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My last name/surname is West. Can I just write it as the kanji 西 nishi? It means West but it's also a last name. If not, how do you write West in katakana?

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    西 is a common last name in Japan. And West is written as ウェスト in katakana. – Wat Mar 25 '17 at 1:27
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Depends on what you mean by "use".

In any legal or formal circumstances, absolutely no chance. Your family name will be 「ウエスト」 or 「ウェスト」 with a small 「ェ」.

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%82%AB%E3%83%8B%E3%82%A8%E3%83%BB%E3%82%A6%E3%82%A7%E3%82%B9%E3%83%88

If you ever become a Japanese citizen, however, you will be permitted to change your name from 「ウエスト」 to 「西」 if that is what you still desire then.

If you are just visiting Japan and want to use the family name 「西」 among your friends while there, then basically no one would stop you from doing that. It would be understood as a kind of humor more than anything. In that case, naturally, your foreign resident card will NOT say your name is 「西」.

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"West" would usually be transcribed ウエスト or ウェスト (with the second kana the usual size or small).

I have seen people "translate" their surnames into Japanese, like

Silver → 白金【シルバー】

and print them onto business cards, but together with their actual name and with a transcription in katakana.

However, unless you become a Japanese citizen, you have no "Japanese name". Your 外国人登録証明書 (Alien Registration Card) will contain your name in rōmaji unless you can show that your legal name is written with kanji, for example if you are Chinese. (These kanji need to belong to this extensive list.)

Moreover, if you are a mid-to-long-term resident and you can show that you are being disadvantaged (e.g. discriminated against) because of your rōmaji name, the Minister of Justice may approve of replacing the rōmaji with appropriate kanji or kana.

ただし,ローマ字により氏名を表記することにより中長期在留者が著しい不利益を被るおそれがあることその他の特別の事情があると法務大臣が認めるときは,ローマ字に代えて,当該漢字又は当該漢字及び仮名を使用した氏名を表記することができます。

Source: 法務省 入国管理局 (Immigration Bureau of Japan)

In both cases the burden of proof lies with you, so getting a Japanese name is certainly not automatic.

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  • Neither of the answers is exactly true. It is remarkably easy to get a 通称 added to your residence card: I have done it twice. Once (many years ago) to add a kanji representation of my name (武来安) so that I could use a hanko for a bank account, and once more recently just to add the katakana form I normally use. In both cases I had to supply a document (more or less any document) showing that I used the name. – Brian Chandler Mar 25 '17 at 18:25
  • @BrianChandler Interesting. By "not exactly true" do you mean that "not automatic" should read "actually quite easy"? – Earthliŋ Mar 25 '17 at 19:39
  • 白金 is Platinum, 銀 is silver. – paullb Mar 26 '17 at 0:04
  • @paullb はっきん is platinum しろがね is silver, both may be written 白金. – Earthliŋ Mar 26 '17 at 0:06
  • @Earthliŋ 白金 as silver is non-standard Kanji usage jisho.org/search/%E7%99%BD%E9%87%91 but as it's one's name I suppose there is some literary license. – paullb Mar 26 '17 at 0:10

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