Do You Know the Most Popular Surnames in Japan?

Feb 8, 2019


 

When you meet a group of Japanese people for the first time, have you ever noticed that quite a few of them might have the same surnames? Not only is the pronunciation the same, but somehow they also have the same Kanji.

Many of you may first think,

“Oh, maybe this surname is quite popular in Japan”.

Or you may start thinking,

“Are they related? Weird that so many Japanese people have the same surnames. Why is that?”

This article will show you the most popular surnames in Japan. For those who may have wondered why so many Japanese people have the same name, hopefully, this will help you understand why.

 

What Do You Think Are Some Popular Surnames in Japan?

 

Before we start talking about the popular surnames in Japan, do you know approximately how many surnames exist in Japan? Here are the number of surnames that exist in Japan compared to some other Asian countries:

 

Japan: About 300,000 different types of surnames

China: About 24,000 different types of surnames

Korea: About 250 different types of surnames

 

You can see Japan has the most compared to China and Korea. For comparison, the United States has about 1,500,000 different surnames. Looking at it from that standpoint, it may seem that Japan doesn’t have that many, but it is still more than most other Asian countries – and not to mention Japan is a pretty small island!

People say that the Japanese people began using surnames during the Heian Period (794-1185) by samurai. Samurai in Japan used to have private rice fields, so they started using surnames to name their rice fields and ensure that other people knew their property from someone else’s.

Until the Meiji Period (1870), the use of surnames was controlled by Japanese people who had power, but then the bill “Commoner Surname Selection Compulsory Act” was passed; this allowed anyone without a surname to also begin to use one.

 

The exciting thing is, Japanese surnames were created through mainly the following basic origins. Here are a few of the major surnames in Japan:

 

The origins root from the land: Surnames include “Watanabe”, “Yokoyama”, “Sasaki”, “Hasegawa.”

The origin from the view: Surnames include “Yamaguchi”, “Nakashima”, “Kotani”, “Tashiro.”

The origin from the direction: Surnames include “Higashi”, “Kita”, “Nishimura”, “Uemura.”

The origin from work: Surnames include “Kagaya”, “Hattori”, “Inukai.”

 

Do you have any Japanese friends who have a surname from above origins?

 

Ito

 

“Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Mayumi Ito.”

Many of you may have heard the surname “Ito” in Japan. This surname placed 6th in the top 6 of the popular last names list in Japan. If you compare this to other countries, such as the United States, it’s similar to the surname “Miller”.

We write “Ito” in Chinese character mainly as “伊藤” or “伊東”.

The population having the surname “Ito” in Japan: about 1,100,000 people.

The prefectures in Japan which have many surname “Ito” in Japan: Hokkaido, Yamagata, Miyagi, Osaka, Nara, Yamaguchi, Shimane, etc.

 

The surname “Ito” had originally come from the name “Fujiwara” which used to a powerful family line. Since too many Japanese people were using the same surname of “Fujiwara”, they changed their surname to “Ito” instead of using the same surname and also t0 try to avoid from confusing.

 

Watanabe

 

“Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Yusuke Watanabe.”

Many of you may have heard the surname called “Watanabe” in Japan, and this surname came as 5th in popular last name in Japan. If you compare to other countries such as the United States, it’s like the popular last name “Jones”.

We write “Watanabe” in Chinese character mainly as “渡辺”, “渡部” or “渡邊” in a problematic way.

The population having the surname “Watanabe” in Japan: about 1,150,000 people.

The prefectures in Japan which have the most individuals with the surname “Watanabe”: Hokkaido, Niigata, Gunma, Tochigi, Shizuoka, Aichi, Ehime, Fukuoka, Ooita, Kumamoto, etc.

 

The surname called “Watanabe” had originally come from the land name at Nakanoshima area in Osaka. There is a famous bridge called “Watanabe bridge” in Osaka, so if you have any plan to visit Osaka soon, stop by that bridge and take a look at where the surname originated.

 

Tanaka

 

“Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Yukiko Tanaka.”

The surname “Tanaka” places 4th in popular last name in Japan. If you compare to another country, like the United States, it holds the same commonality as the last name, “Brown”.

“Tanaka” in Chinese characters is written as “田中”.

The population of people having the surname “Tanaka” in Japan is approximately 1,350,000 people.

