The Most Popular Names in Japan and their Meaning

The Japanese are an interesting nation. Its people are known to hold cultures, traditions, and many other things that may or may not hold importance in other parts of the world. The Japanese are very conscious about names, particularly family names, and would choose the one that features honor and history. Not only are these names different, but they also represent family trees and history. Therefore, let us discover the most popular names in Japan and their meaning.


The name Sato originates from the East Asian nation of Japan. It features two elements: “Sa,” meaning help, and “to,” meaning wisteria. Sato, as a surname, was discovered during the Heian period. The families that belonged to higher classes first started using surnames, which usually featured two characters based on occupations and cities of origin etc. The name Sato was generally assumed to be taken by someone who possessed a generous and helpful nature, living near a wisteria plant.


The surname Takashi was founded during the Heian period as well. It was assumed by the families and people who belonged to higher classes based on their occupations. It is assumed that the surname Takashi was taken by someone who was living near a well-known bridge. It is the third most common Japanese family name. Although there are forms of Takashi in Kanji but the most common meaning is “High Bridge.” Some of the first people with the Takashi family name included: Akuri Takashi, settled in Hawaii in 1900; Minoru Takashi, arrived in California in 1904; Giichi Takashi who migrated from Hiroshima to Hawaii in 1904.


Tanaka is an ancient and distinguished surname that has its roots belonging to the Far Eastern land of Japan. The surname consists of two elements: “ta,” meaning rice paddy, and “Naka,” meaning middle. It is thought that the name Tanaka was assumed by someone who was living in the middle of a rice field. Furthermore, the Tanaka family played an instrumental role in the development of the Japanese culture during the early years when this name was assumed. It is the fourth most common Japanese name and features many variations. However, they are less common as compared to the ‘rice paddy’ meaning.


Watanabe is the fifth most common Japanese family name. The name was first used for the samurai clan by Watanabe No Tsuna. Its literal meaning is “ferry side” from “Wataru,” meaning cross, ferry, and “be” meaning edge, side. Watanabe No Tsuna was a Minamoto and a Saga Genji warrior. In addition to that, he was the son of Minamoto no Misturu, who was the great-grandson of Minamoto no Toru, son of Emperor Saga. The Watanabe name became a popular surname due to its involvement during wars and brought the owner to the emperor. The clans with Watanabe’s name were considered one of the most professional and dignified soldiers of their era. They had fought numerous wars and were once provided the responsibility of overseeing large shipments of tax.


Nakamura is the 7th most common Japanese surname. Its meaning is “middle village” or “Village in the middle.” Not only is this name one of the most common surnames, but it is ancient as well. Furthermore, Nakamura was a bandit during the 16th century in Japan. It is said that Nakamura was a leader of a gang of bandits in Ogurusu. It was rumored that he had killed general Akechi Mitsuhide. He was passing through the village of Ogurusu when Nakamura shot a spear and killed Mitsuhide by hiding behind a bush.


Kobayashi is one of the ten most popular Japanese family names. In Japanese, it means “small forest” and is especially found in central Japan. However, it is to be noted that the families that are assuming this surname are not in any way related. Furthermore, the name is also found in the Ryukyu Islands. The word “ko” means small, and “Hayashi” means forest. In addition to that, Kobayashi is also a city located in Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan. However, it is suffering from a population that is declining.


Written in several ways, Kato mostly bears decent from the Fujiwara of Kaga. Kaga now happens to be a part of Ishikawa prefecture. The surname is mostly found along the southeastern seaboard and in the Islands of Ryukyu. The surname Kato is derived from a pet or a female individual, Katalin. Kato is also a fictional character in The Green Hornet Series. The character has appeared in film, television, and comic books as well.


Yoshida happens to be the 11th most common family surname in Japan. The name means ‘lucky (or good) rice paddy.’ It is a very common surname found in Japan due to the fact that it has several forms in which it can be written and assumed. Even in the United States, this surname is quite common as thousands of Japanese reside there.


Yamada surname is from a place, which means ‘mountain rice paddy.’ Similar to the place from where it comes, the surname is quite popular in Japan. It is not necessary that the bearers of this name are supposed to be related. It is mostly found and is common along the eastern seaboard. Moreso, Yamada is a city, which is located in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. It is also used for greeting, which means the perfect balance of God or the Creator be with you.


In Japanese, Sasaki is written variously. The meaning of the name is ‘wren’ originating from Omi, which is now Shiga Prefecture. The surname can mostly be found in northeastern Japan. Alternatively, it may also be derived from misasagi, which is basically a term for the great tomb mounds from c. 250-710. These tomb mounds could be found in clusters all over Japan. If you break down the name Sasaki, it means “sa” as in help, aid, and “Ki “meaning, tree, wood. Lastly, Sasaki has also been used for animated characters in video games and cartoons.


Then again, Yamaguchi is from a very common-place. As of today, its meaning is written as ‘mountain entrance,’ however, previously, its full meaning was ‘entrance to the mountain forest.’ The surname is assumed mostly by people in western Japan. It is also the name of the capital city of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. The city was founded in 1929 and featured a famous Buddhist temple, Ruriko-Ji. It is the 14th most common Japanese surname.


The first-word “sai” can be used to refer to a meal that is taken by priests and monks. However, if used in broader terms, it highlights and conveys the image of divine worship and purity. The second character “to” could be read as “fuji,” which means wisteria. The inclusion of wisteria in the name points towards potential historical connections with the clan of Fujiwara. Even though a lot of families bear this surname, there are some who have had genuine attachments with the group.

Final Word

The Japanese surnames are mostly inspired by places, wars, or natural things. When it comes to choosing a surname, the Japanese prefer to choose the one that suits the characteristics and attributes of the family. Their names are a huge source of honor; therefore, they make sure that the best possible surname is assumed.