Double-barreled given names in Japan: Just how inconvenient are they?
February 7, 2010 8:15 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn more about how Japanese bureaucracy handles Japan-born kids registered with "double-barreled" given names (like MIYASHITA Jamie Shizu 宮下ジェイミー静). If you have personal stories, please share.

Example of what I'm talking about: MIYASHITA Jamie Shizu. "Miyashita" is the surname, the rest is the given name. Thus, her given name has two parts (separated with a space in English contexts). One part of the given name is Japanese, the other part is not.

(Example of what I'm not talking about: WENTZ Eiji. "Wentz" is the surname, "Eiji" is the given name. He has an obviously non-Japanese surname, but his given name has only one part. I'm not interested in cases like this.)

I'm interested in how difficult it is to navigate city hall, education, banking, health care, taxes, Japanese passport applications, etc. with a given name like this on your koseki, and would appreciate any personal anecdotes.
posted by No-sword to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Oh, duh, I just noticed that Miyashita wasn't born in Japan. Let's pretend that she was, and that the birth was registered at city hall in the usual way with that double-barreled name. Those are the circumstances that interest me.)
posted by No-sword at 8:17 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Our first son was born in Japan, and I handled all of the paperwork. Basically, the Japanese system does not provide for middle names, so his name is LAST NAME (my last name in katakana) + GIVEN NAME. And that's it. He has dual citizenship, so on his Japanese passport his name is LAST NAME (my last name in katakana) + GIVEN NAME. When we registered his birth in Canada he received a middle name.

I can't remember all the ins and outs of it (it's been five years since we returned to Canada), but, because I am considered to be a foreigner in Japan, I believe our son was added to my wife's koseki or household, and I believe my wife established her own koseki when she married me (if I was Japanese she would have joined my koseki or household). Interestingly, my wife chose to give up her maiden name in Japan, so her koseki is listed under my last name (in katakana, of course). In Canada she has kept her Japanese maiden name (it's kind of a pain in the ass to change it). So her Japanese passport has my last name, and her Canadian permanent resident documentation and social insurance card etc. has her maiden (Japanese name).

Finally, although our son has a katakana last name in Japan, he has a very Japanese first name, including kanji. When I registered his birth at city hall, the bastard at the desk got it wrong. I took a print out, so it wasn't my fault. City hall informs the local newspaper about births, so when I saw the wrong kanji in the birth announcement, I had the satisfaction of walking up to the smug prick and explaining to him how 昂 (the correct character) and 昴 are different.

I've always found city hall bureaucrats to be insufferable, so it was very satisfying.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 PM on February 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

I added a bit of explanation to my post so other folks who may not be as familiar with the Japanese system as No-Sword is could understand things a bit easier.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 PM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: There are no 'middle names' in (official) Japan, period. For daily life, you can use what you want, but when it comes time to fill out forms, there is no such thing as a form with space for a middle name.

My own two girls (dual nationals) each have two completely different names: their officlally registered Japanese name, which is their mother's last name plus their 'first name' (both in Japanese kanji), and then the name registered on their Canadian birth certificates, which is my last name, plus their English-language first and middle names. Neither country knows, nor cares, about the other name.

As for 'navigating' city hall, banking, etc. with a middle name, it is possible (I have a middle name), but the way it works in practice is that the first name and middle name are conflated into one. My passport name is First Middle Last. My name on all (important) Japanese documents (mortgage, deed, etc. etc.) is:
Last name: Last
First name: FirstMiddle

As far as errors like the one KokuRyu mentioned, we have a similar experience. Our girls were born in Canada, but we came over here when they were very young, and put them onto their mother's koseki. We didn't notice it that day, but one of the clerks made an error, and used the (common) 美 character for the 'mi' sound, instead of the character 実, which we had chosen. We only found out about this a couple of months later when getting a letter from the day-care center which used the incorrect character. When we asked them to correct their small error they said that they couldn't; this data came from City Hall. We followed the chain and discovered that the error was actually on the koseki. The people would do nothing by phone, so we went down to the office to correct it (a long journey). They wouldn't do it. "You can't change a name. Period. Name changing has to be done through Family Court." My wife went utterly ballistic, and we had a real scene. But they wouldn't change it ... no matter how much we pleaded. She finally solved the problem by basically parking the four of us right there on the bench in their office, sending me out for some food and drinks, and telling them that they had better be prepared to call the police, because we weren't going anywhere until this was changed.

