10 Most Common Japanese Surnames Along With Their Meaning

The little-known fact is that before the Meiji period (1868-1912), people of all ages in Japan didn’t possess surnames.

These titles were only reserved for those in positions of authority, noblesse, or with exceptional artistic abilities.

Family names

Around 100,000 named families are within Japan. More than many Western nations and greater than neighboring Korea and China.

But what’s interesting is that the 10 Japanese surnames we will introduce are quite widespread, and thousands of people have the same family name.

Japanese surname choices

In the Meiji period, it was a time of massive cultural and social change that took place in Japan, which could no longer be a secluded island, refusing to exchange trade with or connect with the world outside.

Japan’s leaders propelled Japan into the contemporary world. The country tries to keep pace with foreign tourists with innovations, ingenuity, and completely different Western ideas.

With this new method of thinking, there was unrest in the established social structures, and all citizens were legally required to pick and record the family name to protect themselves. Many people chose names previously in use in hopes of gaining some credibility using names similar to those that belong to the nobility.

Other names reflected their work, place within society, or the area they came from. However, it is evident there were several favorites!

Top 10 most popular surnames

In ascending order, the most common Japanese surnames in Japan today are:

10 Saito

  • People with the last name: 980,000
  • Writing: 斉藤
  • Meaning:
  • The first Kanji that is Sai 斉, could be utilized as a term that refers to food consumed by priests and monks, and monks; however, in the larger sense, it signifies pureness and reverence for God. The second, tō 藤 (pronounced with a long o) could also be translated by the term “fuji” and means Wisteria. This Kanji could indicate a historical connection with the Fujiwara clan and appears in many Japanese names of families.

9 – Kobayashi

  • People with the last name: 1,019,000
  • Writing: 小林
  • Meaning:
  • The meaning is “small forest” using the tiny Kanji Xiao and the word forest 小 and forest wood 林 (pronounced ‘hayashi’ ), this term could be referring to the area of origin for the surname’s owner where they originate.

8 – Nakamura

  • Number of people with last name: 1,059,000
  • Writing: 中村
  • Meaning: Literally “within” or “the middle” (Naka 中), which is followed by the word the village (mura 村). An individual who belongs to the village.

7 – Yamamoto

  • Number of people with last name: 1,077,000
  • Writing: 山本
  • Meaning: Composed of mountain (yama山) and origin (moto本). In an easy way, it is described as the mountain’s person.

6 – Itō

  • Number of people with last name: 1,080,000
  • Writing: 伊藤
  • Meaning: The first kanji 伊, can also be employed to signify Italy in the past, 伊 literally means “this” or “that”. Together with the Kanji we mentioned earlier for Wisteria 藤, it is possible to conclude that this name has links to the Fujiwara clan but very small. Names are spelled and spoken differently from “ito” 糸 (which has a short “o” sound), Therefore, you must spell the lengthy “o” at the end.

5 – Watanabe

  • Number of people with last name: 1,134,000
  • Writing: 渡辺 (sometimes 渡邊)
  • Meaning: Cross or pass over 渡, and “area” or border 辺.

4 – Tanaka

  • Number of people with last name: 1,336,000
  • Writing: 田中
  • Meaning: Literally “rice field” 田 and “middle/in” 中, he name may be derived from people who worked or owned” the “middle of the field” within any village or town.

3 – Takahashi

  • Number of people with last name: 1,416,000
  • Writing: 高橋
  • Meaning: “tall” 高 and “bridge” 橋,
  • perhaps it could mean that the families who first chose this surname grew up in an area over a valley that was crossed by a long bridge.

2 – Suzuki

  • Number of people with last name: 1,707,000
  • Writing: 鈴木
  • Meaning: “bell tree”. Suzu 鈴 is a small round bell, the type used on collars for cats, and trees 木.

1 – Sato

  • Number of people with last name: 1,928,000
  • Writing: 佐藤
  • Meaning: Along with the popular “tō” “藤, we find sa 佐, which means “to help”. By naming these surnames 10 times, your chances of becoming acquainted with the majority of the Japanese people increase. Would you feel that way?


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