“Each Korean and each name of a Korean may seem like a small thing,” the guidance read, “but when they come together, they form the national image of the Republic of Korea.”
However, even those who support the idea of respecting cultural naming tradition say it is not practical to reverse entrenched practices.
“I do see the point in a way, but I think it’s also a futile exercise and likely to contribute to confusion,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo. “It’s naïve for the Japanese government to think that it can get the international media and beyond to switch overnight.”
(The New York Times generally writes Chinese and Korean names with surname first, while using the Western order for Japanese names — although its general policy is to render people’s names the way they prefer.)
Some in the Japanese establishment say that Japan should not necessarily invoke China or South Korea. “I think we opened up rather earlier than them,” said Ichiro Fujisaki, a former Japanese ambassador to the United States, referring to Japan’s opening to the West with the arrival of the American Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853.
Reversing the convention now, said Sachiko Ishikawa, who works as a translator in Tokyo, would be “taking a step backward in time.” Ms. Ishikawa, whose mother is German and father is Japanese, said she was concerned that the proposal was motivated more by politics than cultural respect.
“In my opinion, there is an unnerving wave of nationalism growing in Japan — and to be honest, I think this is a small symptom of a much bigger problem,” Ms. Ishikawa said. “The world is shifting toward right-wing ideologies, so it’s obvious that this isn’t so much about how to write about P.M. Abe, but rather a sloppy way to establish their nationalistic sentiments and demands overseas.”
Perhaps a hint of Mr. Abe’s views will emerge during Mr. Trump’s visit. When the American president came to Japan in November 2017, Mr. Abe gave him hats emblazoned with the slogan “Donald and Shinzo make alliance even greater.” If the hats say “Abe” this time, we’ll know.