Dean and Sue Zemke

Asahikawa, Hokkaido JAPAN

A variety of information about Japan


Included are:
  • Popular dishes among Japanese children and where families dine out
  • What Japanese eat for breakfast
  • Popular girls' and boys' names
  • Popular family names
  • How school kids are graded
  • Homework for Japanese kids and how they learn kanji
  • School lunches
  • School times
  • Origami
  • Games Japanese kids play
  • Bullet trains (Shinkansen)
  • Tatami
  • Traditional Japanese Sports
  • Sumo Wrestling
  • Size of Japanese Homes

most of which is taken from


What are the most popular dishes among Japanese children? When families dine out, where do they go and what do they eat?

 When eating at home, Japanese children enjoy both traditional dishes and those of foreign origin, like hamburger steak and curry and rice. Children also enjoy ramen (Chinese noodles), spaghetti, and other noodle dishes.

Eating out with the family is always a treat. Japan has many different types of restaurants, including "family restaurants" that serve various Japanese and non-Japanese food. Also popular are restaurants specializing in traditional Japanese dishes, such as sushi, tempura, and noodles made with buckwheat (soba) or flour (udon), and fast-food restaurants serving hamburgers and fried chicken.

What do Japanese people eat for breakfast?
A traditional Japanese breakfast, like in the picture, might contain grilled fish, rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles. Often, people eat the rice by rolling it up in a sheet of nori (dried seaweed) and dipping it in soy sauce. Another popular breakfast dish is natto, pungent fermented soy beans. Many Japanese don't have time to eat a full Japanese breakfast every day, so Western-style breakfast dishes like cereal, toast, sausages, and eggs have also become popular.

Most Popular Baby Names of 2014
Here is the list of the most popular baby names of 2014. The names are ranked by popularity with the most common pronunciation listed first (where applicable). Most kanji have several different readings, therefore the name can be read in several different ways. 

In addition, since there are thousands of kanji to choose from, even the same name can usually be written using many different kanji combinations (some have more than 50 combinations). 

To see kanji for boys click here and for girls click here.







1 (tie)

Hina, Hinata, Hana, Haruna, Akina, Hinano


Hiroto, Haruto, Taito, Sora, Yamato, Taiga

1 (tie)



Hinata, Haruta


Yuna, Yuina, Yuuna


Hinata, Youta, Haruda




Yuuma, Haruma


Yua, Yuina, Yuna, Yume

6 (tie)

Minato, Kanade, Sou

6 (tie)

Airi, Meri

6 (tie)

Yuuto, Haruto

6 (tie)


6 (tie)




6 (tie)

Shun, Hayato


Sakura, Haru



10 (tie)




10 (tie)




10 (tie)

An, Anzu



10 (tie)

Airi, Eri

There used to be certain patterns for names. The tendency of naming didn't change much from 1910's to mid 1970's, but there is no patterns for recent naming. Baby names today have a greater diversity.  There are thousands of kanji to choose from for a name, even the same name can usually be written in many different kanji combinations (some have more than 50 combinations). Japanese baby names might have more varieties than baby names in any other languages. 

Boy's Names
Rank 1915 1925 1935 1945 1955
1 Kiyoshi Kiyoshi Hiroshi Masaru Takashi
2 Saburou Shigeru Kiyoshi Isamu Makoto
3 Shigeru Isamu Isamu Susumu Shigeru
4 Masao Saburou Minoru Kiyoshi Osamu
5 Tadashi Hiroshi Susumu Katsutoshi Yutaka
Rank 1965 1975 1985 1995 2000
1 Makoto Makoto Daisuke Takuya Shou
2 Hiroshi Daisuke Takuya Kenta Shouta
3 Osamu Manabu Naoki Shouta Daiki
4 Naoki Tsuyoshi Kenta Tsubasa Yuuto
5 Tetsuya Naoki Kazuya Daiki Takumi
Girl's Names
Rank 1915 1925 1935 1945 1955
1 Chiyo Sachiko Kazuko Kazuko Youko
2 Chiyoko Fumiko Sachiko Sachiko Keiko
3 Fumiko Miyoko Setsuko Youko Kyouko
4 Shizuko Hirsako Hiroko Setsuko Sachiko
5 Kiyo Yoshiko Hisako Hiroko Kazuko
Rank 1965 1975 1985 1995 2000
1 Akemi Kumiko Ai Misaki Sakura
2 Mayumi Yuuko Mai Ai Yuuka
3 Yumiko Mayumi Mami Haruka Misaki
4 Keiko Tomoko Megumi Kana Natsuki
5 Kumiko Youko Kaori Mai Nanami

Historical listings in kanji can be found here for boys and here for girls.


