common Japanese surnames

15 Most Common Japanese Surnames With Meaning And Origins

Jun 05, 2024Shopify API

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Surnames are always unique to the individual. Since they influence our identities. Every Japanese surname has a rich history. Each bone conveys a story connected to a significant pack of ancient days.

 However, your surname may hint at your forebearers' place of origin. A name can indeed discover the terrain of the region it approached from.

But, to our astonishment, Surnames in Japan are unique. Understanding what surnames signify, where they came from, and what they represent is a source of fresh knowledge.

This isn't enough information regarding surnames. There is much to discover about the origins of Japanese names.

I particularly adore Japanese names since they are distinctive and inspired by the Japanese people's strong connection to nature and their ancestors. They are extremely valuable to the Japanese people.

There are around 138,000 Japanese surnames, according to the Enamdict Dictionary of Japanese Proper Names.

As you are all aware, the Japanese have a profound relationship with nature and their ancestors. And it shows in their surnames, which are taken from nature, such as forest, mountain, sea, and old clan names.

Here is a list of common Japanese surname and their significance.

Japanese Surnames Meaning
Sato (佐藤) ‘Sa’ meaning help and ‘to’ meaning wisteria
Suzuki (鈴木) bell wood", "bell tree" or "bud tree
Takahashi (高橋) high bridge
Tanaka (たなか) center of the rice paddy
Watanabe (渡辺) crossing' and 'boundary
Ito (糸) thread, yarn, string
Yamamoto (山本) one who lives at the base of the mountains
Nakamura (中村) middle village
Kobayashi (小林) small forest
Saito (斉藤 or 斎藤) alike, equal,
Katō (加藤) add/increase" and "wisteria
Abe (阿部, 安倍, 安部, or 阿倍.) Peace multiplied
Aoki (青木) Blue Tree
Sakai (境) border or territory

Most Common Japanese Surnames

Sato (佐藤)

The Sato surname is the most popular in Japan. This name is derived from a heavy body, which gives it a snobbish attitude.

The initial sign, Sa-, signifies "to help."While the alternate, tō represents wisteria.

 There are now over 1,862,000 people in Japan with the surname Sato, the majority of whom live in the Tohoku region. It is a common surname that is also spelled Saitou, Saitoh, and Saito. 

According to the speculation, the first family given this name may have been kind and generous and lived near wisteria stores.

It is stronger in northeastern Japan. Sato is a Japanese character for Fuji, indicating ties to the Fujiwara clan.

Suzuki (鈴木)

Suzuki, the second most prevalent surname, has a hazy history. However, the kanji may refer to bell trees, bell wood, or cub trees. Susuki, as this surname is also spelled Susuki. 

I've heard several theories about the origins of the surname Suzuki. According to the most prevalent account, the name originated in Kii's Kumano region, where there was a tradition of inserting a stick into a pile of rice straw after harvesting to pray for a plentiful harvest the following year.

The stick used in this rite was called "Susuki," and it is thought to be the origin of the Suzuki surname.

This surname is registered with 1.9 million people, which surprised me. Many people associate this name with the renowned Japanese baseball player who played for the Seattle Mariners in the United States.

Takahashi (高橋)

This is the third most frequent Japanese surname, accounting for around 1,405,000 people. Taka is a Japanese word that signifies "tall," "high," and "bridge”.

Although there are numerous stories concerning the origin of this surname, the most popular is that it was derived from a bridge erected over a ravine in Yamato Province (present-day Nara Prefecture). 

This surname is common in eastern Japan and on the Ryukyu Islands. It was said that when the bridge was seen from the ground, it appeared much taller than it was, thus the people who lived there began to name themselves.

Tanaka (たなか)

Tanaka is ranked fourth in the standings. There are around 1,330,000 people in Japan with this surname, the vast majority of whom live in the country's west.

The meanings of the surname are (ta) "rice field" and (naka) "inside" or "middle." This surname is considered to have originated from the fact that many people worked in the middle of rice fields.

 The roots of this surname may have been influenced by Japan's long history and tradition of harvesting and consuming rice. This name is most common in and around Osaka and the Ryukyu Islands.

Watanabe (渡辺)

This name is derived from a noble samurai clan founded by the Minamoto dynasty in the mid-tenth century. Wata means to cross an area or boundary, and neighborhood means an area or border.

Tsuna, a warrior, founded the Watanabe clan, a ruling and warring clan. It means going over a cliff. It refers to a location in the present Osaka Prefecture populated by descendants of Emperor Saga from the 8th century. 

Modern bearers of the name — approximately 1.4 million people – are thus able (maybe) to claim royal ancestry in their veins.

