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News Navigator: Will switching Japanese name order in alphabet catch on?

The names of the three most senior politicians at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology are seen with their names in traditional surname first order, in this image taken from its website on June 6, 2019.

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the order of Japanese names when rendered into the Latin alphabet.

Question: Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama has called for Japanese names to be put in their traditional order of family name first when written using the alphabet. Why?

Answer: In Japan, it's most common to see the given name first when they're rendered into alphabetic spellings. This came about due to "Europeanization" policies in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when the order was established to conform to American and European naming conventions. But in 2000, a Japanese language policy council recommended that the family name first order should be adopted. They reasoned that in an increasingly internationalized world, it is important for Japan to show its diversity. Following its recommendation, the Agency of Cultural Affairs sought cooperation on the change from organizations including central government bodies, prefectural governments, universities, newspapers and publishers. Despite their efforts, it did not become standard practice.

Q: So why has this become a hot topic again in 2019?

A: Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono has brought the issue up several times in recent press conferences. The G-20 Osaka Summit scheduled for the end of June 2019 has also become an opportunity to draw attention to the matter. With the meeting set to be broadcast and reported on by news media organizations all over the world, the Japanese government is seeking for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be referred to by family name first as "Abe Shinzo " in summit news items.

Q: How do other countries fare on name order?

A: China and South Korea have the same naming conventions as Japan, with family name given first and most foreign media news outlets refer to them surname first, as in the cases of Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Q: Perhaps family-name-first ordering will catch on this time?

Junior high school English textbooks have used the Japanese order since around 2002, and passports also observe the same surname-forename sequence. On the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology website, the politicians in its three most senior positions have all had their name order changed to reflect the renewed initiatives. But, looking at other ministries, you can still see many instances of the same given-name-first sequence. The Education Ministry intends to encourage related organizations to switch to the surname-forename sequence in the near future, but it has no power to force an alteration, so it remains to be seen if it will foster a total national change.

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito, City News Department)

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