Japanese Surnames (Family/Last Names)

Japanese Last Names
It is estimated that there are currently around 150,000 Japanese last names used in Japan today.
A list of the top 101 surnames comprise almost one third the population:

  1. Sato meaning "help wisteria" ()
  2. Suzuki meaning "small bell tree" ()
  3. Takahashi meaning "tall bridge" ()
  4. Tanaka meaning "rice field middle" (c)
  5. Watanabe meaning "cross boundary" (n)
  6. Ito meaning "that wisteria" (ɓ)
  7. Yamamoto meaning "mountain true" (R{)
  8. Nakamura meaning "in a village" ()
  9. Ohayashi meaning "small forest" ()
  10. Kobayashi meaning "small forest" ()
  11. Kato meaning "increase wisteria" ()
  12. Kichida meaning "joy rice field" (gc)
  13. Yoshida meaning "joy rice field" (gc)
  14. Yamada meaning "mountain rice field" (Rc)
  15. Sasaki meaning "help tree" (X)
  16. Yamaguchi meaning "mountain mouth" (R)
  17. Matsumoto meaning "pine tree true" ({)
  18. Ine meaning "town above" ()
  19. Inoue meaning "town above" ()
  20. Saito meaning "purification wisteria" (֓)
  21. Kimura meaning "tree village" (ؑ)
  22. Hayashi meaning "grove" ()
  23. Rin meaning "grove" ()
  24. Kiyomizu meaning "pure water" ()
  25. Shimizu meaning "pure water" ()
  26. Yamasaki meaning "mountain cape" (R)
  27. Ikeda meaning "pond rice field" (rc)
  28. Abe meaning "section nook" ()
  29. Mori meaning "forest" (X)
  30. Hashimoto meaning "bridge true" ({)
  31. Yamaguchi meaning "mountain mouth" (R)
  32. Matsumoto meaning "pine tree true" ({)
  33. Ine meaning "town above" ()
  34. Inoue meaning "town above" ()
  35. Saito meaning "purification wisteria" (֓)
  36. Kimura meaning "tree village" (ؑ)
  37. Hayashi meaning "grove" ()
  38. Rin meaning "grove" ()
  39. Kiyomizu meaning "pure water" ()
  40. Shimizu meaning "pure water" ()
  41. Yamasaki meaning "mountain cape" (R)
  42. Ikeda meaning "pond rice field" (rc)
  43. Abe meaning "section nook" ()
  44. Mori meaning "forest" (X)
  45. Hashimoto meaning "bridge true" ({)
  46. Chikafuji meaning "near wisteria" (ߓ)
  47. Ishii meaning "stone well" (Έ)
  48. Sakamoto meaning "hill true" ({)
  49. Endo meaning "distant wisteria" ()
  50. Aoki meaning "green tree" (–)
  51. Fujii meaning "wisteria well" ()
  52. Nishimura meaning "west village" ()
  53. Fukuda meaning "lucky rice field" (c)
  54. Oota meaning "large rice field" (c)
  55. Miura meaning "three bays" (OY)
  56. Fujihara meaning "wisteria meadow" ()
  57. Okamoto meaning "hill true" ({)
  58. Matsuda meaning "pine tree rice field" (c)
  59. Saitou meaning "alike wisteria" (ē)
  60. Nakagawa meaning "middle river" ()
  61. Nakano meaning "middle field" ()
  62. Harada meaning "meadow rice field" (c)
  63. Ono meaning "small field" ()
  64. Kono meaning "small field" ()
  65. Sanu meaning "small field" ()
  66. Takeuchi meaning "bamboo house" (|)
  67. Tamura meaning "rice field village" (c)
  68. Kaneko meaning "gold child" (q)
  69. Wada meaning "Japanese rice field" (ac)
  70. Nakayama meaning "middle mountain" (R)
  71. Ishida meaning "stone rice field" (Γc)
  72. Ageda meaning "upper rice field" (c)
  73. Ueda meaning "upper rice field" (c)
  74. Kamida meaning "upper rice field" (c)
  75. Jouda meaning "upper rice field" (c)
  76. Morita meaning "forest rice field" (Xc)
  77. Hara meaning "meadow" ()
  78. Shibata meaning "firewood rice field" (ēc)
  79. Sakai meaning "sake town" ()
  80. Sakei meaning "sake town" ()
  81. Kudo meaning "construct wisteria" (H)
  82. Kodo meaning "construct wisteria" (H)
  83. Yokoyama meaning "side mountain" (R)
  84. Miyazaki meaning "palace cape" ({)
  85. Miyamoto meaning "palace true" ({{)
  86. Uchida meaning "within rice field" (c)
  87. Kouki meaning "tall tree" ()
  88. Takaki meaning "tall tree" ()
  89. Ando meaning "peaceful wisteria" ()
  90. Taniguchi meaning "valley mouth" (J)
  91. Oono meaning "large field" ()
  92. Imai meaning "now town" ()
  93. Maruyama meaning "round mountain" (ێR)
  94. Kouda meaning "tall rice field" (c)
  95. Takata meaning "tall rice field" (c)
  96. Kawano meaning "river field" (͖)
  97. Kouno meaning "river field" (͖)
  98. Fujimoto meaning "wisteria true" ({)
  99. Ojima meaning "small island" ()
  100. Kojima meaning "small island" ()
  101. Takeda meaning "warrior rice field" (c)

