Society Japanese Family Names

By JREF · Nov 3, 2011 · ·
  1. JREF
    Modern Japanese names (日本人の氏名 nihonjin no shimei) usually consist of a family name (surname), followed by a given name. This order is common in Asian countries, while middle names are not generally used. Japanese names are usually written in Chinese characters (漢字 kanji) in Japanese pronunciation. Japanese family names are extremely varied: according to estimates, there are over 100,000 different surnames in use today in Japan. Common family names in Japan include Satō (佐藤), Suzuki (鈴木) and Takahashi (高橋) (please refer to the table below).

    Surnames occur with varying frequency in different regions; for example, the names Chinen (知念), Higa (比嘉), and Shimabukuro (島袋) are common in Okinawa but not in other parts of Japan; this is mainly due to differences between the language and culture of Yamato people and Okinawans. Many Japanese family names derive from features of the rural landscape; for example, Ishikawa (石川) means “stone river,” Yamamoto (山本) means “the base of the mountain,” and Inoue (井上) means “above the well.”

    Until the Meiji Period, common 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. Up to the Tokugawa period, common people would refer to themselves as being from a particular region, or from a particular branch of business. The names taken by Japanese people in the Meiji period were either those already in use among the upper classes, or they were created by local priests or even simply made up. This perhaps explains why there seem to be around 100,000 Japanese family names currently in existence.

    Common particles in Japanese surnames

    JapaneseKanji symbolEnglish
    aoblue, green
    -bashi, -hashibridge
    -da, -tarice paddy
    -do, tsuchiearth
    fukugood fortune; wealthy
    -gawa, -kawariver
    -guchi, -kuchimouth, entrance
    -hara, -wara, -barafield; plain
    hayashigrove, woods
    -daira, -tairaflat; smooth
    kamigod, deity
    kami, ueupper, top
    motobase; origin
    numaswamp, lake
    -nofield; plain
    oolarge; great
    sakismall peninsula, cape
    sawa, zawamarsh; swamp
    shitalower; below; base
    sugicedar tree
    wapeace; harmony
    The 30 most common Japanese surnames (2010)

    On February 13, 1875 (明治8年) it was officially decreed that all Japanese must adopt surnames. An additional decree from March 17, 1876 mandated that spouses must both keep their original family (maiden) names. It was in the year 1898 that Japan returned to the old civil law that obligated wives to adopt their husbands’ family name.

