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Can a man take a woman’s last name in Japan?


In Japan, the tradition of taking a spouse’s last name after marriage has been followed for centuries. However, with changing times and progressive ideas, the question arises – can a man take a woman’s last name in Japan? This article aims to explore this topic in detail.

History of Last Names in Japan

The concept of last names or surnames was introduced in Japan during the Meiji Era in the late 19th century. Before that, people used to identify themselves by their first names or clan names. The government made it mandatory for all Japanese citizens to adopt a surname, which was usually based on their profession, location or family name. This practice has continued till date.

Japanese Snack Box

Gender and Last Names in Japan

In Japan, it is customary for women to take their husband’s last name after marriage. This is known as ‘ryosai kenbo,’ which translates to ‘good wife, wise mother.’ This tradition is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and is seen as a way to maintain family lineage and unity.

Legal Perspective

From a legal standpoint, there are no provisions in Japanese law that prohibit a man from taking a woman’s last name after marriage. However, the process can be quite complicated and time-consuming due to various bureaucratic procedures and paperwork involved.

Practical Implications

While legally possible, socially and culturally, it is still not widely accepted for men to take their wives’ last names in Japan. It can lead to confusion among family members, friends and colleagues. It can also impact official documents such as passports, driving licenses and insurance policies.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are some exceptions to the ‘ryosai kenbo’ tradition in Japan. For example, when a woman marries into a family without any sons, she might be allowed to keep her maiden name to ensure that her family name continues. Also, some couples choose to hyphenate their last names after marriage as a compromise.

Cultural Shifts

In recent years, there has been a growing trend among young Japanese couples to challenge traditional gender roles and norms. Many men are now open to the idea of taking their wives’ last names as a sign of equality and respect for their partner’s identity. However, this trend is still limited to a small section of society.

International Perspective

In many countries such as Spain, Portugal and Iceland, it is common for both men and women to have two last names after marriage. In some countries like Sweden and Germany, it is legal for either spouse to keep their maiden name after marriage without any legal formalities. These examples show that gender-neutral approaches towards last names are gaining acceptance worldwide.

The Role of Companies

In Japan, many companies require their employees to use their legal last name on official documents such as business cards and email IDs. This can create problems for men who want to take their wife’s last name after marriage. Some progressive companies have started allowing employees to use either spouse’s last name professionally.


The question of whether a man can take a woman’s last name in Japan has no simple answer. While legally possible, it is still not widely accepted socially and culturally. However, with changing times and attitudes towards gender equality, there is hope that this tradition will evolve in the future.


  • Matsui Yayori (2013). Naming System In Japan – Family Name And Given Name: A Historical And Cultural Background. Journal of Social Sciences Research Vol 1 No 5.
  • The Japan Times (2020). Marriage equality debate reignited with petition calling for right for married couples to have same surname.
  • (2019). Breaking With Tradition: The Rise Of Nontraditional Names In Japan.
  • The Diplomat (2018). The Complicated Politics of Japanese Names.

About the Author

Jane Doe is an expert in Japanese culture and society. She has lived in Tokyo for over 10 years and has written extensively on various aspects of Japanese life.

Do Japanese men take wife’s last name?

In Japan, it is a legal requirement for married couples to have the same surname, which can either be the husband’s or the wife’s. This is a unique law, as no other country mandates married couples to share the same surname.

Why do Japanese men take their wife’s last name?

The practice of a man taking a woman’s surname is typically done for practical reasons related to business. For instance, if the woman’s family operates a well-known business that is run as a family enterprise, and the man is marrying the woman with the intention of eventually taking over the business, he may legally adopt her surname as a symbolic gesture of his adoption into her family. This practice is not uncommon in certain cultures.

Do Japanese people take the mothers last name?

In Japan, it is not customary or legally recognized for individuals to keep their original surname after marriage, except in the case of foreigners. Japanese law mandates that married couples have the same family name, and usually, the woman takes her husband’s surname. However, some women may opt to use their maiden name informally.

Is it possible for a man to take a woman’s last name?

When it comes to changing last names after marriage, there are various options available such as keeping one’s maiden name, hyphenating, or creating a new name that combines both partners’ last names. However, it is uncommon for a husband to take his wife’s last name, even though it is more common among queer couples.

Can a woman keep her last name after marriage in Japan?

In Japan, married couples are required by law to share a surname and must select either the husband’s or wife’s surname. Almost 96% of couples choose the husband’s surname, and it is currently not legal for same-sex couples to marry in Japan. This information was reported as of March 12, 2021.

Do Japanese people take their dads last name?

In Japan, individuals have two names – a surname and a given name. The surname is typically passed down from the father and after marriage, women typically take on their husband’s surname.

Impact on Children

One factor that can influence the decision of whether a man can take a woman’s last name in Japan is its impact on children. In Japan, children usually take their father’s last name, and having a different last name from their children can create confusion and social stigma. However, this trend is slowly changing, and there is a growing movement towards giving children hyphenated or combined last names.

The Political Debate

The issue of whether a man should be allowed to take a woman’s last name has been a topic of political debate in Japan. Some politicians have called for changes to the law to allow for more flexibility in naming conventions. However, conservative groups argue that traditional family values should be upheld, and that changing the law would undermine Japanese culture.

Celebrities Who Have Taken Their Spouse’s Last Name

Despite the social stigma attached to men taking their wives’ last names in Japan, there are some notable examples of celebrities who have done so. One such example is J-Pop star Ayumi Hamasaki, who took her ex-husband’s last name after marriage. Another example is actor Yuji Oda, who took his wife’s last name after getting married.


In conclusion, the question of whether a man can take a woman’s last name in Japan is a complex one that involves legal, social and cultural factors. While it is possible from a legal standpoint, it is not widely accepted socially and culturally. However, with changing attitudes towards gender roles and norms in Japan, there is hope that this tradition will evolve in the future.

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