Wa-pedia
Wa-pedia


Wa-pedia Home > Japanese Language > Japanese family names
Japanese family names
Written by Maciamo on 8 September 2005

Before the Meiji Restoration, most Japanese people did not have a family name. Only the nobles, samurai and some merchants and artisans did. At the time, the vast majority of the population were peasants. The new Meiji government made it compulsory for everyone to choose a surname, using only authorised kanji (Chinese characters).

Nowadays, there aren't so many Japanese family names because the number of kanji that legal limitation on the use of kanji. It is the same for given names, but even more for surnames as the kanji used are almost exclusively geographic features and adjectives. What is more, two adjectives (e.g. 高 + 大) cannot be combined, so the total of family names possible is further limited to combination between the "geographic feature" group and the "adjective" group, or 2 geographic features together (though it doesn't work with all).

Here are the most common geographic features (including plants and man-made locations) used in surnames, with their usual pronuciation and meaning :




  • 川 (kawa) : river
  • 橋 (hashi) : bridge
  • 井 (i) : well
  • 田 (ta, da) : rice paddy
  • 原(hara, bara, wara) : plain
  • 野 (no) : field
  • 芝 (shiba) : lawn
  • 藤 (fuji) : wisteria
  • 松 (matsu) : pine tree
  • 杉 (sugi) : Japanese cedar
  • 竹 (take) : bamboo
  • 木 (ki) : tree
  • 林 (hayashi) : woods, copse
  • 森 (mori) : forest
  • 坂 (saka) : slope
  • 岡 (oka) : hill
  • 山 (yama) : mountain
  • 池 (ike) : pond
  • 沼 (numa) : swamp, lake
  • 沢 (zawa) : swamp, marsh
  • 崎 (saki) : promontory
  • 石 (ishi) : stone
  • 岩 (iwa) : rock
  • 谷 (tani) : valley
  • 浜 (hama) : beach
  • 島 (shima) : island
  • 村 (mura) : village
  • 里 (sato) : small village
  • 戸 (to) : gate
  • 宮 (miya) : palace
  • 神 (kami) : god

The following are a less common in surnames :

  • 土 (do, tsuchi) : earth
  • 桜 (sakura) : cherry tree
  • 菊 (kiku) : chrysanthemum
  • 寺 (tera) : temple
  • 神 (kan, kami) : deity
  • 堀 (hori) : moat, canal
  • 江 (e) : inlet, bay
  • 滝 (taki) : waterfall
  • 泉 (izumi) : spring

As for adjectives, the most common are probably these ones :

  • 高 (taka) : high
  • 大 (oo) : big
  • 子 (ko) : small
  • 中 (naka) : middle
  • 上 (ue, kami) : above
  • 下 (shita, shimo) : under
  • 富 (tomi) : rich
  • 細 (hoso) : narrow
  • 広 (hiro) : broad
  • 長 (naga) : long
  • 永 (naga) : eternal
  • 丸 (maru) : round
  • 黒 (kuro) : black
  • 白 (shira, shiro) : white
  • 青 (ao) : green, blue
  • 吉 (yoshi) : good
  • 福 (fuku) : lucky

Note that some nouns are used like adjectives, as they characterize a geographic location :

  • 本 (moto) : origin
  • 口 (guchi) : mouth, entry
  • 熊 (kuma) : bear
  • 稲 (ina) : rice-plant
  • 酒 (saka) : alcohol
  • 金 (kane) : money

Interestingly, some of the most common names are some kind of exceptions :

For example, all the names that use the "ON reading" :

  • 斉藤 : Saitou
  • 左藤 : Satou
  • 伊藤 : Itou
  • 武藤 : Mutou
  • 加藤 : Katou
  • 後藤 : Gotou

The "-tou" suffix always means "wisteria", but the prefix doesn't really mean anything. I heard that these are descendants or partisans of the Fujiwara (藤原) clan, and that the prefix was used to differentiate the various branches, maybe by regional location based on the old feudal domain names. E.g. 武 (Musashi) in West Tokyo, 伊¬†for either 伊予 (Iyo = Ehime prefecture) or 伊賀 Iga, in Kansai).

Other names use kanji found almost exclusively in those names :

  • 渡辺 : Watanabe => across the area (?)
  • 鈴木 : Suzuki => bell tree (strange name)
  • 佐賀 : Saga => Probably from the region's name.
  • 三宅 : Miyake => three houses

20 most common Japanese family names

  1. (佐藤)Satō
  2. (鈴木)Suzuki
  3. (高橋)Takahashi
  4. (田中)Tanaka
  5. (渡辺)Watanabe
  6. (伊藤)Itō
  7. (山本)Yamamoto
  8. (中村)Nakamura
  9. (小林)Kobayashi
  10. (斎藤)Saitō
  11. (加藤)Katō
  12. (吉田)Yoshida
  13. (山田)Yamada
  14. (佐々木)Sasaki
  15. (山口)Yamaguchi
  16. (松本)Matsumoto
  17. (井上)Inoue
  18. (木村)Kimura
  19. (林)Hayashi
  20. (清水)Shimizu

Popular Content on Wa-pedia.com





Trending on Wa-pedia.com

Copyright © 2002-2017 Wa-pedia.com All Rights Reserved.