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Place Names in Japanese

The first step in decoding Japanese place names is to learn the five placements.
These are:

DIRECTIONS
 north
hoku, kita
 
west
nishi
central
chuo, naka
east
higashi, to
 south
minami
 

For information on the syllabification of Japanese words click here.

The names of geographic features are:

GEOGRAPHIC FEATURES
edoestuary
hamashore
beach
kaiocean, sea
kaikyochannel
strait
kakupoint
kawa, gawariver
sawa, zawastream
ko
kosui
lake
minatoharbor, port
mizuwater
nadagulf, sea
bontibasin
suidochannel
ko
numa
lake
saki
misaki
cape
hantopeninsula
shima, jimaisland
heiyaplains
san
sen
zan
hill
mountain
santihill
mountains
sanmyakuhill
mountain range
ishirock
setostrait
kaikyostraits
tani, danivalley
umisea
to
shima
island
syotoislands
archipelago
hashibridge
michiroad
wanbay, gulf
yamamountain(s)
yokocoast
zaki
saki
cape, point
headland
zenmountain
sakahill, slope
yahouse, castle
ki, gitree
moriforest
ta,darice paddy

The names of colors and numbers are:

COLORS
shiroiwhite
akaired
kuroiblack
kiiroiyellow
nezumiirogray, grey
aoiblue
midoriirogreen


Japanese has two sets of words for numbers. One is from the original Japanese language and the other is of loan words from Chinese. For ordinary counting the Chinese versions are used but in formal names the Japanese version prevails. For example, the company name Mitsubishi, meaning three diamonds, uses the old Japanese word for three.

NUMBERSJapanese
Origin
Chinese
Origin
onehitotsuichi
twofutatsuni
threemittsusan
fouryottsushi
fiveitsutsugo
sixmuttsuroku
sevennanatsushichi
eightyattsuhachi
ninekokonotsuku, kyu
tentoju


Some names for administrative entities and for attributes are:

ADMINISTRATIVE ENTITIES
mura, sonvillage
district of town
machi, chotown
district of city
shicity
gundistrict
ichimarket
shuku, jukupost town
kuward of a city
especially Tokyo
fucity prefecture
kenprefecture
shu
koku
province,
district
kyocapital
horotent,
pavilion


ATTRIBUTES
nagailong
furui
ko
old
nakamiddle
obig
shimolower
takaihigh
hirobroad
moto, honold, original
shinnew


Some city names:

CITY NAMES
CityORIGIN OF NAME
Tokyo"eastern capital"
Kyoto"capital"
Osaka"big hill"
Nagoya"named old castle"
Hiroshima"broad island"
Nagasaki"long promotory"
Sapporo"paper money pavilion"
Yokohama"coast shore"

Island and Region Names

PLACEJAPANESE NAMEORIGIN OF NAME
Northern-most IslandHokkaido"northern sea province"
Main IslandHonshu"main province"
Southwestern IslandKyushu"nine provinces"
Island South of HonshuShikoku"four provinces"
The Osaka RegionKansai"west of the divide"
The Tokyo RegionKanto"east of the divide"
Central RegionChubu"central region"
The Western Honshu RegionChugoku"middle country"
The South Central Honshu RegionKinki
also known as Kansai
"near country"
from Kingoku
the original term
The Ryuku IslandsNansei-shoto"southwest islands"
The Tohoku RegionTohoku"northeast"


Family Names

Family names often refer to some geographic feature, presumably having to do with the historical home of the family. For example, the gawa and kawa in family names refers to a river. Tanaka means amid the rice fields. Matsushita means under the pine trees.

Feminine personal names often end with -ko which means child, as in Hanako (flower-child).


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