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Education minister to ask local gov'ts to write Japanese surnames first in English

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is pictured in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

TOKYO -- Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama said in a news conference on May 21 that he will soon ask prefectural governments and other local bodies to write Japanese names with the family name first when spelling them in romanized letters.

It is currently common practice to spell Japanese names in English with the given name first, but in the Japanese language it is standard practice to write the family name first.

The same day Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono was reported as saying he would ask key foreign media outlets to write Japanese names with the surname first.

In 2000, the National Language Council of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology gave the opinion that it was "desirable to write names in the order of family name then given name." However, this practice has not become the norm. It is believed a new push is being made as Japan draws the world's attention in line with the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

When advancing the use of family name first in 2000, the National Language Council said that the issue should be promoted with "diversity in language and culture in mind." The Agency for Cultural Affairs subsequently sought action from public offices, and many junior high school English textbooks started using the family name, given name order from around 2002.

The practice, however, has not caught on, and on the English website of the education ministry, the names of top ministry officials had been written with the given name first. Shibayama said that he had written his given name first in his business cards. The name order of ministers on the website was changed to family name first on May 21.

Kono will ask in the future that the name of the Japanese prime minister, "Shinzo Abe," be written as "Abe Shinzo. He pointed out that many news organizations write Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the family name, first name order and said it was desirable for Abe to have his name written in the same way.

Olympics minister Shunichi Suzuki, however, called to gauge public opinion on the issue first.

"We should ascertain the issue after a little more national discussion and then make a decision," he said.

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito, City News Department, and Issei Suzuki, Political News Department)

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