Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Japanese place names
Japanese place names include names for geographic features, present and former administrative divisions, transportation facilities such as railroad stations, and historic sites in Japan. The article Japanese addressing system contains related information on postal addresses.
Each name usually ends with a suffix specific to a kind of place, as follows.
- -fu for an "urban prefecture." There are two: Osaka-fu and Kyoto-fu (Osaka Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, respectively)
- -gun for a district
- -machi or -chō for a town. Can be a local government or a non-governmental division of a larger city.
- -mura or -son for a village; e.g., Kamikuishiki-mura (Kamikuishiki). Can be a local government or a nongovernmental division of a larger city or town.
- -ken for a prefecture; e.g., Yamanashi-ken (Yamanashi Prefecture)
- -to for Tokyo-to (Tokyo)
- -ku for a ward of a city; e.g., Naka-ku in Hiroshima. Also for one of the 23 special wards of Tokyo; these are separate local governments nearly equivalent to cities.
Some names contain a word indicating a direction:
- chūō or naka- - central; e.g., Yokosuka Chūō; Naka Okachimachi
- higashi - east
- kita - north; e.g., kita-ku literally means a ward at north.
- minami - south
- nishi - west
- u ("right") and sa ("left"), directions relative to the Kyoto Imperial Palace (and from the viewpoint of the Emperor, who faces south, so that sa is east and u is west): Sakyo-ku , Ukyo-ku
Other names contain a word indicating the time when a settlement arose:
Geographic features figure prominently in Japanese place names. Some examples are
- hanto for a peninsula; e.g., Izu Hanto
- ishi or iwa for a rock; e.g., Ishikawa Prefecture; Iwate Prefecture
- izumi for a spring; e.g., Hiraizumi, Iwate
- kaikyō for a strait; e.g., Bungo kaikyō.
- kawa or -gawa for a river; e.g., Asakawa .
- ko for a lake; e.g., Biwako.
- nada for a sea
- oka for a hill; e.g., Fukuoka
- saki or misaki for a promontory.
- san or -zan for a mountain; e.g., Asosan.
- sawa or zawa for a stream; e.g., Mizusawa, Iwate
- shima or -jima or tō for an island; e.g., Ie-shima, Iwo Jima, Okinawa Honto
- tani or -dani for a valley
- wan for a headland or bay; e.g., Sagami-wan
- yama for a mountain; e.g., Yamanashi Prefecture
Other words that express the natural world or agriculture often appear in place names:
- ki or -gi for a tree; e.g., Tochigi Prefecture
- matsu for a pine tree; e.g. Takamatsu
- mori for a forest; e.g., Aomori Prefecture
- sugi for a sugi tree; e.g., Suginami
- ta or -da for a rice paddy; e.g. Tajima Province
Names and parts of names of former provinces appear in many modern place names:
- Yamato kōriyama, a city in Nara Prefecture
- Kaga, a city in Ishikawa Prefecture
- Hitachi naka, a city in Ibaraki Prefecture
- Sagami River in Kanagawa Prefecture
- Tango Peninsula in Kyoto
- Chūetsu, part of Niigata Prefecture and location of the 2004 Chuetsu Earthquake: its name incorporates a kanji from Echigo Province (as do many other place names in the region)
Medieval Japan had many towns that fell into three categories: castle towns, post towns, harbor towns. In addition, the rise of commerce contributed to some place names. Here are some parts of names connected with medieval Japan:
- ichi, a market; e.g., Yokkaichi: "fourth-day market"
- -jō, a castle. Place names like Jōhoku, Jōsai, and Jōnan (giving directions relative to the castle) are common throughout Japan.
- minato for a harbor; e.g., Minato, Tokyo
- shuku or -juku, a post or station town on a medieval highway; e.g., Shinjuku
Many names in Hokkaido originated from words in the Ainu language, a native language, as people in mainland Japan conquered and colonized Hokkaido in the Edo Period and Meiji Era. Examples of geographic features are -nai and -betsu meaning "river" as in the names Wakkanai and Noboribetsu. The name Esashi comes from the Ainu word esaushi, meaning "cape." Some other names come from places in other parts of Japan because in the past people immigrated as a group to Hokkaido, and they give the new settlement a name reminiscent of their old home. Examples include Hiroshima and Date, Hokkaido.
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