National

It's official: Government to put Japanese family names first when using Roman alphabet

Kyodo

In a break from the long tradition of adopting the Western name order in Roman script, the government Friday decided to put surnames first when writing Japanese names in official documents.

“In a globalized world, it has become increasingly important to be aware of the diversity of languages that humans possess. It’s better to follow the Japanese tradition when writing Japanese names in the Roman alphabet,” education minister Masahiko Shibayama said at a news conference.

Shibayama proposed the idea and won approval from his fellow Cabinet ministers at a meeting Friday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said details still need to be worked out but the government will step up preparations for the change.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will decide whether to ask the private sector to follow the government’s decision, according to Suga.

Critics have wondered whether the change is necessary and whether the public will support it.

Japanese are accustomed to writing their given name first when using a foreign language such as English, a practice that began in the 19th to early 20th centuries due to the growing influence of Western culture.

When asked if he will request to be referred to as Suga Yoshihide, the top government spokesman said he thinks he will.

Shibayama is not the only member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet to call for an end to reversing the name order.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who studied in the United States, also raised the issue, noting that Asian leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in retain their original name order in English.

In 2000, an advisory panel on Japanese language policy recommended that Japanese family names be written before given names in the Roman alphabet to respect the diversity of languages.

The Cultural Affairs Agency then asked government entities, universities and media organizations to adopt the change but it did not take root.

On the official English website of the education ministry, Shibayama’s name, along with those of his deputies, is written in the same name order as in Japanese.

However, many other high-ranking Japanese officials, including Kono, continued to be listed in the Western order. As of Friday, the Foreign Ministry was using “Taro Kono” on its website.