In Japan, there are 2 million people called Satō, which is the country’s most common surname. Like other popular surnames including Itō and Katō, it is linked to the once powerful Fujiwara clan—the tō in these names is the same kanji (藤) as the fuji in Fujiwara. In a complex process, this illustrious kanji became attached to other characters indicating place names or positions associated with Fujiwara descendants.
Today, Satō is particularly common in Akita and Yamagata Prefectures. Notable people with the name include Satō Eisaku, who was prime minister from 1964 to 1972 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.
Suzuki is the second most common surname with 1.75 million people, deriving from old usage in what is now Wakayama Prefecture. The most likely origin for the name is thought to be from susuki, a word for an ear of rice seen as sacred in the Kumano region of present-day Wakayama and Mie Prefectures.
It is especially common in prefectures including Aichi, Shizuoka, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Saitama, and Kanagawa. Baseball star Suzuki Ichirō is among the famous people bearing this name.
The third most common surname is Takahashi, with 1.45 million. It appears in the eighth-century Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan), but its roots are unclear. As it has a straightforward literal meaning of “tall bridge,” perhaps it was simply adopted as a name by people living near to bridges over ravines and other high places in Japan’s extensive mountainous terrain.
Well-known people with the surname, include manga artist Takahashi Kazuki, the illustrator for Yu-Gi-Oh!
(Originally published in Japanese: Banner image © Pixta.)