From Love Princess to Silent Hill: Japanese prefecture names changed into English

By Blaine Harvey

What happens when you take a prefecture’s name written in kanji and change it into English based on the literal meaning of the Chinese characters? Sounds like you’d get a pretty cool name, right? Well, you may be disappointed to find out that Tokyo (東京), the capital of the nation of Japan, in fact simply means “Eastern Capital,” and Kyoto (京都), the former capital, doesn’t fare much better, coming out as, um, “Capital Capital.”

But with 45 other prefectures to choose from, there’s no reason we can’t find some good ones.

Using a list of Japan’s 47 prefecture names in English, Japanese Twitter user FSseisyun compiled a ranking of the top five names. Let’s take a quick look and see how good the choices were, presented from left to right with their Romanized name, kanji characters and literal translation.

5th place: Aichi (愛知) – Love Knowledge 4th place: Chiba (千葉) – Thousand Leaves 3rd place: Aomori (青森) Blue Forest 2nd place: Shizuoka (静岡) Silent Hill 1st place: Niigata (新潟) Eternal Force Blizzard

Overall, these were some nice picks. I wish Aomori really did have blue (it’s a long story) forests full of apple trees like its name suggests. That would be magical. I also liked Shizuoka because the name “Silent Hill” reminds me of the spooky video game of the same name. But I can’t quite imagine Shizuoka being a place that is especially still, quiet, and calm.

Niigata, too, has an interesting name when translated, but there is something fishy about it. When directly translated, Niigata is “New Lagoon” but this Twitter user decided to change it. So why did they decide to call this prefecture “Eternal Force Blizzard?”

It’s because Niigata gets a LOT of snow. There is so much snow that some of the roads become walled off with the compacted white stuff. Thus, you can clearly see why “Eternal Force Blizzard” is a fitting moniker compared to “New Lagoon,” which is totally lame (yet an accurate translation).

Here are a few more literal translations, in no particular order:

Fukui (福井) – Good Luck Well Iwate (岩手) – Rock Hand Ehime (愛媛) – Love Princess Kumamoto (熊本) – Bear Origin/Book Shiga (滋賀) – Overgrown with Celebration Hyogo (兵庫) – Soldier Storehouse Yamaguchi (山口) – Mountain Mouth

“Overgrown with Celebration” was my personal favorite – I’m not sure how you can even begin to describe such a thing.

Sources: Twitter, Infoseek (Rakuten)

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Quite an interesting article. Amusing.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Aomori and Chiba are my favourites. Shizuoka sounds very creepy though. Yamaguchi is kind of amusing. I've heard of people having big mouths, but a mountain mouth? That's a new one on me. Shiga sounds like a lot of fun as well.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Long time 'silent hill' resident here, and it really is silent and calm. I always joke that since the residents are quite shy , it must be because of/the reason for the name

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Hiroshima Wide Island. Shimane Root of Island. Tottori Bird catching. Yamaguchi taste (sense) of Mountain. There are more Kyushu prefectures besude Kumamoto. @Fox: You meant Yamaguchi as the mouth as big as mountain?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I would say Bear Source for Kumamoto and Military Storehouse for Hyogo would sound better.

I couldn't resist:

Here's a few more...

Kagoshima  鹿児島 Deer Baby Island! Kagawa 香川 Now this could be Scent of a River, Fragrant River, or maybe Stinky Stream...? Kochi 高知 High Knowledge Gunma 群馬 Horse Herd Nagoya 名古屋 Old Store Name Toyama 富山 Treasure Mountain Oita 大分 Big Minute (Like the minutemen of Massachusetts??) Or Big Partition more accurate. Mie 三重 Three Steps (or Three Levels or Three Weights) Osaka 大阪 Big Slope City Kobe 神戸 Godgate!

Nagano 長野 Long Field (Funny, as it is one of the more mountainous places here. Maybe wishful thinking, or perhaps propaganda, a la Greenland...)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

doesn't "Niigata" mean "New Lagoon" (or more specifically "new land impregnated with salt from the tide")? why "Eternal Force Blizzard"????

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Simona, that's what I thought as well. Maybe typo with another prefecture's name, but can't figure out which one it could be. Anyhow, interesting article. Hope they also write one up about the strangest town and city names in the country.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

' “New Lagoon,” which is totally lame '

How can you say that. Yo should spend more times in The Mountains of Poetic Verse (和歌山), or perhaps visit the early 1970s.

