A socio-political movement is gathering support in Japan to update Japanese surnames to better reflect the social statuses of people in modern Japan.
“Family names had long been easily changeable throughout Japanese history, and were not formalized until the Meiji era in the late 19th century when they were chosen pretty much at random,” explains Shinji Yoshikawa, spokesperson for Japan Will Smell as Sweet, the organisation at the forefront of this drive for change. “But even so, those names are outmoded and bear no reflection on our modern society.
“Take my name,” he continued. “It means ‘in the middle of a rice field’, and yet I grew up in the centre of Nagoya and have only seen rice on my plate. I think it would be far more accurate if it were to be changed to Shinji XXX meaning ‘Man of great importance’.”
Under the Japan Will Smell as Sweet proposals the general public will attend interviews and be assigned their names by a board of judges based on their findings, however they are facing stern opposition
“Japan currently has a wide range of names, over 100,000,” explained Daisuke Shimura from the Japanese census board. “Thanks to the relatively short period of time they have been in existence, this diversity has prevailed, unlike in China where they have seen something of a surname extinction.
“But under these proposals this is likely to change, with huge swathes of the country being redubbed things such as XXX, ‘Works himself to death’, XXX, ‘Irritatingly officious’ and XXX, ‘Smells badly on the train’.
“And can you imagine the problems in the education system?” he added. “There will be so many difficulties in school with over three quarters of the male teachers having the same name. There will be so much confusion that students won’t know which XXX Sensei, ‘creepy guy with a penchant for looking up girls’ skirts’ they will be having PE with. It’s just unworkable.