SSLIPUP Database – guidance paper no. 1

The katakana transcription of your name

Oliver Mayer

12 April 2001, revised edition 9 January 2003

The transcription of a non-Japanese names into katakana is an important topic, when you start life in Japan. Katakana are Japanese characters only used in Japan. As our latin letters (called "romaji" in Japanese) are not normally used in official documents, words in these letters must be transcribed. For this, the Japanese use the katakana. Each katakana represents a syllable, a total of 46 characters exist, and through combinations many different sounds can be written in katakana. Some foreign names are easy to transcribe into katakana, while others are more difficult, as katakana does not know any difference between L and R, also does not have a V-sound or a TH, let alone anything like a German umlaut,

Let`s start with my family name. I have always transcribed itマイヤー, made of the characters ma i ya plus a – indicating the lengthening of the preceding vowel. However my university’s administration usesマイアーma i a, which is not very different and does not cause any problem understanding who is meant – but all official university papers are now writtenマイアー. That means I had to open a back account using this transcription. If I would already have opened a bank account using my prefered transcription ofマイヤー, then I would probably never have got any salary.

It should be noted that the kyomuka 教務課 of our university writes my name マイヤー! Other Japanese have usedマヤー orメイヤー for my name.

Besides my family name, I have a given name Oliver and my middle name Ludwig, which I hardly use. However, all three names are included in official university papers (and there are many official papers). The transcription of Oliverオリバー was clear (although in one caseオリヴァー was used), but Ludwig made some problems, as ルトヴィヒ、ルートビヒ、ルードビヒorルードビッヒ are all possible with only minimal differences in spelling. Now nearly all papers include my middle name, which makes it a bit difficult for the Japanese to write my name.

Therefore, to show the Japanese clearly the order of your name you can try to put a comma between your family name and your given name. Japanese always have their family name first, but even when you do that to help them, some of them may think "foreigners always have their family name as the last name", and then you have the problem. So try Mayer, Oliver マイヤー、オリバー.

As mentioned before, if you open a bank account, your name must appear there exactly as your employer wants it, otherwise you will never get any money. As you do not pay any fee for a bank account in Japan, you can open accounts with different spellings at different banks, if you like. It actually turned out that one bank account has my name written in latin letters on the cover of the savings book, while katakana are used inside the book and on the cash card.

For opening a bank account, you need an inkan 印鑑, a Japanese name stamp. Inkans can be very complicated and artistic, but for daily life a simle inkan for about 1,000 Yen is enough. Make two inkans, as one will be kept by the university. If a friend orders them for you before you come to Japan, you can open the bank account faster, as it may take up to a week until the inkan is ready. (I have recently noticed that many inkan shops have online-orders, so you may try that.) My inkan actually says マイヤー, but this did surprisingly not pose any problems at university, where I am written マイアー.

So go to any bank in Japan during their short business hours (9 to 15 Monday to Friday), with your inkan and your alien card (see below). An account will be opened within 10 or 20 minutes normally, and you must immediately make a deposit (100 Yen is enough). You do not need a registered inkan for that.

When you arrive in Japan, you must get a "Certificate of alien registration" gaikokujin toroku shomeisho 外国人登録証明書available from your city or ward office. On this certificate, your name is normally written in latin characters. However, when I asked at my local ward office to get an inkan-certificate inkan-shomeisho印鑑証明書 (used to proof that your inkan is not fake), they said that this was not possible because my name on the "Certificate of alien registration" was not written in katakana. I just did not bother any more, but it turned out that several months later I had to get that inkan certificate, otherwise I could not get a car. So the friendly people at the ward office told me I first had to register my name in katakana, which is then written on the back of your alien card, and after that my katakana-inkan was registered. Please note that without a registered inkan you cannot make certain kinds of contracts in Japan!


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