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Can Japan’s married women finally keep maiden names after business lobby’s push for new law?

But the control exercised by those men is coming to an end, activists say, pointing out that if the head of the influential Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) has come around to the idea of women keeping their maiden names, it is only a matter of time before the traditionalists relent.

Keidanren chairman Masakazu Tokura on Tuesday expressed his position, which has been the subject of intense debate for nearly 20 years, telling a press conference: “I personally think it should be done. I want it to be implemented as a top priority to support women’s working styles.”

Keidanren has announced it is drawing up a paper to recommend that the law be amended to allow for different surnames, and that it would be submitted to the government later this year.

Tokura also said he was surprised at why the question “has been left hanging for so long”, after a Justice Ministry panel recommended in 1996 that the Civil Code be amended to allow for separate surnames.

The panel’s recommendations did not go further, as conservative members of the Diet indicated they would fight it because it would undermine the cohesion of the family unit and weaken traditional values.

“These people have always rejected efforts to change the law and allow equality because they are traditionalists and believe that a unified name is important to consolidating the idea of the family,” said Hiromi Murakami, a professor of political science at the Tokyo campus of Temple University.

“They overlook just how inconvenient the law is for so many women,” she told This Week in Asia, pointing to the need to transfer bank, passport and countless other documents over to a new name.

“But if Keidanren is behind the idea, then I believe a majority in the government and the ruling