Kumamoto: Village declares self birthplace of rare name

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People use their fingers to form the hashtag-like kanji for the name “I” at a Nov. 3 event in Ubuyama, a Kumamoto Prefecture village where the rare name is unusually common.

UBUYAMA, Kumamoto — One in every five inhabitants of a village in Kyushu has the family name “I.” The name is confusing when written in Roman lettering because it looks like the English first-person personal pronoun, or the Roman numeral for 1. However, it is not pronounced “i” as in “ice”, but “e” as in “eat.”

While a fairly rare family name in Japan and extremely short compared to other Japanese family names, in the village of Ubuyama, Kumamoto Prefecture, about 280 people — or 20% of the population of about 1,400 — have the last name.

To revitalize the community by taking advantage of the village’s unique characteristics, the municipality designated Nov. 3 as “I-san’s day” (a day for those with the last name of I) and held an event that day.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Nov. 3 is a national holiday called Culture Day in Japan. The municipality chose Nov. 3, however, because it becomes a pun using the last name — the number 113 can be read as “i-i-san” in Japanese.

It is said there were many samurai warriors who called themselves “I” around the village from the 12th to 14th century. The kanji character for “I” — which resembles a “#” — means “a well.” The name is said to be closely related to spring water, and in fact, there are many people with the name in areas near water sources.

The event celebrating the last name took place at a water source in the Tajiri district as the district has a heavy concentration of people who have the last name in the village.

At the event, Fumio I, a section chief at the village office, declared the village is “I-san’s hometown,” saying, “We are positive the village of Ubuyama is the birthplace of the family name I.

“We will continue to protect the lifestyle of Ubuyama for the future as we have coexisted with nature, being blessed with spring water,” he continued.

For a commemorative photo, the participants used their fingers to form the kanji “I” and sat together in such a way as to form the same kanji character on the ground.

The municipality also plans to hold a larger-scale festival on Nov. 3 next year, and they are inviting anyone with the last name of I from all over the nation to participate.

“I want to revitalize the village by using the ‘I’ last name, emphasizing the village’s nature, humanity and playfulness,” said Hiroaki I, a 72-year-old resident in the Tajiri district and the leader of the event.