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Japanese family names

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Many Japanese family names

There are a very large number of family names or surnames in Japan compared to other East Asian countries. And the two most popular Japanese surnames are Sato and Suzuki.

Some of the names have a long and distinct history but some are quite new because in 1875 the Meiji government passed a law requiring all citizens to register a family name. So many names were created at that time. There are many books and resources on this topic and it can be an interesting subject to look into.

This blog by Kumiko Yatabe, a Japanese teacher at JOI, looks into one of the reasons there are so many Japanese family names. Read the blog and learn new Kanji and also new Kanji readings. You can also listen to Yatabe sensei reading the blog herself on the YouTube video.

Japanese family names


By YATABE Kumiko





 画数が多い漢字の名前の方が、見た目はかっこいいと思いますが、書くのは大変です。「山口」は合計6画、「斎藤(さいとう)」は合計29画です! テストなどの時、自分の名前を書くだけで時間がかかってしまいますね!

To listen to this blog, please watch our Youtube video.





 画数(かくすう)が多い漢字の名前の方(ほう)が、見(み)た目(め)はかっこいいと思(おも)いますが、書くのは大変(たいへん)です。「山口」は合計(ごうけい)6画(かく)、「斎藤(さいとう)」は合計29画です! テストなどの時(とき)、自分(じぶん)の名前を書くだけで時間(じかん)がかかってしまいますね!

Japanese family names

There are different ways of saying 'Family name' in Japanese for example 「姓 = sei 」「名字 or 苗字 = myouji」. Japanese people's family names are written in Kanji characters of course, but there are so many types.

Some have the same reading but different Kanji characters. For example the family name Honda can be written as 「本田」 or 「本多」, and the name Kondo can be written as 「近藤」 or 「今藤」. And vice versa, some names have the same Kanji but with different ways to read them. For example 「上村」 can be read as Uemura or Kamimura and 「河野」 can be read as Kawano or Kouno.

For this reason, the number of Japanese family names is very large. When you ask someone's name, it is common to ask not only how to read the Kanji but also, "How do you write the Kanji?". It is generally seen as rude to write a person's name with the wrong Kanji, By the way, my family name, which is my husband's family name after I got married, is Yatabe 「谷田部」. There is another family name 「矢田部」 which is pronounced the same but with different Kanji characters. Sometimes, a package or letter is delivered to us with the name 「矢田部」 written on it, but I don't mind about this.

I think that names with Kanji characters that have many strokes look cool but must be hard to write. For example the name Yamaguchi 「山口」 has 6 strokes in total but the name Saito 「斎藤」 has 29 strokes! During tests, it must take a long time just to write their names!

種類(しゅるい) sort, kind

異(こと)なる different

場合(ばあい) case

非常(ひじょう)に very

一般的(いっぱんてき)に generally

失礼(しつれい)な rude

ちなみに by the way

合計(ごうけい) in total


Konnichiwa. My name is Kumiko Yatabe. I live in Saitama, just North of Tokyo.

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  • Marlon Thursday, 29 October 2020

    I've learned a lot from this text, thanks for sharing!

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