Ito (糸)

 Ito is the fifth most prominent surname in Japan, with an estimated 1,078,000 people. This is a popular Japanese surname that signifies "the one." It is also spelled Itou, Itoh, and Itoo.

This surname may be related to the Fujiwara Clan, an old class of Homeric regents. 

Their lengthy and rich history dates back to 1868. This straightforward surname means "wisteria." Flowers are typically associated with royalty. The chrysanthemum, for example, is associated with the Japanese imperial dynasty. 

Yamamoto (山本)

Yama is a Japanese word that means "mountain," and moto is a Japanese word that means "book" or "main."This name has a basic kanji with no meaning. 

It most likely depicts the family's region as depicted in the painting. Yamamoto is the eighth most prevalent surname in the country, with 1,045,000 people, the majority of them dwell in the western region of the country. 

The origin of Yamamoto is said to have come from the people who lived at the foot of mountains, as most of the land in Japan is covered with them. 

The name bearers are found mostly in central and west-central Japan. A few noteworthy name bearers are Akihiko Yamamoto (politician), and Fujiko Yamamoto (actress).

Nakamura (中村)

This name consists of two words. Mura for the village and Naka for the middle. The surname means "middle village." The Shinsen Shojiroku lists it as an ancient and fairly common surname.

Shinsuke Nakamura (professional wrestler) is a well-known name bearer. The Nakamura surname dates back to the Yayoi period when rice farming was introduced to Japan.

Rice cultivation would later become the primary form of agriculture, and as it grew, it would eventually become a community. As new settlements grew and spread, the village's core became known as (Nakamura)". 

Kobayashi (小林)

This popular Japanese surname translates as "small forest." It is most common in central Japan and the Ryukyu Islands. 

Haru Kobayashi is a well-known name bearer (musician). Its origin, other than being the surname of several great painters, performers, scribes, and muses across time, is unknown.

 The ending of a name reveals whether it is intended for a manly or feminine individual. - Ro, shi, ya, and o consummations are often reserved for men. Females are often the recipients of ko, mi, e, yo consummations.

Saito (斉藤 or 斎藤)

With approximately 540,000 persons holding the name, "Saito" is the 19th most prevalent surname in Japan.

The kanji (sai) means "to serve the gods by purifying the body and soul," and signifies "wisteria flower”.

This surname, like Sato, has strong ties to the Fujiwara clan. A member of the Fujiwara clan was the director of (Saigu-ryo), a government post at Ise Shrine in Mie prefecture. 

The surname (Saito) is thought to have originated with (the Fujiwara of Saigu-Ryo)". In addition to (Saito), there are surnames such as, and so on, which have the same sound but slightly different kanji characters.

Katō (加藤)

The surname Kato is notably one of the most prominent and influential in Japan, with its origins dating back centuries. 

Mostly found along the southeastern seaboard and in the Ryūkyū Islands, Kato has roots that can be traced to the ancient Japanese state of Kaga, now a part of the Ishikawa prefecture. 

Many of its bearers descend from the Fujiwara of Kaga, an influential clan of Heian period court nobles who held a powerful position in the imperial throne at the time.

In Japanese 'Kato’ is written as 加藤, meaning increasing wisteria’.

Kato is popular enough to be found today not just in Japan but all across the world, particularly in countries that show great interest in Japanese culture and language. 

Its bearers often reflect the proud spirit of its ancient origins, with many of them shown to have a special affinity for the traditional culture, allowing it to have such a presence in their lives for generations.

Kato also holds strong ties to the feudal lords as one of the families with this sure name was a daimyō (feudal lords) of Hizen.

Abe (阿部, 安倍, 安部, or 阿倍.)

The Japanese for Abe is 阿部, 安倍, 安部, or 阿倍. 

The Japanese surname Abe is a commonly seen name in Japan, with roots in ancient times. The two parts of this surname, "A" and "Be", each have an individual meaning. The first part of Abe translates to "peace", while the second part translates to "multiple times". As such, the combined meaning of this surname is "Peace, multiplied".

This surname is thought to originate from the Abe clan of Japan, who trace their ancestry all the way back to the eighth century. 

Records of the Abe clan can be found in ancient Japanese history books, telling stories of brave warriors who earned honor and respect for their loyalty and patriotism.

Although no single person can be identified as the originator of Abe, the surname was first used by the Abe clan, who were respected and feared throughout Japan. 

The Abe clan was known for their strength and loyalty to the emperor and their unrivaled swordsmanship.

