Ok, so you have been living for a few months (or years) now in Japan. You still have a few years ahead of you (or a lifetime). Everything is nice. You are used to life here. Maybe you speak a few words of Japanese, and maybe you are fluent already. 

Nonetheless, one day you use an online service that requires you to connect your bank account. You go through all the steps, and when you hit execute, suddenly, there is a pop-up! You are hit with “The name doesn’t match any existing bank account” or “The name is wrong” or any form of that.

Any person living in Japan long enough knows that names are a nightmare. Leave pronunciation problems aside, and everybody will spell your katakana name the way they feel that day. Your name might be John, but you might be ジョン, or you might be ジョーン. Or maybe your name has a little more syllables like Abdullah. You might be アブドラ or アブドゥッラー or アブドッラー or any other variation.

The problem is real and can be a hindrance to your life. You have to remember how your name is registered in every place, all because some random person, when you first arrived, decided that this is the way to write your name in Katakana.

Why is this bothersome?

  • Mainly your bank-related transactions get affected. The spell of the name you register in X service is different than the name in the bank account. Or, like in my case, your passport includes several names that conclude your “official name”, but you want to go through life with a simple first and last name. (So you can live in the Japanese system)
  • Every government body has a different spell for your name. 
  • You have to remember different spells. If you don’t use the Japanese language in your daily life, that is much more bothersome.
  • Annoyance, as every service rep, will call you a different name.

So what is the solution?

City hall!

Actually, the first step is to spend 15 minutes with your self. (And with a Japanese person if you need help) and:

1- Decide precisely how do you want your name written in Katakana.

2- If you have multiple names in your official documents, decide which one(s) will be the “last name 姓” and which one(s) will be the “first name 名”. 

I am not sure about how middle names work, to be honest. In my case, my passport has my father’s name and grandfather’s first letter written. When I arrived in Japan, it was made to have both of them go with my first name (Mutaz) as a “first name 名”. So my official name in Japanese looks like this

Last name (姓) |

First name (名) |
Mutaz father-name grandfather-1st-letter

3- Write that down, take a good look. Burn it to your memory.

4- Go to the city hall. Tell them you want to register your name in Katakana. They’ll make you create/modify a seal certificate (印鑑証明書). (I assume you have a stamp already. If you don’t, please make one first, this is your chance to make it official)

5- Give them the name you decided, in the order that you have chosen. You’ll go through a confirmation process. It shouldn’t take more than 10-20 minutes (+ waiting time at city hall I mean)

6- Congratulations! You have an official name in Japanese!

7- Take a few copies with you.

*This is how they look like. Some of the city halls print them on A4 papers.

Oh, and you can print those from the nearest convenience store if you have your My Number ID.

Now to the fieldwork

This is the part where you have to go around announcing you have an official name. Don’t worry. You don’t have to do this in one day. My advice is to plan it ahead and go over it in the upcoming weeks.

Places you want to correct your katakana name. (Make sure to take the city hall certificate you just made)

  • All your bank accounts (This is the most critical step.) Tell them to make you a new cash card with your new name in it.
  • Any investment accounts you have
  • Your mobile service
  • Your employer. At least your official name in their internal system so that all your official certificates, your health insurance, and tax-related info…etc are registered in that name. (If you are self-employed, then check with the city hall that your health insurance and pension are named correctly)
  • Anywhere else where they require an official katakana name

Reading this article, you might feel this is trivial. I know, why bother to do all of that? Well, the honest answer is convenience and peace of mind. This small inconvenience keeps popping up at the wrong time. I felt powerless at the beginning. But then I decided to take a step forward, and it was so fruitful.

Once I had my name corrected, all my official documents reflected that. So that when two official documents meet, they don’t contradict, and I don’t have to get frustrated about it. Going forward, whenever I have to register something in an official capacity, I don’t have to hesitate. My name will always be the same, just as in other languages. *pats self on the back*

Cover photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

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