Hey readers! (to all 10 of you :P)
I put up a post about things that irked me about Japan a little while ago, and somehow that got a lot of views! Well ok, it only got 63 views, but for me that’s a lot! So today, I’ve decided to continue the series with something else that totally irks me about Japan, but will NEVER change, Japanese names.
No I don’t hate the names of Japanese people at all, in fact I think they sound rather cool, and some of the female ones are pretty cute. I’m also not talking about how they reverse their names and present the surname before the first name. What I do hate however, is how it is near impossible to read someone’s name without prior knowledge of how it is read. Unless it is a common name like 佐藤 (satou) or 鈴木 (suzuki) (These two are the first and second most common surnames in Japan. I have 2 Satou’s and 1 Suzuki in my department, gosh). What do I mean? read on!
Let’s start with Hatsune Miku! Hatsune Miku’s name in Kanji is the following: 初音未来.
So you ask… Why am I crying about it? It’s clearly Hatsune Miku…. WRONG. You only read it as Hatsune Miku because you knew it in advance. In reality, 初音 can be read as Hatsune, Uine, and Haine. 未来 can be read as Miku, Mirai （Danny Choo’s Mascot), Miki, Asuka, Itsuka, Mikuna, Mikuru and many many more. As you can see from here, most of the time last names have fewer readings than first names.
In fact, the number of readings is so catastrophic that the government has stepped in and put limits on the number of Kanji that can be used as names and their associated readings. If this pamphlet that I got from the city hall is to believed, the number of Kanji that are allowed to be used stands at 2,232. Also, to make it worse readings of Kanji for names are INDEPENDENT of the Kanji used for text. Case in point, 英雄 read eiyuu in text, but is read.. Hideo, Eio, Fusao, or Akio as a name.
Ok, so you say it’s only difficult because Hatsune Miku is a made up name. Let me pull out a real name from the internet. In keeping with the theme, I’m going to go with Fujita Saki、藤田咲, voice sampler for Hatsune Miku. Ok, so we know her name is Fujita Saki because I just told you, but what else could you have potentially read her name as?
藤田 could have been Fujita, Touda, Fuereira, Fushida, Fujida, or Fudzita.
咲 could have been Saki、Emi, Emu, Sai, Saka, Saku, Sakuji, Sayaka、Shou, or Momoka.
So how do you read someone’s name properly if it is someone you have never met? To put it quite simply, you don’t. When you introduce yourself in Japan especially in business, during the exchange of business cards you wait until the person reads his name to you or you take your best guess and wait for them to correct you (9/10 times you will be wrong). After he does, you’re going to be expected to remember it. I’m terrible with names even in English, asking me to remember names in Japanese is impossible, so I usually scribble in the reading of the name on the card, while no one is looking :P.
So there you have it :P. Don’t despair if you cannot read a Japanese person’s name! Chances are, a native speaker probably couldn’t get it right on the first try either.