History of Japanese Last Names
Prior to the Meiji period (1868-1912), last names were rarely used except by the Samurais, noblemen, merchants and some artisans. The commoners which made up the vast majority of people in those times were referred to by their given name and the area from which they were from. During the Meiji period however, the government with endorsement from the emperor made it mandatory for everyone to select a family name using a list of preauthorized Kanji (Japanese characters).

Last Name Characteristics
The majority of Japanese surnames consist of one or two Kanji symbols most of which are geographical landmarks such as river (kawa), mountain (yama), or forest (mori) and adjectives describing the landmarks such as one (ichi), small (koba), or bamboo (take). In Japan, it is customary to refer to someone by their last name even among friends. Similarly when writing a person's name the last name always precedes the given name.


How do students get marked (graded) in Japan?
In most schools, students are graded from 1 to 5 on their report cards at the end of each term, with 5 being the best grade. Tests and exams are usually scored out of 100. Right answers are usually marked with a circle, while wrong answers are usually marked with a cross.

What kinds of homework do the students do, and how long do they study each day? How do they learn kanji (Sino-Japanese characters)?

Elementary school pupils get homework nearly every day. Often they have to do math drills and learn kanji (Sino-Japanese characters), which are an important part of the Japanese language.

Schoolchildren are expected to learn 1,006 kanji while in elementary school, more than half the 1,945 that have been specified as being kanji for daily use. The children have to learn not only the correct stroke order but must also master the different readings that the kanji have.

When a new kanji comes up in a textbook, children memorize it by practicing writing it dozens of times in their notebooks.

Kids also get homework over summer and winter vacations. They frequently undertake a project of their own choosing, like studying the growth of plants or researching the history of their community, and write compositions on the books they read.  



What are school lunches like?

 From Monday through Friday, schoolchildren attending elementary and middle schools have lunches prepared for them in the classroom. The students take turns serving portions. The meals are healthy and well-balanced, containing all the nutrients and calories required for the healthy growth of youngsters.

The lunches are full of variety, featuring a whole range of meats, fishes, vegetables, and sea plants. A typical meal consists of stew or curry, boiled vegetables, a sandwich, and salad.

Milk is served with each meal. Usually, there is also dessert, such as gelatin, ice cream, and fruit.


What time do Japanese kids start and finish school?
Starting and finishing times vary from school to school, but most kids have to be at school for registration by 8:30 a.m., and the last class of the day usually finishes around 3:00 p.m. However, this is not the end of the school day for most kids, who stay at school to take part in sport and other club activities. 

Origami is a traditional Japanese pastime where a single square of paper is folded in different ways to create shapes like cute animals and beautiful plants. Since it only takes a sheet of paper, the hobby can easily be enjoyed anywhere; many people in Japan enjoy it at home and at school. The best known origami shape, which many children learn from their parents or grandparents, is the crane. Other shapes include flowers, butterflies, crabs, and even difficult creations like Christmas trees. Origami is especially popular among girls.

The practice of origami began in the early 700s, when paper was first introduced to Japan. At first paper was folded to make decorations for use in religious ceremonies at shrines, but gradually people came to use it in their regular lives as well. During the Heian period (794-1185), it was popular to fold valuable paper and use it to beautifully wrap letters and presents. Later, origami continued to be used in traditional ceremonies, but the women of the imperial court began to fold dolls and other shapes for their amusement.

In the Edo period (1603-1868) people thought up different kinds of origami involving cutting and layering of paper, and the activity grew popular among the common people of Japan. Later, in the Meiji era (1868-1912), origami came to be taught at elementary schools. Students continue to study origami at school to this day; it is used to teach concepts in geometry, such as the relationship between a plane and a solid shape.


What kind of games do Japanese kids play?

 The most popular game among Japanese boys now is soccer, which they play in schoolyards or local parks after school. Baseball and basketball are popular too. Both boys and girls play dodge-ball and ride around on their bicycles.

