Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Fumio Kishida prepares to answer questions from Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, in the Diet on Oct. 11. (Koichi Ueda)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida moved further away from his previous push to allow dual surnames for married couples by declining to even take a position on the issue on Oct. 11.

At his first Diet debate since taking office on Oct. 4, Kishida was asked by Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, about whether he favored changing the surname system, which has long been criticized as outdated and sexist.

“Don’t you feel the need to swiftly revise the discriminatory system that forces one in the married couple, usually the woman, to change their surnames?” Edano asked.

He noted that the CDP is willing to introduce the dual surname system if it wins the Lower House election expected on Oct. 31.

“Opinions are divided among the public,” Kishida replied. “We need to continue thoroughly discussing the matter.”

Kishida had previously indicated his willingness to change the law and allow married couples to register under separate surnames.

“I think it’s important to move the discussion forward from the viewpoint of respecting diversity and individuality,” he told reporters in March.

Kishida was also among organizers of the Liberal Democratic Party’s parliamentary group established in the same month to call for an early introduction of the dual surname system.

Another organizer of the group was Seiko Noda, now the state minister in charge of measures to deal with the declining birthrate.

But Kishida expressed a more cautious stance on the issue during the LDP leadership election campaign in September.

Although he acknowledged that some people are facing problems under the current surname system, he said during the campaign, “We need to continue discussing it further from the viewpoint of family unity.”

One senior LDP lawmaker in favor of the dual surname system said Kishida may be unable to state his view on the matter since he is now surrounded by people who oppose the idea, including LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi.

Critics have raised concerns that a separate-surname system would hurt “family unity” because parents and their children may end up using different surnames.

Advocates say a new system would simply give couples the right to “choose” their surnames, and it would not force those who prefer one surname to change their family names.

Kishida was also asked during the question-and-answer session about whether he intends to revise the law to recognize same-sex marriages.

He said the matter requires “extremely careful consideration” because it concerns the basis of what constitutes a family in Japan.