Japan tells the world it has been saying the name of its prime minister Abe Shinzo incorrectly – 13 years after he took office

  • Foreign minister reminds world we’ve been getting it wrong for over a decade 
  • By Japanese convention, family names are said and written before given names 
  • Education minister urges all government bodies to use family names first as well

What’s the name of the Japanese Prime Minister? Chances are that even international politics experts and trivia buffs have been getting that one wrong for 13 years.

Tokyo is taking the opportunity of the dawning of the new Reiwa (beautiful harmony) era that began this month with the coronation of Emperor Naruhito to ask media in the rest of the world to call the leader they have known as Shinzo Abe by his right name, Abe Shinzo. 

‘I plan to ask international media organisations to do this,’ Foriegn Minister Taro Kono said. 

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, whose name Foriegn Minister Taro Kono says the world has been saying wrong for over a decade

‘Domestic media outlets that have English services should consider it, too,’ the foreign minister added.

By Japanese convention, a person’s family name comes before their given name, just as in China or Korea – where foreign journalists seem have no problem getting the names of politicians and celebrities right.

Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama said his department would encourage all government authorities to use family names first.

Japanese PM Abe Shinzo nails a beaver-shaped knocker that he bought as a souvenir in Canada onto his doorpost

But Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the issue was less clear-cut.

‘There are a lot of factors we have to consider, including convention,’ he said. 

Abe had his first stint as PM from 2006-2007, before being re-elected to the notoriously unstable post at the head of Japanese government in 2012.

International reporters and editors have been correctly naming neighbouring leaders in the meantime, like Chinese President Xi Jinping, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean State Affairs Commission Chairman Kim Jong Un.

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