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Family comes first in Japan

Traditionalists in Japan are supporting a move to change the order of people’s names so that the family name comes first followed by the given name. This has been the practice in Japan for centuries but as the country emerged as an international power western influence gradually turned the country round.

Now, with Japan preparing to host the 2020 Olympics, a proposal from the education minister has been accepted by the cabinet that when names are written in the Roman alphabet they should follow Japanese style. This means, for example, that prime minister Shinzo Abe, who is keen to revive aspects of Japan’s traditional culture ahead of the games, will in official documents be referred to as Abe Shinzo.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said usage guidelines and other details need to be discussed further but he looked forward to going by Suga Yoshihide, as he is known in Japan.

‘It has become increasingly important for us to recognise the diversity of languages and cultures that humans possess as society becomes more globalised’ said education minister Masahiko Shibayama – or as he would prefer it, Shibayama Masahiko.

Reaction within government has been mixed with only the education ministry making the changes to staff names on its website.

China and Korea traditionally put surnames first both at home and internationally. But until now Japan has tended to follow the pattern of the west.



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