Over the centuries, Abe has become a popular surname all over Japan, and can even be found around the world. It is often seen with variations such as A, Abee, and Abé.

The Abe name still carries significance to this day. It is seen as a symbol of strength and honor, and is one of the symbols of Japan. The Abe clan is also remembered for their loyalty and commitment to the Emperor, and for their bravery in battle.

The Abe surname is still seen as a symbol of pride, and many Japanese people are very proud of their Abe heritage. With the meaning of "Multiplied Peace," the Abe name is a beautiful reminder of the importance of making every moment count and cherishing times of peace.

Aoki (青木)

Japanese spelling of Aoki is 青木 - meaning Blue tree.

The surname 'Aoki' is one of the most common surnames in Japan and is believed to have multiple origins. It is derived from two words - 'Ao' meaning blue, and 'Ki' meaning tree. This provides a strong image of a tall, strong tree with a blue hue, symbolizing a sense of renewal and growth.

For centuries, the Aoki family have been linked to these core ideals. The name itself promotes a sense of strength and groundedness, something which the Aoki family continue to embody to this day.

The blue tree holds many stories about the Aoki family. It is said that the first Aoki ancestor was a young samurai who was best known for his resilience and courage. 

Many generations of samurai were known to have strong ties to the blue tree, and they believed that it gave them the strength and power they needed to do courageous acts and achieve their goals.

Those within the Aoki family have always placed great importance on their name and what it stands for. They value the strength and courage that it symbolizes, and are proud of their heritage.

Aoki's are known to have these traits passed down through the generations and continue to be seen in many areas of their life. They are typically quite independent and don't shy away from difficult tasks, and often display true strength in the face of adversity.

At the same time, Aoki's are also known for their loyalty and deep respect for their families and those around them. 

They always aim to stay true to their ideals and values, holding them dear to their heart and making sure that they stay true to themselves and their heritage no matter what life brings their way.

This is why the Aoki name continues to remain one of the most common Japanese surnames. It is a reminder to always stay strong and remain true to yourself, and to pass down this strength and courage to future generations.

Sakai (境)

The Japanese spelling for Sakai is 境 meaning border or territory.

The surname Sakai originates from a place name in the Gunma prefecture's Sakai District (now Sayama City). This is believed to have been the area of residence of several samurai families, who began using it as their family name.

The most famous of these samurai clans was the Sakai clan. Led by Sakai Tadamasa, the clan served for many years as the guardians of the border and territory surrounding the city, as well as its command posts. The clan was also responsible for negotiating diplomatic relationships with powerful regions, including the Matsumoto and Yamamoto provinces.

The Sakai clan was well known for their loyalty, discipline and bravery. For example, they famously assisted in the successful defence of the city against an attack from the powerful Takeda clan in 1584.

The Sakai family carries a long and proud history. They have since become a symbol of the meaning of border and territory, as well as what it means to be a loyal and diligent samurai family. 

The name Sakai is strongly associated with courage and honour, and still carries a great deal of respect in Japan today.

The Sakai family is an important part of Japanese history and culture, and their legacy can still be seen in many places. 

Several of the Sakai clan's famous members still remain prominent figures in Japanese history, such as the samurai warrior Sakai Tadamasa and the poet Sakai Chōhei.

The Sakai family is a powerful symbol of the samurai spirit, and is a reminder of the importance of honour, loyalty, and courage. It is a name that continues to inspire, even today.


Knowing about diverse Japanese surnames is a really interesting thing to do.

I was particularly impressed by Japanese people's surnames. Surnames in Japan are typically written in kanji. 

Although they are pretty difficult to master, kanji names have significant roots that hint at what life was like in ancient Japan, and it's extremely appealing to be able to outline a person's ancestry simply by reading them.

We can gain an insight into how Japanese society has changed and the extent of the impact of migration As of the end of the new Meiji government's modernization drive, there was a debate over whether all citizens should acquire surnames, which had been an "honor".

In the end, it was decided that all citizens, including common people, would have a surname in order to retain the imprints of all citizens and dispose of family registers.

Common Japanese Surnames: FAQs

How do first and last names work in Japanese?

The Eastern naming convention is followed by the Japanese. They begin their names with the family name, then individuals' names or initial names follow the family name. This is how Japanese people address each other, with given names reserved for children or informal gatherings.

What is the significance of Japanese last names coming first?

Throughout the Meiji era, Japanese last names began coming first, similar to the custom followed in China and Korea. In addition, the order of naming was originally determined by grammar.

 How did people get their surnames? 

Due to the laws and rules of the Meiji period, people who had been interdicted to take a family name abruptly needed to have one. 

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