Puzzle Monday: What’s in a (Japanese) name?

Do you read Murakami? Or drive a Honda? Investing with Nomura?

But do you have any idea what these well-known Japanese names mean?

In Japanese, proper names often consist of two parts that describe a geographical feature. Many languages, including English, have a similar construction: think Portland, Springfield, Hollywood.

The Japanese names mentioned above are also two-part geographical descriptions. For this week’s puzzle, we’ll give you 17 Japanese proper nouns, including the three above, and 17 translations. With logical deduction, a little practical sense and very, very little knowledge of Japan, you will be able to connect them.

Here are the 17 Japanese proper names:

  1. ota
  2. Nakayama
  3. Kigawa
  4. Kazan
  5. Murakami
  6. Kagawa
  7. Ono
  8. Fujisan
  9. nomura
  10. Tanaka
  11. Sakuragi
  12. nihon
  13. Osaka
  14. Yamazaka
  15. Kawakami
  16. Honda
  17. Yamamichi

And here are their literal English translations, in random order:

  1. big slope
  2. river of trees
  3. mountain slope
  4. country village
  5. Top of the village
  6. upper river
  7. In the middle of the rice field
  8. small field
  9. Middle Mountain
  10. original paddy field
  11. mountain road
  12. Cherry tree
  13. Mountain of fire (volcano)
  14. big paddy field
  15. Mount Fuji
  16. river of fire
  17. Origin of the Sun (Japan)

Your task is to match them!

Cherry blossoms frame the Tokyo Skytree tower.
Cherry blossoms frame the Tokyo Skytree tower. falcon0125/Getty Images

To do this, you must start by analyzing proper names and translations for patterns and repeated elements. Note that the order of Japanese words and their English translations is not always the same. You may also notice that consonant sounds sometimes change slightly when two elements of a compound word combine: an “s” may become a “z” or a “t” may become a “d”. A few hints: “mount” and “mountain” are different words in Japanese. The same goes for “field” and “paddy field”. And if you know the Japanese word for “Japan”, you get it for free.

Source: Harold Somer, All Ireland Language Olympiad 2015

Perplexed? Download the solution, with all the logical steps to get there!

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