Formatting of Japanese names and places

+10 votes

I'm adding my in-laws and wondering how to spell my own name!

At the time of their immigration in 1935, our name Tobo was written 當房. So that's how I entered my husband's paternal grandparents (they both had the same surname). In the orthographic reforms following WWII, the first character was simplified, so in modern Japan our name is 当房. If you've ever enjoyed a bento box, the first character makes the "to" part of that word.

Technically both vowels are long in Japan, so a more accurate romanization is Tōbō or Toubou (depending on whether you're in the Hepburn or Kunrei-shiki camp). We don't pronounce or spell it that way in Colorado (we just rhyme with "hobo"), so I probably won't use either of those renderings.

Now, how will users ever find us? I guess I'll use 當房 for Last Name at Birth for those born in Japan before 1946 with Tobo as the current name for the Americans and  当房 as the current last name of any Japanese cousins. And 当房 as an Other Name for the old folks and as the Last Name at Birth for any Japanese folks born after 1946 (unless I'm told they used the old form). Maybe I should include 当房 as an Other Name for us Americans so the Japanese users can find us.

Who am I this time? blush

For places, I'd like to know the Japanese style. I use the English name in the biography since I'm writing in English, but are we really ready to accept "write the place names as known by the ancestor" in East Asia?

.On Wikipedia the Japanese address system article states that addresses start from the largest unit and go to the smallest. I know that Fujiye Tobo was born in Kaseda City, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. I think I should include Japan for starters, so I guess I would write 日本国鹿児島県加世田市 unless maybe I don't need the "koku" part of Nihon-koku. Any thoughts?

WikiTree profile: Eikichi Tobo
in Policy and Style by Karen Lowe G2G6 Pilot (139k points)
edited by Karen Lowe

A friend tells me I don't need that koku/kuni character  after Nihon 日本 in the place names. I decided to go with the Tobo spelling for all the nissei kids born in the US, and then use 當房, 当房 in the Other Last Names. Even if their parents would have used the Japanese characters in personal correspondence, religious life, etc., all the American records are going to have the romanized spelling so that should probably be the Last Name at Birth.

2 Answers

+1 vote
Kunrei-shiki is the form taught in Japanese schools and standardized by the government, Hepburn is adapted to English pronunciation. Following the style recommendations (do as they do, not as we do) I would vote for Kunrei-shiki as the method of choice for romanizing Japanese.
by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (542k points)
And to do as they do, I shouldn't romanize Japanese names and places in Japan, right? Just use the kanji. To do as my Japanese-American relatives do, I would just use their chosen spelling as it appears in American documents.
I would put names and places in Kanji/Kana. For lack of a better place I would put a romanized form of the name in the "Other Name" field, for places I would translate in the biography.

Now just how to figure out tategaki!

Is there a place where we need tategaki (vertical writing in East Asian languages) here on WikiTree?

Yes, you can see on Eikichi Tobo and Fujiye Tobo that I went with kanji for the place names. I'll be making changes as I get the kanji renderings of names from family members (especially the cousin in Japan who knows how to order koseki family registers!).

Thanks for your input, Helmut!

Oh, my quip about tategaki was just the result of a tiny bit of frustration with the system and its aspirations. Technically, vertical writing would be needed in a variety of cultures once you are far enough back in time when there was no horizontal alternative. What about right to left scripts? Last name/given name order? I just see too many issues where the good intentions of WikiTree to be culturally sensitive collide with technical and web design limitations.

Helmut, I do agree. I imagine these are just the challenges the Language Project was created to address. I'm going to start a Japanese glossary so that someone can come after me to tell me how far off i am. Please feel free to add/edit there.

I think that the Language Project could come up with standards how to romanize non-roman scripts. The cultural underpinnings of naming conventions could also be discussed by the Global Outreach Project which so far has mostly Western European background members.
0 votes
Hello Karen,

Would you like to join in a conversation about naming conventions for names that do not use the Roman alphabet or western style first and last names?  The question is at "LNAB for people who probably never had one" at

There is also a sidebar conversation about well known people with a single name. Hirohito and Sukarno are the profiles specifically mentioned.
As a polyglot who, I assume, will be creating profiles for ancestors who lived their lives in Japan, I think you can add a relevant viewpoint to the opinions expressed about how and if WikiTree should modify the database to accommodate.  Also, if you know of other WikiTree genealogists who have similar linguistic skills and familial histories, please invite them to participate.
by Michele Camera G2G6 Mach 1 (10.3k points)
edited by Michele Camera

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