    01Sato 佐藤 (サトウ、サドウ)Common in eastern Hokkaido, in Tohoku (Akita in particular), in eastern Kyushu, but not many in Kansai (Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures); rather unusual in Okinawa.
    02Suzuki 鈴木 (スズキ、ススキ、ススギ)Common in Aichi (Mikawa in particular) and in northeastern and southern Kanto (Shizuoka Prefecture); most common surname in the southern Kanto region. Not common in Kyushu and Okinawa.
    03Takahashi 高橋 (タカハシ、タカバシ)Most common in the Tohoku region (particularly around Kitakami in Iwate Prefecture) and in Shikoku.
    04Watanabe 渡辺(ワタナベ、ワタベ)Originated in Osaka City's Chuo Ward, common all over Japan except for Okinawa; nowadays more common in eastern Japan, in particular in Yamanashi and Shizuoka Prefectures as well as Chukyo and Kyushu regions.
    05Tanaka 田中(タナカ、ダナカ、デンチュウ)Common all over Japan, but except for Okinawa more frequent in western Japan (in particular the Sannin region); most common family name in Fukuoka and Osaka Prefectures. In eastern Japan very common in the Hiki region, in Saitama (Iruma in particular) and the Koshinetsu region (Nagano Prefecture) as well as Hokkaido.
    06Ito 伊藤(イトウ)Found mainly in the Chukyo, Tohoku, Kanto, Sannin and Kinki regions; very common in Aichi and Mie Prefectures; highest number in any Japanese city found in Nagoya.
    07Yamamoto 山本(ヤマモト)Common in western and northeastern Japan; most common surname in the Hokuriku region (Sanyo), the Sanin region (Kinki); in eastern Japan more common in Saitama and Shizuoka Prefectures.
    08Nakamura 中村(ナカムラ)Common all over Japan, with a higher rate in western regions, in particular Kinki and Kyushu.
    09Kobayashi 小林(コバヤシ、オバヤシ)Common in the Kanto, Shinetsu, Kinki and Chugoku regions.
    10Saito 斎藤(サイトウ)-
    11Kato 加藤(カトウ)Originating in old Kaga (now Ishikawa Prefecture), but not many in the Hokuriku region, common in the Chukyo region.
    12Yoshida 吉田(ヨシダ、キチダ、ヨシタ)Originated in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward, commmon all over Japan except for Okinawa, most common in Hokuriku, Kinki and Shikoku.
    13Yamada 山田(ヤマダ)Evenly distributed all over Japan.
    14Sasaki 佐々木(ササキ)Originated in Yonehara City, Shiga Prefecture, common in Hokkaido, Tohoku, Chugoku regions and in Fukui Prefecture.
    15Yamaguchi 山口(ヤマグチ)Common all over Japan, with higher precentage in western Kyushu; the most common prefectural name that is also used as surname.
    16Matsumoto 松本(マツモト)Very common in western Japan and in Kanto.
    17Inoue 井上(イノウエ、イカミ)Very common in western Japan.
    18Kimura 木村(キムラ)Common all over the country except for Okinawa.
    19Hayashi 林(ハヤシ)Very common in the Hokuriku and Kinki regions as well as in Yamanashi Prefecture.
    20Shimizu 清水(シミズ、キヨミズ、ショウズ)-
    21Yamazaki 山崎(ヤマザキ、ヤマサキ)Very common in western Japan.
    22Ikeda 池田(イケダ、イケタ)-
    23Abe 阿部(アベ)Common in the Tohoku region.
    24Mori 森(モリ)Common in western Japan.
    25Hashimoto 橋本(ハシモト)-
    26Yamashita 山下(ヤマシタ、ヤマモト)Common in western Japan.
    27Ishikawa 石川(イシカワ、イシガワ)-
    28Nakashima 中島(ナカジマ、ナカシマ)Common in the Chugoku and Kyushu regions.
    29Maeda 前田(マエダ、マエタ)Common in western Japan.
    30Fujita 藤田(フジタ)-
    Source: Shirōka Lab of the Department of Humanities, Shizuoka University

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  1. iamjoeyjpn
    Hello, I was wondering if トシロ・林元 (Hayashimoto, Toshiro) was a good surname? Does it make sense? Do the particles go together? Am I correct? The reason I am picking this name is because I plan on moving to Japan in the future and I want to change it so I can fit in. My birth name is Joél Ramos, and I want my future Japanese surname to be related to my original name. Ramos means "someone who lived in a thickly wooded area" and Hayashimoto, I believe, means "Forest Origin". They kind of connect.
    1. thomas
      Hi Joél! Both 林元, but also 森元 (Morimoto) are not uncommon family names.
  2. Guest
    I have a friend who is a Chinese named Lin Wei Long with Lin synonymous with the surname Hayashi in Japanese and Wei Long means being a dragon in Mandarin. A direct translation of his name to Japanese will be Hayashi Takeshi. Very interesting to find of the connection between Chinese and Japanese name. FYI, Lin is the 19th most common surname in china as in Japan.

  3. Guest
    Is the Yoshida family of Japan wealthy?

  4. Guest
    Hello, who can help me here my family name is TOMADA. My question: is Tomada a Japanese last name?

    1. thomas
  5. Guest
    I need some opinion. Can you help me to choose a surname for Hiroaki. Thank you ^^

  6. Guest
    Do you know of any famous wealthy fishermen family names in Kyushu during the Kamakura period.
    Please reply with some family names.

  7. Guest
    Hello everyone,
    I’m looking a Japanese family name meaning “from around here” in Kanji and the pronunciation. I think to Sumimoto, Kakumoto, or Muramoto

    Can you help me? Thanks very much!

    Nação de Porto
  8. Guest
    黒神 is there any other way to pronounce this other than Kurokami? I enjoy writing fiction and I want to use these kanji for surname. Kurokami is obvious though and would like a different reading if possible. I asked a friend and he said Matsumoto is a possibility. Can someone confirm?

    1. Guest
      No you can’t read 黒神 as Matsumoto. Unless you want to use the ON reading your stuck with kurokami. If you like Matsumoto the more common writings are 松本 松本市 松元 and 松本城. There are also other ways of course.

  9. Guest
    Does anyone know the kanji for the surname Sakoda?

    1. thomas
      迫田 﨏田 佐古田

      There might be other combinations too.
  10. Guest
    Can you help me with a last name that has ice or winter in it?

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