We’ve written before about the push in Japan to allow spouses to keep separate last names. Under Clause 750 in Japan’s civil law, spouses must have the same last name. Either sex’s name can be chosen, but in practice, it’s almost always women who adopt their husband’s names.
While the issue has been debated for years, legislators have never pushed through a change to the law. But that might change as a new Asahi Shinbun poll shows a major shift in support of surname choice.
A 34% Increase in Support Since 2012
The survey by Asahi was a random telephone survey consisting of 1,060 responses. Asahi asked respondents whether they supported changing the law so that couples could freely choose their last names separately. A full 69% said they support such a revision, with only 24% voicing opposition.
The poll represents a significant sea change in public support for revising the law. In 2012, only 35.5% of people Asahi surveyed approved of revision and 36.4% opposed it. Since then, however, numbers have shifted year after year. In 2016, both support and opposition had risen, putting the “approve” and “oppose” sides in a dead heat. By the next year, however, support had swung decidedly in favor of approval at 58-37, and opposition began to wane. The current numbers represent an 11% increase in approval and 13% drop in opposition compared to when the question was last asked.
Political Opposition Holds On
Most of Japan’s political opposition has voiced support for revision. Even the Komeito (公明党), the political coalition partner of Abe Shinzo’s Liberal Democratic Party (自民党 – jimintou), has come out in support of revising the law as a means of “advancing women in society.”
The major blocker is Abe’s LDP, which has historically opposed the change on the grounds that it would “destroy the traditional family.” That opposition was on full display last month in Japan’s Diet. As Democratic Party (民主党; minshutou) Representative Tamaki Yuuichirou spoke in favor of changing the law, someone shouted, “If that’s how you feel, don’t get married!”
The shouter, it later turned out, was notorious LDP member Sugita Mio (杉田水脈). Long-time UJ readers and trackers of Japanese politics will remember Sugita for her 2018 essay labeling LGBT people “unproductive,” which sparked demonstrations by LGBT people and their supporters across the country. As usual, the LDP gave Sugita cover in the incident, refusing to identify her directly as the spitter of said shade.
It seems Abe and the LDP are still sticking to their “couples will have separate last names over our dead bodies” policy. But it’s worth noting, in Asahi’s survey, that 37% of all respondents identified as LDP supporters – well above the average 25% the LDP pulls from the general population. Separate spousal surnames, in other words, is now a mainstream position. One wonders how long the LDP can remain steadfast in their opposition given this overwhelming public support.
 選択的夫婦別姓、賛成６９％ 反対２４％、大きく上回る 朝日新聞社世論調査. Asahi Shinbun
 夫婦別姓認める法改正を. Komeito