Next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Dec 7 2010 now up at JT site


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Hi Blog. It’s been a hectic past few days traveling and speaking around Tokyo. After a night on the town on Sunday at an Amnesty International benefit, I was offered a free room with a friend (thanks) only to find I had left my toiletry bag at my previous accommodations. So I flew back to Sapporo yesterday unshaven and unkempt, arrived at Chitose Airport a mere two hours and change before my next speech in Otaru (which I recorded and will have up as a podcast sooner or later), drove the 80 or so kms, stopped off home for a shower shit and shave, and got to Otaru Shoudai with fifteen minutes to spare to give another 2.5-hour speech (my third in five days). And then came home and just crashed. Now I have 9AM classes coming up in an hour, so must blog quickly again.

Anyhoo, here is a link to my latest Japan Times column (also completed while on the speaking tour this past week). On how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nearly refused me a passport just because I wouldn’t spell my name in English as I pleased.

Have a read. I’ll have it up for commentary tomorrow. Arudou Debito

7 comments on “Next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Dec 7 2010 now up at JT site

  • I have this very same debate with various “staff” members with travel insurance companies and other similar service providers, like mobile phones etc etc. They insist on my name being as per my passport. I have a middle name…i never use it, never have. Yet in Japan i am catagorically denied any service where i am required to write or provide my name, if I do not write with my middle name.

    Same as a bloody stupid bit of wood…unless i stamp official papers with a stupid bit of wood, (hanko) it is not “legal”, or I am denied such services. I refuse to use that stupid bit of wood, as my identity, when postmen, for example, deliver a parcel to my house. I sign it. My land is owned by my bloody stupid bit of wood, not me, because that bit of wood is “officially” registered, whereas my name and identity is not!!

  • Loved the most recent article, as usual. I noticed one possible typo, probably it’s too late to correct:

    “(Oka), which becomes ‘Ooka’ or ‘Ohoka.'”
    I think you perhaps you may have wanted to write
    “(Ōka), which without diacritics is rendered ‘Ooka’, ‘Ohka’, or ‘Oka’.”

    Anyway, silly point to be commenting on, I should be commenting on the main point: another great article!
    The most important thing is you stayed strong against illogical, unjust, unlawful threats from power-holders.

    How many of us lowly Non-Citizens (and probably some “Wrong Color Naturalized Japanese” folks as well)
    have been victims of the following illogical, unjust, and unlawful threats: (and did you merely give in to them?)

    “The Kokumin Kenko Hoken card is an identification we accept from Japanese, but not from you.
    You must let us copy your passport or you will not be given your Kodomo Teate (Child Allowance).”
    “You must let us copy your ARC or your children won’t be allowed to continue in their Preschool.”

    And when I say unlawful threats, I mean just that: these “guidelines”, written by unelected city-workers,
    are against the LAWS written by elected-representatives which say: only immigration can demand those.

    All it takes is for a high ranking city worker to write up some “guidelines” which deputize all city workers to
    pretend to be immigration officers, and threaten visa-holding residents with loss of money and schooling.

    Just as all it takes is for a police officer to give hotels some “guidelines ” which deputize all hotel staff to
    pretend to be immigration officers, and threaten visa-holding residents with loss of ability to stay at the hotel.

    The LAW says “Only Immigration Officers, and police who have found a suspicious action, may demand ARC.”
    The LAW says “All people who are qualified have the right to receive the Child Allowance and Preschool Entry.”

    The LAW says “Hotels with available rooms can only refuse people with a communicable disease like leprosy.”

    The guidelines say, “Gaikokujin sometimes overstay, so: let us invade your privacy or we will deny your rights!”

    Anyway, when the Universe gives you lemons, make some delicious lemonade. How can this be applied here?
    Well, on the Hotel refusal issue, as soon as I become “Wrong Color Naturalized Japanese”, I’m doing a big tour.
    I’m going to reserve Hotel rooms from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and film the Hotel staff ILLEGALLY denying me entry.
    Then, as a Japanese citizen I’m going to sue each and every one of them for 100man each. Lemons to Lemonade. 🙂

    — Re Oka. The typesetters really botched that one. I rendered it as Ō-oka. Sorry.

  • Hepburn? That looked like Kunrei to me, but maybe I am getting my styles mixed up.

    Anyway, I remember you blogging about this earlier. Good subject for the column. Good job.

    — MOFA calls it Hepburn.

  • 🙂 No need to apologize for that. BTW, I notice I accidentally forgot to put the diacritic mark above Kenkō. 🙂

    Rant begins here:

    As it happens, I prefer the macron mark above o (instead of the other four options offered: “adding an h”, “adding a u”, “adding an o”, or “pretending the o length isn’t doubled”) so I’m often lecturing folks about how Tokyo is not the correct way to spell Tōkyō.

    For example, I think Shōta should be spelled Shōta with a macron mark (not Shota, not Shohta, and not even Shouta. I don’t like the idea of “adding a u” because writing Shouta could easily mislead rōmaji readers to say “しょ、うた”.)

    Of course, the passport people don’t allow macron marks, so you were perfectly justified to demand the u, even though it could mislead rōmaji readers to say “あるど、う”.

    They were trying to force you to choose between using an incorrect “Hepburn-without-macron-marks” style (Arudo), or an outdated “add an h” style (Arudoh), or a misleading “add an o” style (Arudoo.)

