10 Common Japanese Surnames
Most common family names in Japan
If you live in Japan, have Japanese friends, or follow Japanese famous people, you might notice that you’ll hear some Japanese family names more frequently than others. Just like in other countries, Japan has surnames that are common.
There are over 40,000 surnames in Japan, 7,000 of which have at least 1,000 people or more. The top 30 surnames constitute about 18% of the entire Japanese population.
In this article, I will share with you the 10 most common Japanese surnames. How many people have these names? What famous people have these surnames? Find out all this info here!
Japanese surnames origins
There are many ways Japanese surnames came to being. The oldest surnames in Japan come from as far back as the 7th century, when branch families of emperors started giving themselves a surname. However, there are very few of these.
Then during the Heian period (8 to 12th century), common people would also give themselves surnames. These surnames would change all the time for many different reasons. so sometimes it is difficult to know the exact origins of a specific surname. Sometimes a certain surname could have two different origins.
Anyways, in most cases, surname (or family name) origins can be classified as one of the following five categories.
- Surnames given by the emperor or a surname that evolved from that (e.g. Fujiwara, Sato, Ito, Kato)
- Surnames that represent a specific place or area (e.g. Ishikawa, Okada, Chiba)
- Surnames inspired by geographic features or landscapes (e.g. Yamamoto, Ikeda, Otani, Tanaka)
- Surnames with origins regarding directions (e.g. Azuma, Onishi, Kitagawa)
- Surnames that come from the profession of ancestors (e.g. Torikai, Okura, Shouji)
Although there can be other categories, these are the most common.
Ok, now that you know about surname origins, let me show you the top 10 most common Japanese surnames.
1. Sato (佐藤)
The most common surname in all of Japan is Sato. This name has its origins in the surname “Fujiwara” which is a surname given by the emperor. There are actually many other Japanese surnames that have evolved from the surname Fujiwara (even on this list).
It is said that there are approximately 1.86 million people with this family name. The name Sato can be found mostly in Akita, Yamagata, and Miyagi prefeture.
Famous people with this last name include Actor Takeru Sato (佐藤 健), and Pro racing driver Takuma Sato (佐藤 琢磨).
2. Suzuki (鈴木)
The second most common family name in Japan is Suzuki. The origin of this surname comes from an older surname “Hozumi” which means “stack of rice straw”. A rod that is placed in the center of this Hozumi is called “Susuki” which is the origin of this surname.
There are around 1.79 million people with this name in and out of Japan. This surname can currently be found mostly in Shizuoka, Fukushima, and Yamagata prefectures.
Famous people with this last name include Pro Baseball player Ichiro Suzuki (鈴木 一朗), and Japanese Actress Kyoka Suzuki (鈴木 京香).
3. Takahashi (高橋)
The third most common family name in Japan is Takahashi. The name means “tall bridge”, making it a surname inspired by geographic features or landscapes.
About 1.41 million people in Japan have this surname, especially in Iwate, Akita, and Miyagi prefectures.
Famous people with this last name include Manga author Rumiko Takahashi (高橋 留美子), and Ice figure skating olympian Daisuke Takahashi (髙橋 大輔).
4. Tanaka (田中)
Next on our list is the surname Tanaka. It is said that there are approximately 1.33 million people share this family name, making it the fourth most common surname in Japan. The name means “in the rice fields”.
Currently, you will find this surname mostly in places such as Tottori, Saga, and Fukuoka prefecture.
Some famous people with this last name include Gymnastics Olympian Rie Tanaka(田中 理恵), and Voice actress Mayumi Tanaka (田中 真弓).
5. Ito (伊藤)
The fifth most common family name in Japan is Ito. Just like the surname “Sato”, this surname also has its origins in the surname “Fujiwara” which is a surname given by the emperor.
There are around 1.07 million people with this surname around the country, especially in Akita, Mie, and Aichi prefecture.
Famous people with this last name include Horror manga author Junji Ito (伊藤 潤二), and Writer/poet Hiromi Ito (伊藤 比呂美).
6. Watanabe (渡辺/渡邊)
“Watanabe” is the sixth most common family name in Japan, having approximately 1.06 million people. The origin of this name comes from a profession in the Asuka period (6 to 8th century) that consisted of people who would carry things/people on boats.
This last name is currently found especially in Yamanashi, Fukushima, and Niigata prefectures.
Famous people with this last name include Pro Basketball player Yuta Watanabe (渡邊 雄太), and Comedy actress Naomi Watanabe (渡辺直美).
7. Yamamoto (山本)
The seventh most common family name in Japan is Yamamoto. The name means “base of the mountain”, making it a surname inspired by geographic features or landscapes.
1.05 million people in and out of Japan share this same surname. You will find a high percentage of people with this surname in prefectures such as Yamaguchi, Wakayama, Kochi.
Famous people with this last name include TV newscaster Mona Yamamoto (山本 モナ), and Sengoku period samurai commander Yamamoto Juzaemonnojo (山本 十左衛門尉).
8. Nakamura (中村)
The next surname on this list is Nakamura. 1.04 million people share this last name, making it the eighth most common last name in Japan. This surname can have the meaning of either “center of the village” or “the original village”.
Currently, people with the surname Nakamura are especially common in Yamaguchi, Mie, and Nagasaki prefectures.
Famous people with this last name include Voice actor Yūichi Nakamura (中村 悠一), and Model/actress Ann Nakamura (中村 アン).
9. Kobayashi (小林)
The ninth most common family name in Japan is Kobayashi (小林). This is a surname that has many origins. The meaning of the name is “small forest”.
Across the country, you can find around 1.02 million people with this last name. Most common places for this last name include Nagano, Yamanashi, and Niigata prefectures.
Some famous people with this last name include Competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi (小林 尊), and Pro classic pianist Aimi Kobayashi (小林 愛実).
10. Kato (加藤)
And lastly, the tenth most common family name in Japan is Kato (加藤). Just like the surnames “Sato” and “Ito”, this surname also has its origins in the surname “Fujiwara” which is a surname given by the emperor.
Just under 900 thousand people across Japan share this last name, especially found in the prefectures of Aichi, Gifu, and Akita.
Famous people with this last name include Singer Miliyah Kato (加藤 ミリヤ), and Model/actor Masaya Kato (加藤 雅也).
▽Here are the lists of popular Japanese boy and girl names!▽
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you liked this article and want to know more about Japanese culture, be sure to check out the following articles as well!