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Japan asked international media to change the way we write their – FOX 40 WICZ TV


By James Griffiths, CNN Business

In an entire page published on March 2, 1979, the Los Angeles Times presented its readers with Pinyin, a Chinese romanization system which, according to him, modified the “familiar map of China”.

In the new system, “Canton becomes Guangzhou and Tientsin becomes Tianjin”. More importantly, the newspaper would now qualify the capital of the country of Beijing and not of Beijing.

It was a step too far for some American publications. In an article on Pinyin at that time, the Chicago Tribune said that even if it adopted the system for most Chinese words, some names had “become so ingrained in our use that we cannot get used to new ones” .

The Tribune would continue to use Beijing in the 1990s, although it was a kind of outlier. The New York Times Noted in 1986 – while announcing its adoption from Beijing – that the name “has now become as familiar” as the old nickname.

Now Japan wants its turn. As the country marked the dawn of the Reiwa era last year with the coronation of Emperor Naruhito, his foreign ministry said the time was right to demand that the names of Japanese officials be written differently .

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s name, for example, would become Abe Shinzo, his last name preceding his first name – just as the international media prints the names of Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

But if history is a guide, the Japanese government could have a long wait in front of the English-speaking media complies with his request.

What’s in a name?

The first name format has always been used in Japanese. But during the Meiji era which began in 1868, the order was reversed in English to begin with the first name, a format more familiar in the West.

Although this decision may have made life easier for some Western diplomats in the 19th century, Japan’s neighbors quickly proved that foreigners could (for the most part) manage the “family name” first. And for almost two decades, Tokyo has been trying to reverse the Meiji overthrow. Last year’s request to the international media was only the last attempt.

Japan “is hoisted on its own turf,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo. He added that in the past, the country was “eager to distance itself from its neighbors so as not to be confused with them”. Now, however, he wants the West to treat him the same.

But it is not only foreigners who are slow to change. Many Japanese people are used to writing their names in English with the last name last, and although the government has changed the way it refers to the Prime Minister and other officials, the national English-speaking press still uses widely ” Shinzo Abe “.

Even though Japan achieves some consistency in its own government, Beijing has become Beijing in the American press thanks in large part to the widespread adoption of the new name (and Pinyin in general) by the US State Department . Japan may have to pressure diplomats to make the change before it can encourage journalists to follow suit.

Inertia loop

In 1979, the passage from Beijing to Beijing forced newspapers to print an explanation for their readers – but at least they did not have to go back to the archives and correct all the previous mentions. Today, adopting a new format for “Abe Shinzo”, not to mention all the Japanese names, would require the modification of each published mention of the politician, or else tolerate an inconsistency that could confuse readers (and websites search engines account for a large part of their traffic).

“Audiences love consistency, so you need to understand how seamlessly (and consistently) a style change can be mainstreamed,” said Doris Truong, director of training and diversity at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in the United States. United States.

Right now, most media don’t want to make a change if no one else does, creating a loop of inertia through which inaction breeds inaction. CNN Business could not find any major publications referring to the Japanese Prime Minister as “Abe Shinzo”, and no outlet responding to a request for comment suggested that such a change was imminent.

“We have not received a request, and at this time we have no plans to change to an old and widely accepted style,” said the Associated Press.

The UK-based Guardian told CNN Business that “like other media, our house style is usually to follow first name-last name. As with everything about style, it’s something that we continue to research and examine over time. “

Reuters said it was “aware of the preference expressed by the Abe government for names to be expressed in English as they are in Japanese with the surname first. Nevertheless, the contrary convention remains prevalent in businesses and the Japanese society and more familiar to international readers. “

A CNN representative said the company currently uses “the first name, the second name for Japanese names, because it is the form that tends to be used by Japanese officials in communications in English.”

“However, styles are changing, and if there is a formal request from the Japanese government or other major changes, we will of course reconsider that,” they added.

On Wikipedia, perhaps the first port of call for most people trying to determine whether it is “Mr. Shinzo” or “Mr. Abe” an intense debate ensued Last year. The editors finally decided not to make any changes.

Although some supported changing the title of the Prime Minister’s page to “Abe Shinzo”, the majority preferred to wait and see. One editor wrote “this should only change if / when most English sources follow suit”.

Truong said it might be interesting for the media “to have a broader discussion of all the nations that use the last / first and to determine whether the imposition of western standards of first / last gives these populations respect and the power they deserve. “

For now, however, it appears that, if the Tokyo Olympics continue, the man who runs the celebrations will remain – for the English media – “Shinzo Abe”.

CLARIFICATION: This exhibit has been updated to reflect how the Japanese government refers to government officials.

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