表札 hyousatsu—nameplate

We got a nameplate for our front door on Friday.

It has our surname written in katakana: コノリー konorii, and in romaji.

Every house has to have a nameplate, because houses don’t really have addresses the way they do in Ireland. There are no street names or house numbers. Instead, the address is a bit like a postcode. So without a nameplate, it is very hard for the postman or delivery person to find the house.

Nameplates are made of tile or stone, or traditionally of wood, and show the surname of the family living in the house. It is relatively rare to see a nameplate with two surnames, because usually people in the same household share the same surname. A married couple is not allowed to retain two different surnames: the wife may take the husband’s surname, or (less commonly) the husband may take the wife’s surname or they may choose a new surname.

Normally the husband is the registered head of the household, but in Japan a registered alien may not be the head of the household, so Yuko is the head of our household.

Sometimes also the nameplate includes the first name of the head of the household. This person’s name is 中野 亮三郎 (possibly Nakano Ryousaburou or Akisaburou):

The majority of Japanese surnames consist of two kanji characters. Because they are normally fairly simple characters, even a learner like me can read most surnames. For example:

This is the 谷口 Taniguchi household, where the two characters used are 谷 tani—valley and 口 kuchi—mouth. These are simple kanji learned at Grade 2 and Grade 1 level respectively.

First names are a different matter entirely. They very often use obscure kanji and very non-standard pronunciations. In fact, it is often the case that a particular pronunciation is unique to that particular name. For example the character 亮, used in the name 亮三郎 above can be pronounced as akiakirasukemakotoyoshikyou, or in other ways. These special pronunciations used in names are called nanori. It may be impossible even for Japanese people to know how to pronounce someone else’s name, as different names may be written with the same characters. For this reason, you may see little furigana characters written beside someone’s name, as a pronunciation guide.

A minority of Japanese surnames are written with 3 kanji or a single kanji, as in this example (南 Minami—a Grade 2 kanji meaning “south”):

Sometimes the name is written in romaji as well as kanji. I’ve no idea what the “1718” represents!

A note on the word of the day:

表札 hyousatsu means “nameplate” and is written with two kanji characters: 表 whose meaning is something like “surface” or “front side” and 札 which normally refers to a banknote or playing card and in this case means a flat plate or placard.

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3 thoughts on “表札 hyousatsu—nameplate

  1. Reading your informative pages leads me into a fantasy world where having answered all the questions correctly I am now faced with the million euro question.
    ‘Are you ready?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Explain the difference between katakana and romaji.’
    ‘Simple. Katakama, a form of japanese script. Romaji, roman script.’
    ‘Congratulations, Paddy, you have just won yourself a million euro. How does it feel?’
    ‘How do you think it feels?’

    1. Hi Miyazaki-san, thanks so much for taking the time to drop by and to correct my error!
      Yes, I guess the houses do have numbers, but it’s not really street numbers in the sense that I’m used to.
      Best,
      D.

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