The prefectures in Japan which have many surnames as “Tanaka”: Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Toyama, Fukui, Tottori, Okayama, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Ehime, Kagawa, etc.

 

The last name “Tanaka” originally came from a land in Japan. Before the Edo Period, most Japanese people had paddy fields. Owning a paddy field was the symbol of wealth at that time. The Japanese person who had the surname called “Tanaka” first built his own house in the middle of paddy field and this transitioned into people having the surname “Tanaka”.

 

Takahashi

 

“Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Tadashi Takahashi.”

Many of you may have heard the surname called “Takahashi” in Japan, and this surname came as 3rd in popular last name in Japan. If you compare to other countries such as the United States, it’s like the popular surname such as “Williams”.

We write “Takahashi” in Chinese characters as “高橋”.

The population having the surname “Takahashi” in Japan is about 1,450,000 people.

The prefectures in Japan which have many surnames as “Takahashi” in Japan: Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Fukushima, Yamagata, Tokyo, Gunma, Chiba, Saitama, Nagano, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kyoto, Oita, etc.

 

The surname called “Takahashi” had originally come from the land and geography in Japan. The name “Takahashi” came from the land in Nara prefecture. People say there used to be a bridge over the valley, so the name “Takahashi” was taken from that situation.

 

Suzuki

 

“Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Aiko Suzuki.”

“Suzuki” is the second more popular last name in Japan. If you compare this to the United States, it’s similar to the last name “Johnson”.

We write “Suzuki” in Chinese character mainly as “鈴木”.

The population having the surname “Suzuki” in Japan is about 1,750,000 people.

The prefectures in Japan with the densest amount of “Suzuki” last names in Japan are Hokkaido, Iwate, Fukushima, Yamagata, Tokyo, Gunma, Chiba, Saitama, Nagano, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, etc.

The surname “Suzuki” originally came from the land called Ise Shima Peninsula at the Mie prefecture in Japan. Japanese people lived in this area used to pile up the rice straws, and they call that as “Suzuki”. If you own Japan made car “Suzuki”, you will recognize this name quite easily in Japan.

 

Sato

 

Here is the most popular surnames in Japan; Sato.

“Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Shinji Sato.”

Many of you may have heard the surname called “Sato” in Japan, and this surname came as 1st in the popular last name in Japan. If you compare to another country such as the United States, it’s like the popular surname as much as “Smith”.

We write “Sato” in Chinese character mainly as “佐藤”.

The population having the surname “Sato” in Japan is about 2,000,000 people.

The prefectures in Japan which have many surname “Sato” in Japan: Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Fukushima, Yamagata, Tokyo, Gunma, Chiba, Saitama, Nagano, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, Hiroshima, Okayama, Miyazaki, Ooita, Fukuoka, etc.

The surname called “Sato” originally came from the powerful Japanese family line called “Fujiwara”. The name “Sato” was created from to represent those that helped the Fujiwara.

 

One thing you have to be careful about learning the surname called “Sato” is we call “sugar” in Japanese with the same pronunciation called “sato”, but the meaning is totally different so even if you met the Japanese people who have the surname called “Sato”, this doesn’t mean sugar or sweet calling way.

 

What Surnames Do You Know that is Popular in Japan?

 

Hopefully, now you know what the most popular surnames in Japan. Many of you may have already heard of each popular surnames such as Sato, Suzuki, Takahashi, Tanaka, Watanabe, and Ito in Japan. You also now know quite many Japanese people with having the same last names in each prefecture in Japan. The amazing thing is, Hokkaido has all the popular surnames.

There are other popular last names in Japan like “Yamamoto”, “Nakamura”, “Kobayashi”, “Kato”, “Yoshida”, and so on so if you also heard these names in Japan, they’re pretty common as well. How many of your Japanese friends do you have with the same surnames?

 

If you know the history or origin of each surname, this would be interesting to remember your Japanese friends’ surnames not only keeping in mind the pronunciation but also the history behind the surnames. Sometimes it may be difficult and confusing to remember Japanese peoples’ last names since quite a lot of Japanese people have the same surnames. However, by learning the origin of popular surnames as shown in this article, it may help you to remember easier.

Did you learn any new things from this article? Share with us if you also have popular surnames in your countries!

 

YAE

Japan

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