For context, I'm writing an essay in English on a Japanese movie about a particular family that goes by the name of Sasaki. In the movie, the characters are mostly referred to by their family name. The husband in particular is exclusively referred to as Sasaki, though he does in fact have a given name, Ryûhei.

Firstly, my question is, how do you generally refer to Japanese people when writing in English? Do you use just their family name, just their given name, or both?

Second, if you use just their family name, is it appropriate to use both names to distinguish between members of the same family? If so, is it okay to shorten their distinguishable names to just their given name after referring to them by their full name at least once? For example, the first time I refer to the husband I might say "Ryûhei Sasaki", but each time afterwards is it okay for me to simply refer to him as "Ryûhei"?

  • 3
    "how do you generally refer to Japanese people when writing in English " <-- それって英語の質問じゃないんですかね・・・ – Chocolate Dec 4 '17 at 2:18
  • The issue is not a language one, but the difference between movie dialog and describing the scenario in writing. If you were writing your essay in Japanese (without the visual/audible cues), how would you tell the difference between family members? – user3169 Dec 4 '17 at 7:06
  • ^ 質問者は "when writing in English " って書いているのに、"How I would tell the difference between family members if I were writing my essay in Japanese " を回答に書いちゃっても構いませんかね・・参考になるでしょうか。。 – Chocolate Dec 4 '17 at 15:25

I think the answer to your question depends almost entirely on the English context in which you're writing. If it's an essay for a class then clarity should probably take precedence over anything else. If you're submitting an article to a journal, then there is likely a style guide that you should reference. What's "appropriate" is going to vary based on the expectations of your audience.

To more directly answer your questions, though:

  1. I tend to refer to characters in the same way as the text in which they appear. If the text calls them largely uses "Sasaki," then I'll generally use "Sasaki." As in your case, when there are multiple characters with the same last name, you'll need to distinguish between them by using their first name. I'd probably introduce them using their full name (to inform the reader that they're part of the family) and afterwards use their only first name. Writing "Ryuhei Sasaki" every time is just adding unnecessary words to your text.

  2. I answered this in part in #1, but absolutely! Think about how grating it'd be to read a paragraph on the husband and wife's relationship in which you read "Sasaki" fifteen times. At that point it isn't giving the reader any useful information.

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