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Politics

Japan wants foreign media to put last names first

Olympics seen as chance to shake off Western-style writing convention

Shinzo Abe or Abe Shinzo?   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono announced that the government will ask foreign media to write Japanese names with the family name first, as in the local language, instead of reversing them to match Western conventions.

The prime minister's name should be rendered as Abe Shinzo rather than Shinzo Abe, said Kono, who noted that the West uses the surname-first format for Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The announcement came in a news conference on Tuesday, during which Kono expressed hope that the change will gain traction this year and next as Japan hosts such international events as the Group of 20 summit in June and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Japan adopted the Western order for names in English and other languages using Latin script during the Meiji era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the country was eager to learn from Europe. The custom is especially entrenched at businesses with global operations, such as Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing, Honda Motor and Rakuten, which made English its official language in the early 2010s.

In 2000, a language council under what is now the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology recommended that government bodies write names in the Japanese order when using Latin script. "All people should be conscious of and make use of humanity's diversity of language and culture," it argued.

Citing this report, ministry chief Masahiko Shibayama said Tuesday that the Agency for Cultural Affairs will soon send administrative bodies and educational and media organizations notices calling for a switch to the Japanese order.

"The relevant ministries and agencies will consider what can be done," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

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