In 500 Years, Everyone in Japan May Have the Same Name

Japan's residents may all have surname Sato if an antiquated civil code isn't updated, researcher says
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2024 10:25 AM CDT
In 500 Years, Everyone in Japan May Have the Same Name
Stock photo of Kyoto, Japan.   (Getty Images/YiuCheung)

An antiquated law in Japan could lead to an unusual happening in about five centuries: everyone with the same surname. That surname would be Sato, which is the conclusion on the universally shared surname by the year 2531 arising from the research of Tohoku University economics professor Hiroshi Yoshida. More on this John Malkovich-like situation:

  • The law: A civil code stretching back to the late 1800s requires spouses in Japan to adopt the same surname. The Guardian notes Japan is the only nation in the world that requires that of married couples. The vast majority of the time, it's women who take on their partner's name.

  • Sato's status: A March 2023 survey indicated that 1.5% of Japanese citizens are currently named Sato, with Suzuki in second place.
  • The projection: Yoshida found that, from 2022 to 2023, the number of Japanese named Sato rose by a factor of 1.0083. If that rate stays consistent over the years and the surname law remains in place, Yoshida predicts that half of the Japanese population will be named Sato by the year 2446; it would flip to 100% by 2531.
  • Alternate scenario: Yoshida also gamed out a different path, based on a 2022 survey that found that only 39% of single people ages 20 to 59 would rather share a surname, even if they had the option to pick a separate name. Extrapolating from that scenario, only about 8% of the Japanese population would be named Sato by 2531.
  • Consequences: "If everyone becomes Sato, we may have to be addressed by our first names or by numbers," Yoshida says, per the Mainichi. "I don't think we can call that a good world to live in." He adds that Sato becoming ubiquitous "will not only be inconvenient but also undermine individual dignity," per the Asahi Shimbun.
(More Japan stories.)

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