Mapmakers pull foreign name switch

by Setsuko Kamiya

Staff writer

When Japanese look at recently published maps for high school classroom use, they may be in for a surprise — textbook publishers and mapmakers have been changing names of locations to more closely match the pronunciations of local residents.

For example, the katakana equivalent of the Cataluna region of northeast Spain has been long listed as “Kataronia” in Japan. According to the new map, it is “Katarunya.”

In the same way, the Danube river that runs through Eastern Europe is now listed as “Danyubu gawa” instead of “Donau gawa.” The Ganges river of India, or “Ganjisu gawa,” is now labeled “Ganga gawa.”

The names of other locations have been updated to match political changes, such as the listing for the Indian city of Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. “As more teachers and students go overseas, they are shocked to learn that the pronunciation of locations taught in school is different from that of the local residents. Their accounts and requests were major reasons for our large-scale revision,” said Hiroyuki Sugiyama, an editor at Teikoku Shoin, a leading publisher of maps used in schools.

Recent changes in national borders and the increasing tendency to respect ethnicity have also prompted the revision, Sugiyama said. The change is evident in the latest editions of prestigious British and American publications such as the “Times Atlas of the World” and the “Rand McNally International Atlas.”

Maps are revised each year, but Teikoku Shoin’s revisions this year were its biggest ever. After seeking experts’ advice for two years, the publisher changed about 1,000 of the 12,000 foreign place names on its maps. Officials at Tokyo Shoseki and Ninomiya Shoten, two other publishers of maps used in schools, said they also have been adopting locally used names.

The shift to the new usages will not be easy. Sugiyama said previous experience indicates that it will take about 10 years before everyone becomes familiar with the changed names.

“The transformation is going to take a long time and we know it won’t be easy as long as the media and public keep using familiar names. But the trend to change them is spreading globally. It is important to respect other languages and cultures as they are,” Sugiyama said.


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