Notes: Japan’s most common family or surnames

Editorial note: This resource has been compiled out of the necessity when studying myths and mythemes, to scrutinize the names of people, heroes, characters, place-names, etc. In doing so, we may place many of the myths in proper context, and often in the proximate location of origin or sphere of influence or occurrence.

Japan’s top 100 most common family names

America may have around a million surnames and Finland the most in the world in proportion to its population, but with more than 100,000 family names now in use in Japan, this country puts China’s few thousand and Korea’s mere 200 firmly in the name-game shade.

Here, in descending order, are the top 100 most common Japanese family names these days — followed by a list of the five most commonly occurring ones in each of the country’s 47 prefectures.

  1. Sato
  2. Suzuki
  3. Takahashi
  4. Tanaka
  5. Watanabe
  6. Ito
  7. Yamamoto
  8. Nakamura
  9. Kobayashi
  10. Kato
  11. Yoshida
  12. Yamada
  13. Sasaki
  14. Yamaguchi
  15. Saito
  16. Matsumoto
  17. Inoue
  18. Kimura
  19. Hayashi
  20. Shimizu
  21. Yamazaki
  22. Mori
  23. Abe
  24. Ikeda
  25. Hashimoto
  26. Yamashita
  27. Ishikawa
  28. Nakajima
  29. Maeda
  30. Fujita
  31. Ogawa
  32. Goto
  33. Okada
  34. Hasegawa
  35. Murakami
  36. Kondo
  37. Ishii
  38. Saito (different kanji)
  39. Sakamoto
  40. Endo
  41. Aoki
  42. Fujii
  43. Nishimura
  44. Fukuda
  45. Ota
  46. Miura
  47. Fujiwara
  48. Okamoto
  49. Matsuda
  50. Nakagawa
  51. Nakano
  52. Harada
  53. Ono
  54. Tamura
  55. Takeuchi
  56. Kaneko
  57. Wada
  58. Nakayama
  59. Ishida
  60. Ueda
  61. Morita
  62. Hara
  63. Shibata
  64. Sakai
  65. Kudo
  66. Yokoyama
  67. Miyazaki
  68. Miyamoto
  69. Uchida
  70. Takagi
  71. Ando
  72. Taniguchi
  73. Ohno
  74. Maruyama
  75. Imai
  76. Takada
  77. Fujimoto
  78. Takeda
  79. Murata
  80. Ueno
  81. Sugiyama
  82. Masuda
  83. Sugawara
  84. Hirano
  85. Kojima
  86. Otsuka
  87. Chiba
  88. Kubo
  89. Matsui
  90. Iwasaki
  91. Sakurai
  92. Kinoshita
  93. Noguchi
  94. Matsuo
  95. Nomura
  96. Kikuchi
  97. Sano
  98. Onishi
  99. Sugimoto
  100. Arai

Oct 11, 2009 Japan Times

:::

In addition, see this list from Yahoo! answers:

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

(佐藤)Satō
(鈴木)Suzuki
(高橋)Takahashi
(田中)Tanaka
(渡辺)Watanabe
(伊藤)Itō
(山本)Yamamoto
(中村)Nakamura
(小林)Kobayashi
(斎藤)Saitō
(加藤)Katō
(吉田)Yoshida
(山田)Yamada
(佐々木)Sasaki
(山口)Yamaguchi
(松本)Matsumoto
(井上)Inoue
(木村)Kimura
(林)Hayashi
(清水)Shimizu

:::

55 surnames and their meanings:
AKIYAMA     Japanese
Means “autumn mountain” from Japanese aki “autumn” and yama “mountain, hill”.

