Foreign Names/Aliases in Japan

As I’m planning to spend some time living and working in Japan, this is a topic I’m curious about.

I’ve read that the standard procedure in Japan is to have foreign names represented as Katakana in official documents. Is it possible to choose the Katakana spelling of your name yourself or is this done by the authorities?

I have also heard that it is possible to pick an alias that can be recognized and used in documents, but I wasn’t able to find any conclusive information on how this is done. I have a pretty long and difficult last name and I would like to at least shorten it to make things easier for Japanese people and of course myself. Does anybody of you have any experience with this?

Thanks in advance

2 Likes

From what I’ve heard, you choose the spelling yourself.

4 Likes

I’m fairly sure you choose it yourself. I believe you fill in a form at the municipal office. I think it has to match what you have on your passport though. The rules may not be that strict though, because my friend studying in Japan was telling me that he technically could have written his name in kanji, just that he was worried it would cause problems with proving that documents belonged to him. (We’re both ethnically Chinese, so we have Chinese names along with English ones. Both names are on official record in our country of origin, but we generally use our English names/name transcription while overseas. Our passports are also only in English.)

I have no idea how aliases work since all of my names are fairly short. I’ve heard the same thing as you (that aliases can be officially recognised), but I don’t know exactly how it works.

EDIT: Here’s a document from the Ministry of Internal Affairs covering how aliases (通称名) work. You might want to download it and rotate the second page though, because it’s a headache to read in its original orientation: https://www.soumu.go.jp/main_sosiki/jichi_gyousei/c-gyousei/zairyu_1/pdf/080805_1_si1.pdf

Short version: it seems you can register just one alias at the municipal office. I’m not sure if you need to provide proof that it’s being used though. I don’t really feel like analysing the document in full right now. Sorry. Plus, I think someone with experience would be able to give a clearer answer than that document, because I’m not sure it covers the procedure.

4 Likes

Absolutely no need to apologize. That is very helpful, thanks!

1 Like

When I first registered my place of living to receive my residence card, I was allowed to pick any katakana transcription of my name that I wanted, which I was really happy about.

My first name has a very common and established katakana transcription that is based on the English pronunciation of my name, which sounds completely different from the way my name sounds in my language. Sometimes I even got corrected by (well meaning) Japanese on how to pronounce and/or write my name :sweat_smile:

So you get to pick whatever you want, with in reason I assume. Not sure what happens if your real name is “Tom” and you put “イヌヤシャ” there.

7 Likes

It’s fine, it’s my middle name.

5 Likes

I have that same issue! Thankfully when I registered at uni I was able to correct the katakana name they had come up with for my hanko (personal signature stamp), to match the right pronunciation, but I once read an article about people getting into some real difficulties because of such differences.

5 Likes

Thanks everybody.

What I’m taking away from this is that if I decide to stay in Japan for a prolongued time, I had better make sure that my Katakana spelling is the same in every official document and address issues early on.

About the identity confirmation:
I imagine that when you register at the municipal office for the first time, you get some kind of document that proves that your foreign name is officially assigned to the aforementioned Katakana, no?

2 Likes