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Katakana and Roman Characters

I often help international clients set up companies in Fukuoka. Upon incorporation, the name of the director is registered on the companies register. As Roman (or alphabetic) characters are not permissible for the names of directors on the company’s registry (it is permissible for the name of a company), we have to transliterate most names into Japanese, katakana.

Photo by iStock/iSidhe

However, on the residence card, the names of foreign residents are expressed in Roman characters. Or, those who use Chinese characters, they can opt for Chinese characters, in addition to Roman characters. As you may know, the Japanese also have a tradition of using Chinese characters called kanji.

I recently came across a problem regarding this matter for a client who is from Hong Kong and was appointed to become the director of a new company. As she has a name using Chinese characters, we used the Chinese characters on the company register, which was duly registered.

Following the incorporation, however, when she applied for a corporate bank account at a bank, the bank refused the application because they cannot judge if the reading of the name in Chinese character on the companies register corresponds with her name in Roman characters on her residence card. In the end, we had to apply for rectification of her name on the companies register from Chinese character to katakana to make them clear.

Primarily, this problem lies in the inconsistency of the expression of the name in different systems (e.g., residence cards, companies register). Fundamentally, however, this is also concerned with the history of the Japanese language. In the 5th century and after that, when we learned new concepts, thoughts, etc. from the Chinese civilization, our ancestors used Chinese characters as they were to express new ideas. This was a radical but interesting approach. Meanwhile, in the 19th century and after that, when we learned new concepts, thoughts, etc. from Western civilization, we transliterated them into katakana. This was a softer approach.

Now, whether you like it or not, the English language occupies a dominant position in the world. So, I think it’s time to accept them as they are once we did in the 5th century. In fact, it is highly appreciated that our ancestors absorbed the gigantic knowledge from the Chinese civilization in that way. To put it, I am insisting on ceasing to express words from the West in katakana and instead use Roman characters as they are a part of the Japanese language.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this article is accurate at the time of posting, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ. If you do require advice or wish to find out more about the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Text by Atty. Atsushi Miyake of Miyake Law, Feb. 2020.
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Published: Feb 14, 2020 / Last Updated: Feb 14, 2020

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