FUJIMOTO     Japanese
Means “base of Mount Fuji” from fuji for the famous mountain called Mount Fuji and moto meaning “base”.
FUJIOKA     Japanese
Denoted one living near or on Mount Fuji.
FUKUI     Japanese
Meaning “fortunate” or can mean “one who is from the Fukui prefecture”.
HAMASAKI     Japanese
From hama meaning “beach, seashore” and saki meaning “small peninsula, cape”.
HASHIMOTO     Japanese
Means “base of bridge” from hashi meaning “bridge” and moto meaning “base”.
HAYASHI     Japanese
Means “forest”… [more]
HIMURA     Japanese
Means “scarlet village” from hi meaning “scarlet” and mura meaning “village”.
HISAKAWA     Japanese
Means “market place by the river” in Japanese, from kawa meaning “river”.
HONDA     Japanese
Meaning “one from the base of the fields”.
INOUE     Japanese
Means “above the well” from Japanese i “well”, no “of”, ue “top”.
ITO     Japanese
From i meaning “this” and to meaning “wisteria”, the latter syllable indicating a connection to the Fujiwara (“wisteria field”) clan.
KAGOME     Japanese
Means “park” in Japanese.
KATO     Japanese
From ka meaning “add” and to meaning “wisteria”, the latter syllable indicating a connection to the Fujiwara (“wisteria field”) clan.
KAWAGUCHI     Japanese
Means “mouth of the river” from kawa “river” and guchi “mouth”.
KIMURA     Japanese
Means “tree village” in Japanese.
KITA     Japanese
From ki meaning “tree” and ta meaning “field”.
KOBAYASHI     Japanese
Means “small forest” in Japanese… [more]
KOIZUMI     Japanese
Means “little spring” in Japanese… [more]
KUROSAWA     Japanese
Means “black swamp”, from the prefix kuro, meaning “black”, and sawa, “swamp”.
MAKI     Japanese
Means “black pine” in Japanese.
MATSUMOTO     Japanese
Derived from one of many place names called Matsumoto in Japan… [more]
MATSUOKA     Japanese
Means “a hill covered in pines”, from Japanese matsu “pine” and oka “a hill”.
MATSUSHITA     Japanese
Means “below the pine”, from matsu “pine” and shita “lower, below”.
MINAMI     Japanese
Means “south” in Japanese… [more]
MIYAMOTO     Japanese
Means “base of the shrine” in Japanese, from miya “shrine” and moto “base”… [more]
MIZUSHIMA     Japanese
From mizu meaning “water” and shima meaning “island”.
MORI     Japanese
Means “forest” in Japanese.
MOTO   本, 元     Japanese
Means “base, source, origin”. It is used as an ending in many Japanese surnames.
NAKAHARA     Japanese
From naka meaning “middle” and hara meaning “plain” or “field”.
NAKAMURA     Japanese
From naka meaning “middle” and mura meaning “village”.
NAKANO     Japanese
Means “central field” in Japanese.
NISHIMURA     Japanese
Probably means “western village”, from nishi “west” and mura “village”.
OSHIRO     Japanese
Means “big castle”… [more]
SAITO     Japanese
From sai meaning “correct” and to meaning “wisteria”, the latter syllable indicating a connection to the Fujiwara (“wisteria field”) clan.
SATO (1)     Japanese
From sa meaning “help” and to meaning “wisteria”, the latter syllable indicating a connection to the Fujiwara (“wisteria field”) clan.
SATO (2)     Japanese
Refers to a village or road marker.
SHIZUKA     Japanese
Derived from the given name SHIZUKA.
SUZUKI     Japanese
Means “bell tree” from suzu, meaning “bell”, and ki, “tree”.
TACHIBANA     Japanese
Means “wild orange” in Japanese.
TAKAHASHI     Japanese
Means “high bridge”.
TAKENAKA     Japanese
Means “(dweller in the) middle of bamboo”.
TANAKA     Japanese
Means “(dweller in the) middle of rice fields”, from ta “rice field”, and naka “in”.
TSUKINO     Japanese
Means “moon field”… [more]
TSUKUDA     Japanese
Means “cultivated rice field”.
UEDA     Japanese
From Japanese words meaning “high” and “rice paddy”.
UENO     Japanese
Derived from a common place name bearing the meaning “upper field”… [more]
WAKAHISA     Japanese
Means “forever young” from the Japanese waka “young” and hisa “longevity, ancient”.
WATANABE     Japanese
From wata meaning “cross” and nabe meaning “bank”.
YAMADA     Japanese
From yama meaning “mountain” and ta meaning “rice field” (t changes to d after a vowel).
YAMAGUCHI     Japanese
From a very common place name meaning “mountain entrance”, from yama “mountain”, and guchi “mouth”… [more]
YAMAMOTO     Japanese
Means “base of the mountain” from yama, meaning “mountain”, and moto, meaning “base, origin”.
YAMAUCHI     Japanese
Place name meaning “within the mountains”.
YOSHIDA   吉田, 芳田     Japanese
From 吉田 “lucky rice field” or 芳田 “fragrant rice field”.
YUKIMURA     Japanese
Means “snowy village”, from yuki “snow” and mura “village”
10 most common names are:

1 Satou
佐藤
2 Suzuki
鈴木
3 Takahashi
高橋
4 Tanaka
田中
5 Watanabe
渡辺
6 Itou
伊藤/伊東
7 Nakamura
中村
8 Yamamoto
山本
9 Kobayashi
小林
10 Saitou
斉藤/斎藤

Longer surname lists may be found at Name Lab and Wiktionary
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