Photo/IllutrationYuko Miyazaki, newly appointed to the Supreme Court, holds a news conference in Tokyo on Jan. 9. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

For the first time in the nation's history, a Supreme Court justice is issuing legal judgments in her maiden, rather than married, name.

It would not be such a big deal were it not for the fact that the top court only changed the system last September, and newcomer Yuko Miyazaki, 66, is the only female justice--there are two others on the 15-member bench--to take advantage of this new freedom.

Miyazaki's appointment, announced in December, took effect Jan. 9. She is only the sixth woman to serve on the top court.

"It is only natural that I should keep using my maiden name as a justice as it was the one I used while working as a lawyer,” said Miyazaki, citing increasingly diverse values in society that make it “important to provide options wherever possible.”

Miyazaki tried to drive home this message to reporters while addressing the divisive name issue that has frustrated many women.

Prior to assuming the post, she implored the law firm she worked for to ensure that media coverage of her appointment referred to her maiden name.

For its part, the top court obliged by announcing the surname that appears in Miyazaki's official family registry as well as her maiden name.

In Japan, lawyers can use their pre-marriage name for legal complaints and other documents if they register them with the bar association. Judges and justices were not permitted to do so until September, when the Supreme Court rewrote the rules.

Long before that happened, Miyazaki had already taken a stance, reflecting a constitutional conundrum that guarantees gender equality but insists that married couples use one surname.

In theory, this can be the husband's or the wife's last name, but it is usually the husband's surname that prevails.

As would be expected, many women rail against this on grounds that any strides they make in their careers or public life are often overshadowed by the fact that their achievements are invariably associated with their married, or husband's name.

Miyazaki began dreaming of carving out a career as a judge while she was in high school.

A graduate of the University of Tokyo, she passed the bar exam in 1976 and met her husband while learning the legal ropes.

Given that transfers are part and parcel of a judge's life and Miyazaki did not want to live apart from her mate, she switched course and decided to pursue a career as a lawyer.

After registering as such under her maiden name, Miyazaki and her husband registered their marriage. She took her husband’s last name in the family registry.

Miyazaki’s insistence on using her maiden name for public service is grounded in the experiences of a female mentor from her university days.

She said the woman got married and started using her husband's surname only to find that papers she wrote under her maiden name were not considered as part of her research achievements.

Miyazaki chose to use her maiden name professionally, but occasionally ran into difficulties, for example, when booking into a hotel overseas and being refused a room because the name in her passport differed from the one she used to make the reservation.

“The physical differences between women and men need to be acknowledged” Miyazaki said. “As for those areas where there are no differences, however, I believe it is important to create an environment where people of both sexes can work equally. I want drastic reform.”

She also complains that the ratio of female justices is unequal. "It should be increased,” she said.

In 2015, the Supreme Court's Grand Bench upheld the constitutionality of the Civil Code provision requiring married couples to use the same surnames. All three female justices on the bench protested on grounds a single-surname system is unconstitutional. The court referred the matter to the Diet for discussion.

Before the court changed its policy in September, only 18 of 3,800 or so judges across the country had decided to pursue their careers using their pre-marriage name.

(This article was compiled from reports by Gen Okamoto and Ryota Goto.)