Sun, Feb 07, 2016 - Page 12 News List

From Lee to Iwasato back to Lee

Taiwanese under Japanese rule were encouraged to changed their names starting in 1940, but the option wasn’t popular despite government incentives

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Taiwanese soldiers fighting for the Japanese army pose for a picture with the Japanese flag in their lap. These soldiers were symbolic of the Japanese government’s efforts to Japanize their colonial subjects.

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons

Taiwan in Time: Feb. 8 to Feb. 14

If the Japanese hadn’t lost World War II, it is likely that Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) surname would be Aoyama. And former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) would still be officially known as Iwasato Masao.

Historian Shih-shan Henry Tsai (蔡石山) writes in his book, Lee Teng-hui and Taiwan’s Quest for Identity, that Lee’s father was the first one in the family to “Japanize” his name to Iwasato Tatsuo when he served as a policeman.

After the Japanese colonial government announced their policy to allow and encourage Taiwanese to Japanize their names on Feb. 11, 1940 — which was the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of Japan — Lee and his older brother had their names changed too.

“Like other Taiwanese fathers who desired to improve their family’s social and economic conditions, [Lee] decided to take Japanese names for his entire family,” Tsai writes.

This name-change policy was part of the government’s push to Japanize their colonial subjects, a direct result of the country’s imperialist policy that came to a head with its invasion of China in 1937. The goal was to eradicate Taiwanese of their identity and transform them into full Japanese citizens, who, by extension, would be willing to die for the Japanese emperor in battle (about 30,000 Taiwanese died as Japanese soldiers during World War II).

While the name change was optional and was limited to families that were already speaking Japanese and deemed to be proper “imperial subjects,” other changes were mandatory such as the regulation of local performance arts such as puppetry, banning the teaching of Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) in schools, forced conversion to Shintoism and worship and the abolishment of Chinese-language newspapers.

Historian Ho Feng-chiao (何鳳嬌) writes in an Academia Historica study that some Japanese living in Taiwan opposed the move as it would diminish their superior status and make it harder to distinguish the two groups, and as a result the name change became a policy of “encouragement” only.

Ho writes that people could pretty much choose their own new surname, but four types of surnames were banned: those relating to the Japanese imperial house, any belonging to famous Japanese historic figures, those referring to the original surname’s place of origin in China and “other improper names.”

There were a number of ways to adopt a surname, including breaking up the original surname’s Chinese character into two parts and adopting a Japanese pronunciation, using new Japanese characters to approximate the original surname’s Chinese pronunciation or adopting certain features of their environment such as rice fields, rivers and bridges.

Tsai explains how Lee became Iwasato in his book. Iwa in Japanese means rock, which Tsai says refers to the rocky terrain of Sanjhih (三芝), where the Lee clan resided. Sato is pronounced “li” in Chinese, so in a way the Lees still retained a trace of their original name.

Taiwanese were not enthusiastic about the policy, and despite numerous government incentives, by the end of 1941 only about 1 percent of the population made the change. Many who did were either prominent citizens or those who worked closely with the Japanese or in a Japanese institution, such as public servants and teachers. Like Lee’s father, many also hoped that the name change would provide better educational opportunities for their children.

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