Y ou may ask why a non-Japanese living in Japan might want to be called by a Japanese name?

The Sino-Japanese character for bridgeIf you are familiar with the Japanese writing system, you may argue that non-Japanese names written in katakana are more authentic than Japanese aliases, because the former are mere representations of their non-Japanese originals. You might also argue that these katakana-names are more Japanese, because they are spoken and written in Japanese and reflect Japanese traditional naming practices. Indeed, I have been criticized by both Japanese and non-Japanese alike for bearing an authentic Japanese name.

Some have accused me of seeking to attract attention among other non-native residents or even garnishing favor from my Japanese hosts. Then too, there are those who believe that I reside in Japan illegally and am seeking to hide my true identity. Some have even asked me, if I were not a spy or alien from outer space. Still others have claimed that I use my Japanese alias as a sort of nom de guerre in order to say and do things that I would not otherwise say and do. Then too, let me not forget those who purposefully confound my Japanese name with that of Hashimoto Ryūtaro to make a joke.

The Sino-Japanese character for protect or guardFor whatever reason you dislike my Japanese name, or find it unusual and strange, I offer no apology for its existence. Rather, I recommend strongly that you consider deeply just what it means to carry a business card with two faces -- after all, this is the practice of both non-Japanese livng in Japan and Japanese who associate with them. My card has only one!

Certainly, among many living in Japan there is a strict psycho-sociological dividing-line between things Japanese and those not. In the cemetery close to where I live, for example, the graves of foreigners are grouped together and separated from those of deceased Japanese. Most Japanese that I have met tell me that this separation is due to differences in religion. This is surely not the case, for if it were true than why are Japanese of different religions buried together? Moreover, why is it that Japanese and foreigners sharing the same religious belief are not buried together?

Of course, not all Japanese and non-Japanese think alike, and there are those who appreciate my Japanese name -- especially, my students.

In pronunciation the name Hashimori is nothing special, because there are many Japanese with the same name; this is, of course, part of the reason that I chose it. However, because I am the only resident of Japan who writes Hashimori using this particular set of Sino-Japanese characters, it is unique.1

The Sino-Japanese character for rockThe name Hashimori is an indirect translation of my German family name Stegemann -- a name that many native English speakers have difficulty pronouncing on their first attempt. Unlike the various katakana names I have been assigned at various times since my arrival in Japan, no Japanese has ever had trouble with either the pronunciation or written characterization of Hashimori.

I have always believed that non-native residents should attempt to blend into their host culture as much as possible, and indeed, among my Japanese friends my name succeeds wonderfully in this regard. In the end it is much easier for one to change with the help of many, than for the many to change with the help of one.

Unfortunately, Japanese want foreigners to be comfortable in Japanese society, but never so comfortable that they want to become Japanese; or at least, this is the impression with which many non-Japanese are left. In the city tax bureau, where I pay my national taxes, the births dates of foreigners and Japanese are recorded separately according to two different calender systems. According to the Japanese calender I was born in Shōwa 24 -- the same year in which the late Japanese emperor Hirohito enjoyed his 24th year of reign. Notwithstanding, unlike Japanese who were born in this year, my year of birth appears as 1949.

Of course, many Japanese businessmen will celebrate the beginning of the 21st Century with their non-Japanese business partners and drink champagne in total oblivion to the occasion's religious and cultural significance. No matter. What is important is national economic survival in a competitive global economy.

The Sino-Japanese character for personW hereas the English translation of my German family name comes closest to "man of bridges" or "bridgeman", the Japanese translation is much closer to "guardian of bridges", or "bridge keeper". Truly, some bridges are more difficult to defend than others.

Iwato is my adopted Japanese given-name and probably better thought of as a nickname, because it bears no meaningful relation to my English given- or middle-names. It does, however, combine the many facets of my personality into a single epithet representing my philosophical background, anthropological outlook, iconclastic disposition, strength of character, and sense of permanence. Notwithstanding, it is used as little more than a place holder for my registered alias on official Japanese documents.

1 I have since learned that there are other Japanese who write their family name as I do. This was something that was difficult for me to have known when my name was created. In fact, I only learned of it on the internet long after I had left Japan in 2000. (text)