japan, reflecting the country’s male-dominated society.

  • The law even forbids in-between options, such as hyphenating last names, keeping one’s family name as a middle name, or combining the two surnames into a new one.