Japan's reordering of name format highlights global power shift
Nikkei -- Dec 10
In Japan these days it seems that conservatives want to change things and progressives want to cling to the status quo. An apparently minor, but highly symbolic, example is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government's proposal to change the order of Japanese names when written in the Latin or Western alphabet.

From the early years of the Meiji period, in the 1870s, Japanese people have identified themselves to foreigners in the common Western style of given name followed by family name. In native Japanese, however, the order is always family name followed by given name.

On January 1, 2020 that Western format, as used in this column, will officially change. On governmental documents and websites Shinzo Abe will become known as ABE Shinzo -- capitalization of the family name is also recommended -- and others in public sector roles will be expected to do the same.

There is no obligation on ordinary citizens to follow suit, but the advantages of standardization suggest that over time the new format is likely to win out. Actor Ken Watanabe would become WATANABE Ken and SoftBank Group's Masayoshi Son would become SON Masayoshi.

To Westerners the upheaval may seem unnecessary and confusing, but from the Japanese perspective it represents authenticity and normalization. No longer doing things just to be convenient to Westerners, as Asia rises in geopolitical and cultural power, is part of the point.

The initiative originates in the early years of this century when the Cultural Affairs Agency issued an advisory notice on the use of the native name order in English contexts. Lacking heavyweight political backing, it was totally ignored.

This time, rising stars of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party such as Defense Minister Taro Kono have been vocal in support. It seems the public is on side too. A recent opinion poll showed 60% in favor of the change.

The justification, as set out on the CAA's website, is that Japan is merely aligning itself with other East Asian nations like China, Vietnam and South Korea, all of which put the family name first. East Asians put their family name first because family affiliation was traditionally the most important information about a person, the individual identity coming second.

News source: Nikkei
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