The openness of many Japanese to foreign cultures is evident in the way they write their names. Although in their own language they follow the East Asian tradition of family name followed by the given one, in English they adopt the Western style of reversing the two. But there is a push to end the trend and upcoming international events are perceived as good occasions to unveil the change. There are claims conservative prime minister Shinzo Abe is behind the idea to further his nationalist agenda, but in an increasingly diverse world, it can also be viewed in terms of respecting other societies and ways of life.
Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono, whose business card says "Kono Taro", put forward the suggestion to foreign media on Tuesday, indicating the G20 summit of the leaders of the world's strongest economies in Osaka next month would be the perfect occasion for Western journalists to embrace the change. He said prime minister Shinzo Abe should be referred to as Abe Shinzo, the same style as that used for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in. That would set the stage for the names of Japan's athletes to also be reverted when the nation hosts the rugby world cup in September and the Olympic Games next year.
Japan followed the Chinese and Korean approach to writing names until the latter half of the 19th century, when it began opening to the West. Japanese made the switch with an eye on Western practices to modernise their economy. But there has been a push in recent decades to turn back and English-language textbooks used by middle school students commonly use the surname-first approach. Not all people approve of the idea, though; the Western style is still prevalent in Japan's English media and among Japanese companies with a global presence.
But the West should not view such a change as foreign and should welcome it if it is officially adopted. Just as Japanese are as comfortable eating with a knife and fork as chopsticks, Westerners have to be accepting of diversity and other cultures. They have to listen to the wishes of other people and not insist on imposing their will and particular standards.
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