*"Blue suns and new lagoons

Silver starfish with honeymoons

All these and more to choose

If you"*

(Brian Ferry - mostly)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Pretty fun! Tested the wife and she got about 80 percent.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

When boshin War was over, Daimyos gaqve their territories to new Meiji Govt. The names of Prefecture might sound funny but each name has lengthy history of where the name came from. Some prefectures that was fought aginst Shogun retained Daimyos; or name or their castle town names . Howeverr there is no record that Daimyos who fought aginst winners side retained their names, Majority is Notrhern Japan. Aomori Blue Forest, Iwate, Hand of Rock. Aizu became so poor that it appealed to have part to Iwate and rest Fukushima, Miyagi buildings in shrine castle , Akita - Autumn rice fiekds, Yamagata - Mountain Shape, Fukushima - Good lucjk Islands.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

信州 the greatest of them all. (Trusting Province)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Kohbe, Shinshu and Nagoya are not prefecture. There are 7 prefectures ion Kanto area. Tokyo, Ibaragi ( Tree with sticky bothersam tiny srtick full), Gunma, (Crowds of horses - more than cowboy areas in USA), Saitama ( saki and tama - saki is place on moutain edge near beach that hang top wth triangle edge - you see many sakis in Hawaii Tama is bead)-, Chiba , - Thousands of leaves Kanagawa River of peaceful gods ------- Ypkohama area included). BTW, Aomori, could be green forest because Japanese use Ao for both blue and green,Tokyo is not ken. To (miyalo-capital, metropolis) ------ You can use your dictionary to create new meeaningsm too. There are some history books that explain history of names and how each came up. But they are not translated in English.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I still don't understand why 'New Lagoon' becomes 'Eternal Force Blizzard.' By the same (il)logic, Iwate could become 'Golden Hand.' Incidentally Fukushima means 'Good Luck Island.' Both Fuku-i and Fuku-shima are associated with nuclear power plants.

0 ( +1 / -1 )


-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Chubu: Nigata (new spring water area), Toyama, Ishikawa( rock ////river), Fukui( Lucky well), Yamanashi( Mountains with Pears), Nagano )lengthy field), Gifu , shizuoka, Aichi (love Knowledge), .... Kinki has Osaka-fu and Kyoto-fu (Urban prefectures) and 6 prefectures. Me ( 3 piles), Shiga (plenty of celebration), Hyogo ( storage of soldiers weapons), Nara, Wakayama, This area was cultury advanced area. Still not in Boshin winners side except Kyoto was capital before it moved Kyoto govt to tokyo

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Toshiko is quite right about 青 being used for both blue and green in Japanese (c/f 青梅 and 青じそ, green ume plums and green shiso leaves, respectively), so Aomori would be more accurately translated as Green Forest.

As an ex-resident of New Lagoon, I have to confess complete bafflement at the eternal force blizzard - 永力雪? - translation - definitely looks like someone got very confused. 新 is one of the more basic characters, after all, and I'd have thought that even people with a relatively low level of kanji comprehension ability would know that it means new. It defeats the (admittedly pretty trivial in the first place) object of the exercise if you're going to just throw Nelson out of the window and make up a meaning.

Incidentally, when I found out I was being posted to Niigata on JET, my first thought was "Damn, now I have to learn how to write that pesky 潟 character!" Niigata turns out to have quite a lot of lagoons/wetlands, including one or two registered under the Ramsar Convention.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Shikoku area is a large Islands between Inland Sea and Pacific Orcean. Four Prefectures. It is famouse on Shikoku 88 places spirit mountain visitors (by walking) for generations, Ehime was Iyo where Lord and Ochi family peacefuklly helped to become prosperity. Ehime is actually Cute Girls. Kouchi, Kagawa, Tokushima ( island of Virtue). ,.... Now. Chugoku Area Okayama (Moutains with full hills), Hiroshima, Tottori, Shimane, Yamaguchi. Lord Mouri declined to use his family name for prefecture name and so Yamaguchi, Southmost place in Main Island (Honshu).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Get a little more creative people! You can anglicized these names better. Here's a few for you. If you stop limiting yourselves to the dictionary and use your imagination these names become even more familiar.