Japanese kids also play tag and hide-and-seek, like children in other countries; jumping rope is popular too. They also play some traditional Japanese games, such as "Darumasan ga koronda," a game like "red light, green light" where everyone freezes when the person who is "it" turns to see them after singing the game's name, and another one called "Hana ichimonme," like "red rover," where two teams try to get members of the other team to come over to their side. But these aren't so common any more.

When they play indoors, Japanese kids' big favorite is video games but they also enjoy playing card and board games like Monopoly and Uno. Sometimes they go to each other's houses and read books or comics together.


How fast do Shinkansen trains go?

During regular operation, Shinkansen, or bullet trains, can reach speeds of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour. There are plans to raise this limit to around 330 kph to 350 kph (205 mph to 217 mph) in the near future. The Shinkansen was inaugurated in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The Shinkansen was designed to provide a high-speed means of transporting large numbers of people over long distances. They proved popular not only among business workers but also tourists. For this reason, dining cars and cars with special compartments for families and groups have been introduced. The trains are now equipped with pay telephones.

In recent years, a growing number of people have begun using the Shinkansen to commute to work. To meet the demands for more seats, "double-decker" cars have been introduced.

Bullet trains are operated with the most advanced technology available to guarantee efficiency and safety. There are systems to automatically and centrally control the trains' speed and the distance between trains, and the trains can be stopped or slowed in emergencies.



What are the characteristics of tatami?
Tatami is a mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms. Since the Muromachi period (1338-1573) tatami have been made of a thick base of straw covered with a soft surface of woven rush. A single tatami usually measures 1.91 by 0.95 meters (6.3 by 3.1 feet). In Japan the size of rooms, Western and Japanese-style alike, are often measured in terms of "mats of tatami." Tatami flooring is cool in the summer and warm in the winter and remains fresher than carpet during Japan's humid months.


What are the features of traditional Japanese sports?

 Sumo is a traditional Japanese sport that still enjoys immense popularity today. In sumo, two wrestlers face each other in a ring. The wrestler who brings his opponent down to the ground or pushes him out of the ring is the winner.

 Another traditional sport is kendo. In kendo, two fencers wearing protectors, including masks and chest guards, each hold a long bamboo sword and compete by attempting to strike the opponent's mask or chest with the sword.

Yet another is aikido, a martial art of self-defense in which an attack with bare hands or with a weapon, such as a sword or spear, is repulsed by utilizing the strength of the attacker against him or her.

 Judo, which is now part of the official sports program at the Olympic Games, is also a traditional sport. In judo, two wrestlers compete with various throwing and grappling techniques.

 Other traditional sports include karate, which came to Japan from China; Japanese archery, or kyudo, in which standing archers shoot arrows at a target with a long Japanese-style bow; and mounted archery, in which archers shoot at stationary targets from atop galloping horses.

Are some people excluded from sumo wrestling?
Currently only men can become professional sumo wrestlers. Every wrestler belongs to one of the more than 50 sumo stables, and to be eligible for entry into a stable, candidates must be at least 173 centimeters (about 5 feet 8 inches) tall, weigh at least 75 kilograms (165 pounds), and be under 23 years old (or between 20 and 25 years, if one has performed fairly well in college- or adult-level amateur tournaments).
How do sumo wrestlers get so heavy?
Believe it or not, sumo wrestlers have to obey a strict diet to reach the right physical condition for wrestling. Their main meal every day is brunch, eaten at about 11:30 in the morning. They eat a special dish called chanko nabe, meaning "mixed pot," a high-calorie stew made from seaweed stock and containing chicken, fish, prawns, tofu, beansprouts, cabbage, onions, and other vegetables. Senior wrestlers often eat several bowls of chanko nabe and several bowls of rice at each sitting.
When did sumo start?
Sumo is said to have started over 2,000 years ago. From around the Heian period (794-1192), the imperial family often watched sumo as a form of entertainment. Sumo evolved over many centuries, with the first professional sumo wrestlers appearing in the Edo period (1603-1868). Sumo is now officially Japan's national sport.

How big are Japanese homes?

On average, dwellings in Japan have 91.92 square meters (about 989 square feet) of floor space per household. The average for a family of three is 91.8 square meters (about 988 square feet), and that for a four-member household is 96.0 square meters (about 1033 square feet).

By number of rooms, the average for all households is 4.31. A three-member family has an average of 4.87 rooms, and a family of four has 5.03 rooms.

Six out of 10 Japanese live in single-family houses. The rest live in apartments and other multi-unit buildings.

 One survey says that 80% of families with children have at least one room for the kids, and about 50% provide one room for each child. The average size of a kid's room is 10 square meters (around 108 square feet).

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