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'Pikachu' could be acceptable reading of name ahead of Japan law change

A subcommittee session of an advisory panel to the minister of justice that compiled a draft proposal for legal revisions to include reading aids alongside names on the family registry takes place on May 17, 2022. (Mainichi/Masakatsu Yamamoto)

TOKYO -- A subcommittee of an advisory body to Japan's justice minister, which has been discussing rules for a new system to incorporate phonetic characters to assist reading kanji names in family registers of Japan, has presented three proposals regarding the extent of the acceptable range of unusual names.

    The panel of the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice compiled an interim draft proposal for a bill to amend the Family Register Act on May 17, and aims to submit a report to the justice minister within fiscal 2022. It will also shortly solicit public comment based on the proposal.

    The Family Register Act currently has no provisions regarding reading aids for names, and phonetic characters indicating how to pronounce names are not included on the family registry. As organizing names by phonetic symbols, which correspond to around 50 sounds, is more convenient than handling names in kanji characters -- complex with a diverse range -- amid digitization of administrative processes, the subcommittee has held discussions on the new system to include reading aids in phonetic characters alongside names on the family register.

    The recent proposal stated that the reading aids will be indicated in either hiragana or katakana, the two types of phonetic Japanese syllabaries. It presented three plans regarding the types of reading aids that will be allowed, particularly for names referred to as "kira-kira names," whose kanji characters are read differently from their conventional pronunciation.

    Of them, the most relaxed proposal was to "not establish rules in the Family Register Act," and allow unusual names, excluding cases like "Akuma" (meaning "devil") that can be suspected as violating public order and moral standards, as well as the child's welfare.

    The strictest proposal laid out a plan to limit names to those with "the usual or customary readings of kanji characters," or "pronunciation which can be recognized as being associated with the kanji characters." For example, under this proposal, the Chinese character denoting "sea" or "marine" can be read as "Marin," while a name combining a kanji character meaning "light" or "glitter" and a character conventionally read as "chu" can be read as "Pikachu," as these cases can be deemed as having links between the kanji and their readings. However, readings of names that deviate from the kanji characters may not be permitted.

    The remaining proposal outlined a plan to permit cases where the reading of names has links with the kanji characters or there is a valid reason for the reading, even if it is not the usual or customary pronunciation.

    The subcommittee suggested a plan to make it mandatory for the public to submit names with the reading aids, and to have municipalities list the readings at their discretion if they are not reported within a certain period.

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamamoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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