Women's surnames a hot-button topic in Japan poll

Wed Jul 7, 2010 5:54am EDT
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By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO (Reuters) - When Akiko Orita decided not to register her marriage in 1998 to keep her maiden name, it was supposed to be a temporary measure until Japan's civil code changed to allow married couples to keep separate surnames.

Twelve years later, her marriage is still unregistered and the topic is a hot-button issue ahead of Sunday's upper house election.

"I wanted to keep my name because I like it. It did not seem logical to have to change it," said 35-year-old Orita, an assistant professor at Keio University.

"We consider ourselves a family, but those opposed to it (amending the civil code) tell us that we are destroying the family system. I think that is strange."

While fiscal reform including doubling the 5 percent sales tax is the focus of the poll, some parties are wooing support from a conservative base by zeroing in on the name controversy.

The debate heated up after the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which advocates letting married couples keep separate names if they wish, took power last year and fanned expectations that the government would submit a bill to amend the civil code.

Faced with opposition from a coalition ally, the government's plan to submit a bill stalled, and the DPJ omitted the issue from their manifesto.

Both the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the DPJ's tiny coalition ally the People's New Party (PNP) said in their campaign platforms they are against letting married couples have separate names, while the Social Democrats support it.   Continued...

<p>A man puts an engagement ring on a woman's finger during a photo opportunity at a jewellery store in Tokyo June 2, 2009. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao</p>