I mentioned that my husband and I were not married. The reason was a Japanese law that required a married couple to take the same last name. More than 95% of the time! that is husband’s name. Couples choose the wife’s last name only if the wife is the oldest of all female siblings or the only daughter and the husband is not the oldest son. Why? Because in Japan, the family tree and continuation of paternal line was very valued. If a family doesn’t have a son, but only daughter, they have to let the daughter’s husband to take their last name to keep the lineage. Yes, that is an old, outdated system. Yet even in modern Japan, there is a real consequence.
That is grave. In Japan, one family owns one grave and the deceased were buried under the same headstone. Cremation custom makes it easy. A family purchases the grave space and headstone from cemetery. Because this belongs to family, only the last name is etched big on the headstone. And behind it, the detail of each deceased person is described. For this reason, many cemeteries don’t allow someone with a different last name to inherit the grave. If no one inherits, their ashes will be dug out and combined as “nameless/family less” grave. Because the Japanese reveres their ancestors, this is considered unforgivable sin.
Also implied in the patriarch system is that the oldest son inherit the family lineage and his wife will be the caretaker of his parents and presumably live with them. My mother was married to the only son in the family and her (step) mother-in-law treated her rather badly (more like a family slave), although in-law problems is universal.
Then us. My husband is the only son with two sisters. I was the youngest of four children, two of my siblings are male. So, almost everyone expects me to change the last name. I know many women find happiness in changing the last name.
But I wasn’t one of them. I was rebellious. Probably that’s it. But if I can add more excuses, my last name is rare and almost everyone fails to read the kanji at first. Then my name is common. My husband’s last name is not the most common, but pretty common. I felt sick by just imagining how many women have the same name “(my husband’s last name)+(my first name)”. Besides, I didn’t want to be a family slave like my mother once was. My husband’s parents are indeed nice people and I like them. But still the product of tradition.
So I made a radical choice. I once married to him so that we can withdraw our names from the respective father’s family registration, and divorced. Then each of us has own family registration and own head of the family. I felt much better.
Of course, my family treated like I committed a murder. But they eventually understood. Most important was that my husband and I love each other and get along each other. He was fully supportive of my choice, simply because he didn’t want to change his name, either, therefore he felt he shouldn’t force me to change. I strongly felt that our relationship was stronger than a piece of paper. Although I now admit, I was fixated on that piece of paper, in a different way. Yet, I still think name is just not paper. It is part of myself. That’s why I couldn’t give up.