Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Japanese Perspective on the New Prince
For everyone who hasn't been living in a complete media blackout for the past month, you undoubtedly know that Japan's imperial family has a new prince. This was momentous news, because it looked like there weren't going to be any boys in the latest generation, and they had gone so far, in the past several years, as to discuss changing the succession laws to be "the first-born child" rather than "first-born son." Such a radical break from tradition, though, came to a screeching halt at the birth of the new prince. (For more basic information, the BBC announcement of the birth is here.)

Anyway, I took the opportunity to email my favorite ex-co-teacher in Japan, Mr. Kamiyama, to find out what he thought, and he had lots of information about the name, much more interesting and informative than the cursory BBC description, so I figured I'd share:
The new prince was named Hisahito, which consists of two kanji. The latter half of the name, "hito," has been inherited by the men of the imperial family. As you know, one kanji usually has more than one way of pronunciation--usually, one Japanese way and a (old) Chinese way--and the Chinese way of "hito" is "jin," which has been considered to be an indispensable virtue for wise men to have in Confucianism. The idea of "jin" includes love, affection, consideration, and a strong will not to be conquered by oneself. A name of a male member of the royal family is made up of two kanji, and the latter half is already fixed. So when a boy is born, only the former part is to be determined.

The kanji for the first part, "Hisa," means being with composure, self-composed, with serenity, not in haste, (and never-ending when read in another way). Although this kanji has a fairly good meaning and more and more parents use it for their boys' names these days, it has traditionally, and tacitly, been thought to be not-for-a-name kanji. I have no idea why, but that's the way it has been. In this sense, the imperial family has been changed, because they have been considered conservative in every way.

As a name, it doesn't sound good, least to me. Especially I don't like it in the sense that the "h" sound is duplicated, which is not easy even for Japanese to pronounce clearly and correctly, and I bet much less for French people. I'm sure they will call him just "Prince," not by his name. Some of my colleagues at school agreed to me about the name.

By the way, do you know the imperial family is the only exception that they don't have a family name. They have only their given names. This shows their unusualness.

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