Even in this digital age in which many people send their New Year’s greetings through email or social media, nengajo, the New Year’s card, is still very popular.

Since I was teaching at a university, New Year’s cards from my former students are especially delightful for me. From their messages and updates I can recall their faces immediately.

In those New Year’s cards I find a good number of ones with some strange name of a man written as the sender. And next to it there is a woman’s first name with (nee XXX). Then, I realize “Oh, it’s Ms. XXX. She got married.” One of those women has been sending her cards to me for more than ten years with her name as “YYY (nee XXX)” so that she can clarify both her present name and birth name.

No men have ever sent me a New Year’s card with their names written in that manner. Only women do this.

This is exactly a reflection of the Japanese society where the use of different surnames for married couples is not allowed. And in most cases it is the woman who gives up the birth name. I imagine each of the women who have written their names as “(nee XXX)” has experienced many dramas and inner conflicts. Some women might feel happy with using their husbands’ family names as their own names. But I believe there are many other women who did not want to change their birth names for many reasons but had to change them in the end when getting married. They might have assumed that they should follow the majority. Or might have discussed and struggled with their husbands in the process to decide who’s surname should be changed. Or might have waited for the system to change for some time and given up. By always writing their names as “YYY (nee XXX),” some women might be showing their protest and anger against the unreasonableness.

Of course women do not have to inform in their New Year’s cards that they got married. If they just use their birth names you know who are them with no problem.

But people catch up on each other’s lives through their New Year’s cards. Once a year they communicate what big life events (like career change, move, marriage, or childbirth) happened in the last year. And so, a woman who got married in the last year needs to use her registered married surname (in most cases her husband’s family name), because under the Japanese civil law that registered name is considered to be the only “real” name. Then she also needs to write her birth name with ( ) hesitantly in order to identify herself to her friends and acquaintances. She might be crying over her lost name while doing so, wishing if she could write her own birth surname proudly next to his husband’s surname.

Perhaps you might think it does not matter so much because it is a small thing? It definitely does. Very few men have to write “XXX (nee YYY)” on their New Year’s cards or have to go through conflicts over choosing a name when getting married. On the other hand, it is taken for granted that women should change their names and write “(nee XXX).” Women’s inner conflicts are unregarded here. There is the inconsistency where only women are forced to do a thing from which men are free. I am very sorry to say that Japan is such a society and therefore ranked a disgraceful 121st in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020.

We cannot overlook “(nee XXX)” on the New Year’s card even if it is a small quiet message. We cannot take a generous attitude toward this just because it is a New Year.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year!

Original article written by Orie Endo
Translated by A. Tawara