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After 150 Years, Japan Reverts to Old-School Tradition

Surnames will now come before first names, at least in government documents
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 6, 2019 10:39 AM CDT
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on Thursday.   (Alexander Nemenov/Pool Photo via AP)

(Newser) – For about 150 years, the Japanese have been following the first name, then surname method of being referenced when using the Roman alphabet in written materials. On Friday, however, a big change was announced: The country's government is switching the order of the names and reverting to the former style, which is more commonly used in some Asian countries per Kyodo News. "In a globalized world, it has become increasingly important to be aware of the diversity of languages that humans possess," education chief Masahiko Shibayama said at a presser in announcing the change, shortly after he'd brought up the suggestion to name-swap and persuaded other Cabinet heads to vote it in at an earlier meeting. The AP notes the Cabinet gave its OK to start making alterations to names in government documents, though it's not clear when that will be done.

South Korea and China have long stuck with the old-school nomenclature—leaders Moon Jae-in and Xi Jinping, respectively, use surname-first monikers—but Japan started breaking from the tradition in the late 1800s to fit in more with the Western world, according to the nation's Agency for Cultural Affairs. The push for Japan to revert to the traditional way started up about two decades ago, then petered out before being reinvigorated recently by more conservative members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration. The AP notes it's not clear what the response will be from the public, where such a change, if adopted, could cause quite an upheaval: Everything from names that appear in school textbooks and within private companies to those that are imprinted on credit cards could be affected. Still, in a survey cited by Reuters, nearly 60% of respondents liked the idea. (Read more Japan stories.)

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