    When faced with such a choice, I too would have pushed for Arudou.

    About that old “add an h” style, has anyone noticed the flaw of that style? If your name happened to be Ōi (unlikely, but bear with me) then that style would write Ohi which would easily mislead rōmaji readers to say “おひ”.)

    I think Hepburn-with-macron-marks is the best style (if only the Passport Agency and Banks would simply update their software so that we can begin to use it.)

    PS – About words like Gunma, Honma, Shinmachi, Shinbun, etc. I happen to think that A.) that is not how modern Japanese people pronounce those words, and B.) we should spell words how modern Japanese people pronounce them, and thus C.) we should write Gumma, Homma, Shimmachi, Shimbun, etc.

    Now if we could just get the Government to stop requiring (and pushing in schools) the TOTALLY incorrect (seemingly purposefully incorrect, as someone here mentioned earlier) romajinazation “make Non-Japanese sound like stupid monkeys” scheme known as Kunrei-Shiki, including those silly circumflexes (ô)…

    Again, Hepburn style with straight macrons (ō) is the best と思います。 🙂

    End of Rant. 🙂

  • Something similar happened to me with Softbank earlier this year, when I was forced to upgrade from the 2G to 3G prepaid service. I tried to buy a 3G phone over the internet but Softbank rejected the application because my name, written in hiragana in a web form that would only accept kana, was not as it appeared on my ARC (yes, I did have to show it to get a phone; no driver’s license).

    Several phone calls, later, the application was again rejected because the form only allows first and family names, but my ARC includes my middle name. Softbank claimed that e.g. ‘Fred Timothy Smith’ could be a completely different name from ‘Fred Smith’. A work colleague got involved, spoke to a customer service representative, and returned triumphant: my application had been successful because they decided together to run my middle and last names together, as ‘Fred Timothysmith’. So a rule requiring my full, correct legal name as on my ARC and passport was satisfied by using something that is not my full, correct, legal name on my ARC and passport… and I was refused the right to register either with my actual family name or in kana.

  • Good job Debito, way to stand up for yourself! Something really needs to be done about the arbitrary creation of rules by front-line bureaucrats. Government interactions should not be a gamble where we spin the wheel every time to see what hidden requirements they’re going to pull on us, or else stare down an examiner’s poker face while they’re holding all the cards. From hotel passport checks to surprise requests for native translators (because light-colored eyes means you can’t understand the words coming out of my mouth), it’s a barrage of things that make me (and I’m sure many others) dread my interactions with pretty much anyone in charge of anything.

    On the roomaji battle, I much prefer the extra ‘u’s and ‘o’s over macrons because it more closely resembles the original, doesn’t lose information (depending on the situation, is ō oo or ou? We may know, but beginners won’t), and never has typing problems. With ん-shifts, do you really think Japanese children should have to learn that “it’s sometimes ‘m’ and sometimes ‘n'” in roomaji? It’s my favorite way to tilt at windmills, I confess, but I really feel like a clear one-to-one correspondence between kana and roomaji is best. Of course, I myself am guilty of going back and forth with using an apostrophe after an ‘n’ when needed to distinguish it from ナ行 sounds (e.g. きんえん kin’en), which clears up confusion but adds minor complexity.

    Debito, since those of us in the multilingual community probably run into roomaji more than the average person, would it be possible to get a poll about what people prefer at some point? It might help alleviate a rash of “me too”s in this thread…

  • Dear Debito,

    What an amazing article. Thank you very much indeed for sharing your experience. I had a similar one when I went to register my daughter’s birth at the local city office.

    Her first name is a western name which sounds identical to a Japanese one, for which my wife selected an appropriate kanji. No problem there. When writing in English, she can spell it the way my great-grandmother spelled it, and when writing in Japanese she can use the kanji. So far, so good.

    Now comes the fun. My mother’s name is Christine. My daughter was baptised with my mother’s name as a middle name. So we take the daughter to the city office and fill in all the paperwork in kanji, romaji and katakana as appropriate.

    “I’m sorry sir, there is a problem. Ku-ri-su-te-i-n has a combination of sounds not authorised. We cannot register your daughter as Kristen, or as Krischeen. Which will you select?”

    “There seems to be some misunderstanding here. I’m not asking you what I should name my child. My wife and I have already made that decision. We are notifying you of my daughter’s name. Her name is Christine.”

    “But your daughter may not have that name. Only Kristen or Krischeen”

    “My daughter is named Christine in honour of my mother. My mother’s name is not Kristen. Nobody in the world has ever had the name Krischeen as that is a word you just made up to comply with your rulebook. My daughter’s name is Christine, and if you don’t have the wit to spell it in letters, then transliterate it in a way which will sound like what it is.”

    “But her name may not be written so. Moshiwake gozaimasen.”

    And so on. For half an hour. Until my wife got her father (who used to be a local politician) to step in. Within five minutes we had deep bows and the name written correctly (or as close to correctly as katakana ever gets).

    If my father-in-law hadn’t been there they would have refused to record my daughter’s identity, guaranteeing a lifetime of even more bureaucratic bumbling than she’s going to get anyway for daring to be not a pureblood.

    Which makes my barbarian blood boil.


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