A few hours later they gave in.
posted by woodblock100 at 3:32 AM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Being born to a German father and Japanese mother in Fukuoka thirty-odd years ago, I am somewhat familiar with this, but my experiences may be outdated (left in 'mid-eighties, although frequently back to visit). By western convention, I have an Anglo given name, Japanese middle name, and German surname.

As the others have stated above, there's no such thing as an 'official' middle name, which often led to headaches when dealing with city halls, ward offices, hospital admittance, &c. I've never had a problem registering or using full name, including middle name, at banks or post offices. While true that most forms don't contain a space for middle names, one benefit of not having a Japanese surname is that is always gives the reader pause, and allows for annotating accordingly, usually somewhere in the margin. (I'd imagine my parents' ethnicity been reversed, it would've been frequently glossed over.) Using katakana or Roman letters is probably your best bet, as it seem to trigger the subconscious "exception filter."

In short, it's possible, but don't expect any consistency. I've often seen my name registered as FirstMiddle Last, First MiddleLast, First Last, and Middle Last.
posted by pq at 6:13 AM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: This is somewhat tangential to the question, but I had a friend in Japan who was a Japanese citizen, born outside Japan to Japanese parents, spoke Japanese as her first language, and wound up settling in Japan as a child. Her business card gave her name as Kuniko L. Nakanishi (the L was for Linda).

I had another friend in Japan who was an American of Japanese descent, and she was evidently one of the first foreigners in Japan to obtain a credit card there. As no-sword no doubt knows, foreigners of Japanese descent typically see their surnames written in katakana by Japanese officialdom to show that they're not "really" Japanese, but credit cards only use kana, so there would be no way to indicate "we're using kana on this card because she's foreign." The credit-card issuer's solution was to put only her given name on the card, no surname at all.
posted by adamrice at 7:35 AM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the info, folks. So, the takeaway is, it's not a huge problem, but you might need to have some tiresome arguments, and you might end up registered under slightly different names in different places.
posted by No-sword at 8:07 PM on February 8, 2010

different names in different places

That's exactly the situation you want to avoid. When I arrived, in the mid-eighties, it was with no real intention of settling, so I was careless about how my name was used on different forms: telephone, rental agreement, bank accounts, etc. etc. For most of these, I simply used First Last (or Last First, as appropriate).

Skip ahead twenty years, and time to buy a house. This requires use of a registered seal, and plenty of 'official official' paperwork, and all of the ID on this led back to my passport, where my name is of course First Middle Last.

Because my name on lots of the other stuff was different, I had to go round and change everything before I could get the purchase paperwork finalized. It was a massive headache, and actually caused me to quit one bank (whose application form couldn't handle having Middle) and move to another one.

Stick with the name that shows on your passport, and which will be picked up on your Alien Registration, and use that for everything - at least if you have plans to be here for a long time ...
posted by woodblock100 at 9:16 PM on February 8, 2010

Here's a rather serendipitous update: our second son was born in Canada last year, and his birth was registered in British Columbia: FIRST NAME (Japanese) + MIDDLE NAME (Western) + LAST NAME (my last name).

We then registered his birth by mail with the Japanese Consulate and applied for Japanese citizenship. We didn't get a response ("It's a good thing!" my wife said) from the Consulate, and recently decided to apply for his Japanese passport.

My wife phoned Tsuruga City Hall (where our koseki is) about something to do with this process, and they said "Oh yes, your second son is registered."

Unfortunately, they fucked up the name, as our second son's name is registered as LAST NAME + MIDDLENAMEFIRSTNAME.

It's like they transcribed the name on the application sheet backwards, and then crammed the middle name and the first name together.

"Can't we change it?" I asked my wife.
"We would have to go to Family Court." Like, duh.
"So, if we move back to Japan for a couple of years and KokuRyu2 goes to school, his namecard is going to read MIDDLENAMEFIRSTNAME?" It would take about two namecards to hold it.

So, we're going to phone up the Consulate and see if it can be changed. What a pain in the ass, and what a disappointment. I put a lot of stock in names.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:52 PM on February 9, 2010

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