Japan to go back to traditional naming order

Tokyo: After more than a century of adapting to international conventions, Japan now wants the rest of the world to call its people by using their surnames first, in accordance with the country’s linguistic tradition.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono, addressing a recent press conference on Friday, urged international organisations to implement this change, along with national media houses that have publications in English, Efe news reported.

In Japanese custom, the surname comes before the name, which, however is done away with when the names are romanised, or written in Latin script.

It was during the Meiji era (1868-1912), a period marked by the country’s opening up to the rest of the world, that Japan began to adapt to American and European conventions, allowing first name to precede surname.

However, this was not the case in Korea, China and Vietnam, the countries that have the same system of putting surnames first in their local language as well as foreign ones.

Japanese Prime Minister is known as Abe Shinzo in Japanese, while the rest of the world calls him Shinzo Abe, unlike in the cases of South Korean President Moon Jae-In, Chinese President Xi Jinping and their Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Phu Trong, all of whom are referred to by their surnames first across languages.

The change suggested by Kono to international media to use surnames first would apply to not just famous people but all Japanese people.

However, not everyone is supportive of the idea, given that the western style is still prevalent among the foreign media and international firms.

“Although we do not have a concrete policy in this respect, my firm continues with the order used by the rest of the world for greater convenience,” Takumi Nakano, who works in the international department of a cyber-security firm, told Efe news.

While contacting international clients, Nakano explained that they refer to him by his first name, and he never introduces himself putting his surname first, to avoid confusion.

Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs published a report in 2000 suggesting they revert to their traditional system in order to protect the language diversities.

Kono, during his press conference, cited this report and said now was the right time to implement it, ahead of the large international events that are coming up, among them the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The minister, who has his name as “Kono Taro” – with surname coming first – in his business cards and other documents in English, admitted that this was a battle one could not fight alone.

To promote the initiative, the Agency for Cultural Affairs has announced it will urge the public administration, news agencies, media and other organisations to use surname first while dealing with Japanese names in Latin script.

However, the organisers of events such as the G20 and the Rugby World Cup, as well as foreign organisations continue to await instructions from the government in this regard, and the office of the Prime Minister still refers to him as “Shinzo Abe”.

This is not the first time that this debate has been taken up by the Japanese government. English text books in schools reverted to the traditional order of naming in 2002, something that is also used in the passports of Japanese nationals.

Several politicians from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology recently changed the order of their names in the official website to reflect their support for the initiative.