Saturday, December 29, 2007

Re: Did Asahi Find a New Way to Be Nice to China?

The following is actually a response to Janne’s comment on my preceding post. I put it here because the comment box will not allow font tags.


Let me explain.

The name of a Japanese citizen must be registered at birth at his legal domicile, usually that of his parent or married parents. The name can be written in kanji, katakana, hirakana, or any combination thereof. Moreover, the kanji used for a name do not have to correspond to any accepted pronunciations thereof. For example, you could use “春雪”, the kanji for “Spring Snow”, for “Sakurako*”, or “Child of the Cherry”, and the authorities would accept it without batting a metaphorical eyelash.

My post concerns a different issue, namely, the representation of foreign names in Japanese. By convention, katakana, the now-secondary Japanese alphabet is usually employed. But this is complicated when it comes to Chinese and Korean names, since both cultures have also used kanji, i.e. Chinese characters, exclusively**.

In Japan, by tradition, both Chinese and Korean names were pronounced in conformity with the original, Chinese-derived form of pronunciation and, if necessary, written in hirakana, not katakana like the rest of the gaijin. Thus, 金大中, or Kim Dae-jung, the former South Korean President was pronounced kin dai-chū and written in hirakana, when necessary, as きん・だいちゅう. Note the similarity in pronunciation. Some Koreans who were permanent residents in Japan were not satisfied with this situation, and there was a lawsuit to challenge this custom that ultimately went to the Supreme Court. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, but sometime after the incident, the Japanese and Korean authorities appear to have worked out a compromise. Now, the ex-president is kimu dejun, or キム・デジュン, in katakana. Because of the unfamiliarity of the Korean pronunciation, the katakana rendition is usually given in parenthesis.

Incidentally, "legal domicile" is something of a mistranslation since you choose any place in Japan as your legal domicile, including the location of the Imperial Grounds in Tokyo. I assume that the same holds true in South Korea, where some of their citizens have registered their domiciles on an island that they like to call Dokto, whose proper name is, as all reasonable people will agree, Takeshima.

* Actually 桜子, A rare but real name. A beautiful one, too.

** This is no longer the case in the Koreas, where some people now have given names (but not family names) written solely in Hangul script.


Janne Morén said...

I'm not surprised over the use of the same kanji - it would be a bit strange not to use it - but by having an enforceable standard for converting pronunciations. When I was asked for my name in Katakana the first time and I wondered how it should be spelt, the answer was pretty much "well, how would you like it to be written?" As far as I know, I could ask for my name - Janne - to be written ヘンナスヴェーデンジン without any outward reaction more serious than the occasional raised eyebrow. And as you say, Japanese people choose how to pronounce their names. So I was a bit confused - and still am, rally - as to why Chinese and Korean names are treated different from any other name encountered in Japan.

Jun Okumura said...

the following is the relevant part of an email I wrote to Janne in response. I hope to find the time to elaborate further to the best of my abilities. If I forget and anybody is still interested, please let me know, and I'll follow up.

There are three different issues here:

1) How are names of Japanese citizens written in the official registries at their legal domiciles;
2) How are names of foreigners who are in Japan written in official registries; and
3) How are names of foreigners written in Japanese.

There is a subsidiary problem with regard to the degree of discretion allowed in the choice of pronuciation for the two kanas and kanji