Don’t be alarmed if a translator working from Japanese to English asks you how to pronounce (or read) a personal or place name. This isn’t a sign that they lack basic knowledge of the language, but rather a comment on how complex Japanese names can be.

The Japanese themselves do the same thing – even a native speaker can’t always tell how a name is pronounced, as many names have several alternate readings and the only way to find out which one it is is to ask the person themselves or someone who knows them. Place names are less of a challenge, but can still trip up the unwary.

Hikaru? Kou? Or one of 27 other options listed in one dictionary of names.

本町 Honmachi? Motomachi? It depends on the name given in that particular area.

Just as a Japanese taxi driver stopping off at a police box for directions doesn’t make them any less competent than their colleagues around the world (Japanese addressing and street numbering is a bit of a black art) a translator who asks to confirm the reading of names is determined to get the translation right.