脇野沢 Pittsfield Creek 栗山 Chestnut Hill 岩手 Boulderhand 春田 Springfield 中村 Middleton Akita Fallfield 緑ヶ丘 Green Hills 盛岡 Massachusetts ( which means rolling hills in some Native American language) 柳沢 Willow Creek 青山 Vermont (from French - an NO 青 does not mean blue no matter what any Japanese person tells you. Ao are the cool colors as opposed to hot colors 赤 and earth colors 黄)

追分 Waymeet ( what we call a way meet in English, Japanese calked a way part - same thing though)


-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Since this is an article about names of prefectures,, I will stick to write about Kyushu Island prefecture now. Many people defined Yamaguchi people are big mouth (Mouth as big as Mountain). Well, when prefectures were legalized, some Yamaguchi people wanted two prefectures since Yamaguchi people toppled Shogunate. Not big mouth but outspojen. Shimonoseki and northern part of Kyushu were considered to be 2nd prefecture for winning Suoh and Nagato (Bocho) people. Then other outspoken people complained Shimonoseki and Kyushu were not connected. Thus first outspoken people's plan vanished. So, it created Fukuoka (Fortune Hills) in North of Kyushu. Then Saga ( Assist Celebration)/ Because Lord Hosokawa's territory was so huge that it could not be in one prefecture. Kumamoto (bravest samurais; origin and source) is one of them,. One of Lord Hosokawa's decendent was a former PM a feww years ago. Nagasaki, Ohita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. Then there is Okinawa, Used to be an independent Ryukyu Country with unique and excellent culture, Anyway, there are 7 Kyushu prefectures. Total 7. If you can read Japanese, try to read a book History of Hanseki Hokan.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Sorry David, I personally don't think naming them actual-use anglo names is more creative, it is more fun to make the meaning in-your-face-literal but also sounding interesting in English, to me anyway. I personally like my Big Slope City and Godsgate the best. (I didn't thumbs-down you though). Also,

David, Massachusetts actually means "by the great hill" and is a name of one actual mountain, I believe, near Boston, and is also the name of the people who lived there, so I personally don't think it could stand in for 盛岡, with the meaning of rolling hills.

Now that I think of it, it is pretty funny that Ehime and Tokushima are next to each other! Literally translating as "Love Princess" and "Virtue Island" as they do! 愛媛  徳島  (Used to know a girl from Tokushima, you wouldn't have thought so, as she was a real love princess, though)!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hokkaido Hokkai circuit. (North Sea). It is only the place use sea in itz name. Because prefecture names came from regionalk areas, Sky and Seas are not used in other areas Ao is used diferently. Ao-i-iUmi (Blue Sea) Ao-i Sora ( Blue Sky). Then botanic products are usually green like Eleamor explained, Then adjective used for inexperienced people like Ao-ni-sai. Pale, face. The names of prefecture revolved. Some day, Wakayama may become Carolyn mointain as Kennedy is expert of Japanese Waka Poems. Imagine a foreign persin studied old old 100 wakas modern Japanese do not play. Just joking.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

3rd place: Aomori (青森) Blue Forest

No. It means "green forest". Why can't people grasp the idea that ”青い”means both "blue" and "green" in English?

Would anybody seriously translate “青林檎”as "blue apple"?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Just FYI, Silent Hill IS NAMED after Shizuoka. Said the Silent Hill creator

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This article is examples of translations of Japanese Prefecture so it does not matter Aomori is translated as /Blue forest or Green Forest. Ditto with other Prefectures. Aomori is a Northenmost Prefecture facing Hokkaido on its north. Mutsum we used to call, It has unique dialect we call Zu Zu Ben( dialec Ao is Blue and Green anyway.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Shiga ken and Kumamoto ken, very, very interesting article and comments! Thank you!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Quiet Hill is a better translation than Silent Hill for Shizuoka.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@strangerland: Yes Shizu is Shizukana. Quiet and Calm. Silent has nuence of ordered to stop making noise while quiet has nuance of self action. Silent sounds Shut up? About OhIta in Kyushu, Large Share. Oh is large, big. Kanji of Ita is Wakeru, (Share) used for Bunkai, BunPai suru, etc.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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