Regarding Akita Kimi’s Dec. 27 letter, “Another way of writing names“: In response to Mikami Takashi’s Dec. 20 reasoned plea for limiting Japanese names to surname-first usage in English, Akita’s argument — that it can be “confusing” for those who do not know Japanese — would be patronizing were it not that Akita, like other Japanese who innocently put forward the same reasoning, are — in my opinion at least — simply uninformed and naive.
Akita ignores the fact that, in media usage and academic writing, English, together with other languages of European origin, expresses Korean, Chinese and other Asian peoples’ surnames in the original (surname-first) order. Therefore, giving Japanese names in the original order in English does not in broad fact constitute “a non-English tradition.”
Indeed, one can argue that Akita’s advocacy that Japanese write their surnames in all capital letters violates accepted written English usage, as all-caps, especially within sentences, indicates strong stress, even shouting, and is generally informal in style.
Akita’s pointing out that we sometimes find a given name where a family name is expected (“Taro 1990”) in citations of academic publications can be said to undermine her case, for the example can be taken to suggest that the writer of the citation assumes the Japanese author of the work has followed standard academic style for writing Asian names.
In other words, it is the Japanese exceptional practice of writing Japanese surnames last that can cause confusion, not necessarily the other way round.
As for Akita’s reference to Hungarian, the unique use of the Roman alphabet in that language expects that one who wishes to read Hungarian learns Hungarian orthography; it does not try to accommodate English speakers.
The same responsibility falls on those who would write about things Japanese in English — including, incidentally, indicating long vowels phonetically and consistently.