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Sato most common surname in Japan


Sato is the most common surname in Japan, according to a survey conducted by Meiji-Yasuda Seimei, a major insurance company in Japan.

Meiji-Yasuda said on its website that it surveyed 5.96 million customers and revealed that Sato was the most common surname with 91,487 persons so named. This was followed by Suzuki, Takahashi, Tanaka, Watanabe, Ito, Nakamura, Kobayashi, Yamamoto and Kato rounding out the top 10.

By prefecture, Sato was especially popular in northern Japan, where it was No. 1 in nine prefectures, including Hokkaido, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Niigata, Yamagata, Fukushima, as well as Oita and Tokushima.

The most popular name consisting of only one kanji character was Hayashi, followed by Mori and Hara, Meiji-Yasuda said.

The system of determining surnames dates back to 1875, when Japan’s new, modernizing, Westernizing Meiji government passed a law requiring all citizens to register under a surname. Many, regardless of social status, had one already – officially or unofficially, legitimately or not. Those who didn’t had to make one up.

By Asian standards, Japan today is unusually rich in surnames. There are some 100,000 altogether, as against a few thousand in China (whose population is 10 times Japan’s), according to “Myoji no Himitsu” (The Secret of Surnames) by Hiroshi Morioka.

So why is Sato such a popular name?

According to Morioka, the “to” in Sato is the character for wisteria, “fuji” – which immediately suggests the historic Fujiwara clan, the power behind the throne throughout the Heian Period (794-1185). “Sa” is an alternate reading of “suke” – a bureaucratic title. After Japan’s first civil war, that between the Genji and the Heike clans in the late 12th century, the Heike were routed and their lands assigned to Satos, who moved in and took over.

How many of today’s 1.8 million Suzukis know their name originally meant “rice straw bale” in a local dialect of the Kii Peninsula?

Takahashi is the most common of numerous surnames derived from a place name – actually several place names. Takahashi means “high bridge.” Bridges are ubiquitous today but rare enough in ancient times to confer distinction on any place that had one.

Tanaka’s origin is topographical. It means “in the middle of the rice paddy.” A family owning a broad paddy with a house in the middle naturally wanted to advertise its prosperity, and calling themselves Tanaka seemed a way to do it.

Watanabe, like Takahashi, is originally a place name. It refers to a location in modern Osaka Prefecture settled by descendants of the 8th-century Emperor Saga.

© Japan Today

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We had a saying in Japan in the past ”Sato, Takahashi horse shit!" meaning the names are found as often as horse shit.

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Tanaka san is crying now

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My neighbor here in Tokyo is Takahashi, wow!!

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My neighbor here in Tokyo is Takahashi, wow!!

That really is not much of a coincidence. Changes are your neighbour will have one of the common surnames.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Wow! Sato!! Indeed, headline news.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

That's good to know.

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I would really like to know the rarest 100 surnames. Or the "10 coolest" surnames. Or something other than the most popular. Everyone knows that the top ten include sato, tanaka, Takahashi, Hashimoto, etc.

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Serious question: How common is "Sho" and "Ky"? (Google never leaves a good answer.) Thanks. PS--Sho is six, Ky is four.

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@kimuzukashiiiii - I should imagine the rarest surnames are the one's people make up specifically to be unique. I do that in my writing sometimes. Using common surnames is something I reserve for unimportant characters. I like my main characters to have unusual surnames. Kaen for example, meaning Flames (according to Google Translate at least), or Aozora, meaning Blue Sky. But yes, it would be interesting to know about the rarest and most unusual surnames. "Coolest" would be a matter of opinion. Some people think One Direction is cool. Oh how I weep for them.

Somehow I'm actually surprised Sato is the most common. I would have bet on Nakamura. I don't know why, but there we have it.

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Foxcloud ... are you allowed to do that? Just go to the Shiyakusho and say " My new name is Sparklefairy Hanako" ?? I thought they were fairly strict about naming, and kanji, in Japan.

I know that some names and their kanji are a no-go, like that story of the parents who wanted to call their kid akuma but the kuyakusho said no...?

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kimuzukashii- I do think there are rules about changing your name, and you can do it, within linguistic/ kanji bounds determined by the gov, however, I imagine that Fox Cloud is referring to the un-named masses who took on new names at the time of Meiji when it became required to have a last name.

However, Fox Cloud, my guess is that those "taken-on" names would not be among the rarest ten. I imagine that most taking on new names at that time took on really normal names related to their towns, like, kobayashi, or Yamanaka, or something respectable, like with To in it like Sato or Kato, to seem close to the Fujiwaras or some other historical family.

Generally I believe the rare names are old aristocrat families, especially really local (inaka) families who didn't prosper and thus stayed local, or, similarly, names related to really specific professions that were not necessarily in existance, or named, throughout the country, but only in one small region.

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I love the etymology of names, and Japanese names are no exception. Similar to English (and probably most languages) in terms of relating to job, location, or geographical features (or physical characteristics in English as well).

I find Sato(h) a wee bit drab, but you don't really choose your family name (unless it's to change it), and I guess 'Smith' is not all that awe-inspiring (although the history is interesting).

I like that they report what names are most common and what are rare every year.

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By Asian standards, Japan today is unusually rich in surnames. There are some 100,000 altogether, as against a few thousand in China (whose population is 10 times Japan’s)

Also known as Galton-Watson Process.


A graphical explanation can be found here:


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The most popular name consisting of only one kanji character was Hayashi

Our friend's maiden was Hayashi. She married a guy who's surname is Sato. Guess she's double-common. :-)

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