Why are there so many Sato and Suzuki in Japanese names?

Why are there so many Sato and Suzuki in Japanese names? Japan

The most common surname in Japan is Sato, followed by Suzuki. I will explain why these two surnames are so common and the secrets behind them hidden in Japanese history . 

Sato is a brand name of the Fujiwara family

To explain why there are so many Sato surnames, we must first explain the prosperity of the Fujiwara clan in Japanese history.

The Fujiwara were descended from Emperor Nakataio (who, along with Emperor Nakatomi Kamatomo, led the Taika Reform of the Taika Rebellion. The Fujiwara clan took its name from Kamatari’s son, Fujiwara Fuhito, and rose to the top of the aristocracy during the Heian period (794-1185), beginning with Fuhito’s daughter who became the empress of the 45th Emperor Shomu, through the politics of external relations, in which power was seized by marrying daughters to emperors and becoming their outer grandfathers.

However, even those born into the Fujiwara family could only hold important positions in the Imperial Court if they were from the “Fujiwara-no-Kita family,” descended from Fusamae, the second son of Fuhito, and also from the main family line.

Some of the Fujiwara, who were of a collateral line age with no prospects for advancement in the central government. chose to serve in the provinces as administrative officials rather than languish in the capital as middle or low-ranking nobles. and some chose to remain in the provinces where the Fujiwara brand was effective even after their term of office was over. As a result, the number of people using surnames with the Chinese character for “Fuji,” such as “Sato” and “Saito,” which indicated that they were from the Fujiwara clan, increased.

Suzuki is derived from the sacred Susuki

Suzuki is the second most common surname after Sato. Unlike Sato, which is believed to have multiple roots  it is known that the Fujishiro Shrine in Kainan City, Wakayama Prefecture, is the root of all Suzuki in Japan.

In the southern part of Wakayama Prefecture, there are three shrines, Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha, collectively called “Kumano Sanzan,” and “Kumano Pilgrimage” to these three shrines became popular among the Imperial family and the great nobility in the late Heian period.

The Kumano Pilgrimage route was dotted with “Ojisha” shrines enshrining the three Kumano Sanzan deities’ children, and Fujishiro Shrine was one of them.

In the 10th century, Suzuki Motoyuki, a priest of Kumano Hayatama-Taisha Shrine and a native of the Hozumi clan. an ancient family of nobles descended from the god Nigihayahi, who is said to have descended to Yamato before Emperor Jinmu, moved to Fujishiro and used Fujishiro Shrine as a base to spread Kumano worship, which is believed to have spread the family name of Suzuki throughout Japan.

For this reason, the “Suzuki house site,” where the Fujishiro Suzuki clan lived, remains within the Fujishiro Shrine grounds, and an event called the “National Suzuki Summit” has been held there.

The surname “Suzuki” was originally derived from “Susuki,” meaning rice straw piled up in the rice field after harvest. In the Kumano region, “Susuki” was considered sacred as a deity of agriculture, and many priests in the Kumano region took the surname “Susuki”.

  However, since “Susuki” was difficult to pronounce, it came to be muddled with one sound, “Suzuki,” and eventually the kanji for “Suzuki,” using the character for the bell, a familiar musical instrument to priests came to be applied. 

For this reason, many families in the Tokai, Kanto, and Tohoku regions, where the Kumano faith flourished, took the surname Suzuki. For example, in Mikawa Province, there existed the Mikawa Suzuki clan, descended from the Fujishiro Suzuki clan, which served the Matsudaira clan, the predecessor of the Tokugawa family, and thus the surname Suzuki spread to the Kanto region.