I just saw the latest edition of Kendo World which is now out on Kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E5OSFFO and it contains a really positive book review of “Kendo, A Comprehensive Guide”. The writer, Alex Bennett, does however point out that the cover picture shows me with the katakana name Saruman on my zekken and compares me to the “White Wizard” in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
I have been wearing the same kana on my tare for over 30 years and for most of them, I have been aware that it is not an accurate rendition of my name. Salmon should be spelled in katakana as sa mo n. Nevertheless, the zekken has stayed in place because most of my Japanese friends have got used to it. The confusion goes back to the beginning of my time in Japan, before I had even got round to signing on at the YMCA language school. I asked a colleague to write my name for my new zekken and he must have been confused by my cockney accent when he wrote sa ru ma n.
This made me think about the difficulty of transcribing many western names into Japanese, some are almost impossible to write accurately. I had a long circular conversation with a Japanese sempai when referring to the French kenshi, Pierre l’heureux sensei. The confusion was caused by the fact that his name in katakana was simply written as Lulu. I ordered a zekken from Japan for a student called Carruthers and went to great pains to explain on the phone that his name should read ka ra za zu. It came back spelled perfectly, except we got the romanised spelling wrong. Other names can be unintentionally comical. The first name Gary written in Japanese makes people think of pickled ginger and several eastern European names can appear to be very rude.
The use of kanji for western names is even more dangerous. It seems to work well for dojo names, even non-Japanese ones. The dojo in St Etienne uses the kanji for Aka Mon (red gate) as they are located in Porteuil Rouge. This is particularly memorable for Japanese people as Tokyo University is known as Aka Mon because of the original colour of the entrance. Cambridge University kendo club use the kanji for bridge in Cambashi.
People’s names in kanji are more of a mine field. A friend whose surname was Peace was known by our Japanese friends as as Heiwa as he used a literal translation in kanji. The other alternative is to find “sound alike” kanji that match the sound of your name but can have irrelevant meanings. I explored some at the time I cemented my name in incorrect katakana. There were various options on meaning from the relatively sedate Westgate to an ungrammatical but memorable monkey man. Maybe being the White Wizard is not so bad.