Business leaders on Friday called on the Japanese government to swiftly introduce a system allowing married couples to choose separate surnames, presenting a petition with some 1,000 signatures.

Corporate leaders and advocates who spearheaded the petition argue that many women who get married continue to use their maiden names in the workplace. But the practice can be taxing for women in such cases, as it can lead to procedural complications when traveling overseas.

During a meeting with the country's senior vice justice minister in Tokyo, the group was accompanied by an official of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, a major business lobby.

Established in April 2021, the group has called for legalizing the use of separate surnames and widened its support network by soliciting signatures online from board members of companies and organizations.

A group of business leaders including Yoshihisa Aono (2nd from L), president of the information technology firm Cybozu Inc., and Keiko Tashiro (5th from L), deputy president of Daiwa Securities Group Inc., submit a request on introducing the use of separate surnames to Senior Vice Justice Minister Hiroaki Kadoyama at the Justice Ministry on March 8, 2024. (Kyodo)

Yoshihisa Aono, president of software firm Cybozu Inc., and Keiko Tashiro, deputy president of Daiwa Securities Group Inc., were among the 19 people who established the group.

Prominent business figures including Takeshi Niinami, president of Suntory Holdings Ltd. and Rakuten Group Inc. Chairman Hiroshi Mikitani were among the signatories.

Masakazu Tokura, head of Keidanren, Japan's biggest business lobby also known as the Japan Business Federation, has backed the use of separate surnames, saying it is a priority issue for supporting working women.

Earlier Friday, 12 people filed lawsuits against the government, claiming that the legal provisions that force married couples to use the same surname are unconstitutional.

Ten people filed with the Tokyo District Court and two with the Sapporo District Court. They are seeking compensation and the right to get married without changing their surnames.

Megumi Ueda (far R) speaks at a press conference in Tokyo on March 8, 2024, after filing a lawsuit at the Tokyo District Court. (Kyodo)

Of the defendants, five couples are in common-law marriages due to their discomfort with the current law. While one of the couples is legally married, they said they felt a "strong sense of loss" when changing surnames.

The couples, aged between their 30s and 60s, live across the country including in Hokkaido, Tokyo and Nagano Prefecture.

The Supreme Court's Grand Bench ruled the provision was constitutional in both 2015 and 2021. In 2015, five of the 15 justices said prohibiting separate surnames was unconstitutional, while four said the same in 2021.

The most recent lawsuit claims that under the current law, couples face the extreme choice of changing surnames or remaining unmarried.

They argue that it is unreasonable not to accept different surnames as more local assemblies are supporting the practice amid increasingly diverse family dynamics alongside higher public awareness about diversity.

"A surname is part of one's identity. We need provisions for separate surnames in order for everyone to marry happily," said Megumi Ueda, one of the plaintiffs in Tokyo. The 46-year-old wore a brooch in the shape of mimosa flowers, symbolizing International Women's Day on March 8.

In 1996, the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council proposed revisions to allow for maintaining separate surnames, but they never made it to parliament due to opposition from conservative lawmakers.

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