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  • Juju Kurihara

Japanese family name - Nakamura -

Updated: May 9, 2023

After the last article about Japanese family name, I was requested to talk about Nakamura (中村).

Nakamura is the 8th most common family name in Japan and there are about 1.094 million people have this family name.

The Kamon (家紋/heraldry) of Nakamura are Marunikenkatabami (丸に剣片喰) on the right or Maruniumebachi (丸に梅鉢) on the left. / /

If you have learn some Kanji, you may think, “Oh, Nakamura means in the middle of a village”. Unfortunately NO. Nakamura as well as Motomura (本村) or Hongo (本郷) means the main village comparing to the separated village. In ancient time, when the population grew along with the growth of rice farming, the village was divided in order to increase the farming place. Then the main village was called Nakamura (中村), Motomura (本村), Motomura (元村) or Hongo (本郷). Nakamura can also be written 仲村, 仲邑, 中邑. Since this name is related to rice farming, it is used for the name of the place all over Japan. This means there are many different places where the name Nakamura come from.

Let´s see two quite major origins.

Nakamura no Muraji (中村連), one of the old clan, Nakatomiujizoku (中臣氏族) is probably the oldest Nakamura and was originated in Oshimi gun (忍海郡) Nakamura go (中村郷), now Nara prefecture. And Nakamura Jinja (仲村神社) in Fushie, Osaka is related to Nakamura no Muraji.

This shrine became a local Shinto God by Nakamura no Muraji and has more than 1,000 years of history although it looks quite new. In Shinsen Shojiroku (新撰姓氏録/ New Selection and Record of Hereditary Titles and Family Names), which was recompleted in 815, it is recorded that Nakamura shrine is the ancestors of Nakamura no Muraji.

Now Nakamura Jinja is believed as the god of smallpox.

Other origin is Nakamura Kimi (中村公) of the clan, Kamitsukenu Ujizoku (上毛野氏族) from Nakamura go (中村郷) in Mutsu no kuni (陸奥国) Niita gun (新田郡), which is in Miyagi prefecture (宮城県) now. Then this Nakamura clan spread into different clans. One of them was Tanto Nakamura (丹党中村) who was the one of the seven samurai clans in Kanto area and became the base power of Minamoto Yoritomo (源頼朝, 1147-1199) when the Genpei War (源平合戦, 1180-1185) started.

The Tanto family had a lot of control over Chichibu area (秩父) in Saitama prefecture (埼玉県) and its tomb is in Tenmantenjingu (天満天神宮) in Nakamura cho, Chichibu city.

I´ve found another interesting theory about where the family name Nakamura came from. It´s said that the origin of Nakamura is actually Heike (平家/ Taira family) whom entire family was destroyed by Genji (源氏/ Minamoto family) during Genpei War above mentioned.

However it says that Heike did not extinct all and after Kamakura period (鎌倉時代, 1185-1333), some played a part in developing villages, inns, towns or even industries as double public officers.

In other word, he got rid of his proud name, Taira and changed to Nakamura.

This theory comes from a supposition. Although Heike defeated by Genji, Genji could´t kill all Heike because they are somehow families. At that time, there were four court noble families, Genji, Heike, Fujiwara and Tachibana. What we could assume is there must have been intermarriages between these four families. That means they must have had strong “family” bond and therefore, even if Genji won the war, they wouldn´t have killed all Heike family. And the descendants of Heike who became Nakamura helped to develop the cities of Japan in Kamakura era.

I personally like this theory, just because what I´ve learnt at school about Taira family was so sad. This story gives me a hope that Genji gave Heike a mercy and not all Taira family including mothers with small babies. Moreover, they helped to build Japan. It´s a more peaceful ending of Genpei War, don´t you think?

Despite the fact that Nakamura is the 8th common family name in Japan, I haven´t met so many people with this name. In fact two as far as I remember. But every time I hear this name, it reminds me this TV commercial. Until now, I didn´t even know this was a hit song in the 70´s and the commercial just picked up this old song.


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