Japan has a vast number of last names. It originated around the 12th century and became official after the Meiji restoration in the 19th century. Many of them have a long history. Until around the Warring States period, people passed down the origin of their family names from generation to generation. Let’s explore some Japanese last names and their meanings!
- Cool Japanese last names with its Meanings
- Unique Japanese last names with its Meanings
- Japanese last names with dark names
- The Secret of Royal Japanese Surname
- Origins of Japanese last names
1. Cool Japanese last names with its Meanings
- 空 (sora: sky)
- 旅 (tabi: travel)
- 海宝 (kaihou: sea treasure)
- 神楽 (kagura: sacred Shinto music and dance)
- 風神 (kazekami: wind deity)
- 来栖 (kurusu: a heaven-sent abode)
- 龍神 (ryujin: dragon deity)
- 村雨 (murasame: rain that falls hard and stops soon)
- 八剣 (yatsurugi: eight swords)
- 夜久 (yaku: night)
- 御影 (mikage: spirits of gods and noblemen)
- 星宮 (hoshimiya: star palace)
- 氷見 (himi: originated in Himi, present-day Toyama Prefecture)
- 羽澄 (hasumi: transparent feathers)
- 七星 (nanahoshi: seven stars)
2. Unique Japanese last names with its Meanings
- 菓子 (kashi: snacks)
- 酢 (su: vinegar)
- 昆布 (kombu: kelp)
- 飴 (ame: candy)
- 糀 (kouji: malted rice)
- 小鳥遊 (Takanashi: no eagle where small birds can fly freely)
- 魚 (uo: fish)
- 釣 (tsuri: fishing)
- 音頭 (ondo: lead)
- 大工 (daiku: carpenter)
- 風祭 (kazamatsuri: wind festival)
- 雲母 (kirara: mica)
- 遊川 (yukawa: fun river)
- 氷室 (himuro: ice celler)
- 晴海 (harumi: spring sea)
- 七海 (nanami: seven seas)
- 月城 (tsukishiro: moon castle)
- 終夜 (syuya: all night long)
- 桜森 (sakuramori: cherry blossom forest)
- 久遠 (kuon: long period of time)
3. Japanese last names with dark names
- 毒島 (busujima: poison island)
- 百目鬼 (doumekii: hundred-eyed ogre)
- 鬼ケ原 (onigahara: devil’s field)
- 血原 (chihara: blood field)
- 不死川 (shinazugawa: immortal river)
- 血矢 (chiya: blooded arrow)
- 墓下 (hakashita: underneath the grave)
- 降魔 (gouma: exterminating demons)
- 蛭沼 (hirunuma: leech swamp)
- 乱獅子 (ranjishi: crazy lion)
- 髻谷 (tabusadani: dead end)
4. The Secret of Royal Japanese Surname
The Imperial Family does not have a surname. The term “Imperial Family” is a common name, and “Emperor” is a title indicating that one is a sovereign, not a family name. The names Akishinonomiya and Hitachinomiya are also titles, not family names.
In principle, the Emperor, the prince, and the kings with palace titles were considered to be the rulers, while those with family names were considered to be the ruled.
At the Imperial Court, it was the Emperor’s authority to grant a “family name,” and taking a family name meant accepting the Emperor’s rule.
However, the “family name” originated from the common name given by samurai and aristocrats to themselves, and “family names” was not considered an official designation at the Imperial Court.
5. Origins of Japanese last names
Japanese last names originally consisted of several basic surnames. They were progressively divided into branches and new surnames were produced. The core of the basic last names is the surname that came from the Emperor’s family.
Although the emperors themselves did not have surnames, the surnames of the descended imperial family members became the fundamental surnames. The surnames of other ancient powerful families/clans and the surnames of Shinto priests were also significant elements of the basic last names.
From these fundamental surnames, a large number of last names were produced. Among them, the most common last names were those derived from place names.
For example, during the Heian period (794-1185), the Fujiwara Hokke (the northern house) held important positions at the imperial court in the capital, but many local bureaucrats who were not of high family background went down to the provinces themselves and settled in the areas where they were assigned to perform their duties.
They eventually came to take the name of the place where they lived as their surname.
Second only to last names derived from place names, last names derived from the topography and condition of the land are the most common. About 80% of Japan is mountainous area, and the few plains are mostly plowed and turned into rice paddies.
For this reason, surnames with “山 (mountain)” and “田 (rice paddy)” are overwhelmingly common. In addition, surnames derived from the direction, occupation, etc. have a long history, too.