Science

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

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

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

In Japanese, proper nouns 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’re going to give you 17 Japanese proper nouns—including the three above—and 17 translations. With logical deduction, some practical sense, and very, very little knowledge of Japan, you’re going to be able to connect them.

Here are the 17 Japanese proper nouns:

  1. Ōta
  2. Nakayama
  3. Kigawa
  4. Kazan
  5. Murakami
  6. Kagawa
  7. Ono
  8. Fujisan
  9. Nomura
  10. Tanaka
  11. Sakuragi
  12. Nihon
  13. Ōsaka
  14. Yamazaka
  15. Kawakami
  16. Honda
  17. Yamamichi

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

  1. Big slope
  2. Tree river
  3. Slope of the mountain
  4. Field village
  5. Upper village
  6. Upper river
  7. Middle of the rice-field
  8. Little field
  9. Middle mountain
  10. Original rice-field
  11. Mountain road
  12. Cherry tree
  13. Fire mount (volcano)
  14. Big rice-field
  15. Mount Fuji
  16. Fire river
  17. Origin of the sun (Japan)

Your task is to match them up!

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

To do that you should start by scanning the proper nouns 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 couple of hints: “mount” and “mountain” are different words in Japanese. So are “field” and “rice-field.” And if you know the Japanese word for “Japan,” you get that one for free.

Source: Harold Somers, All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad 2015

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




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