Japan grapples with putting family or given name first ahead of 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Japan Times -- Jul 29
With around a year to go until the start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the age-old question of whether to put family or given name first when writing Japanese names in English has started to garner attention.

The issue was recently put into the spotlight by Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who suggested in May that major foreign media organizations should write the name of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as “Abe Shinzo,” with the family name coming first.

But the proposed change prompted strong push-back by those who claimed that the reversal of long-standing customs would cause confusion. Even Abe’s own Cabinet members were divided over the proposal, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying that his given name should come first in English.

When Japanese names are written in Japanese, the family name customarily comes first, followed by the given name. But when rendered in Roman script, they are written in the opposite order, in line with Western tradition.

According to professor Yasuyuki Shimizu, who specializes in Japanese language studies at Japan Women’s University, the earliest public records of Japanese names in English script were written with the family name preceding the given name.

When the Tokugawa shogunate, rulers of nation during the Edo Period (1603-1868), concluded the Treaty of Peace and Amity with the United States, the first treaty between the two countries, in 1854, the Japanese interpreter signed the treaty in English with the family name first.

But English-language magazines published in Japan started to put given names first for Japanese names from the 1880s, and the style was popularized in the 1890s.

News source: Japan Times
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