Just thought I would start an interesting thread about place names and what we know of Kanji from getting around Japan. The following are a list of Japanese place names that I can easily read in Kanji, easily write in Kanji without looking them up as well as Japanese places I have actually physically visited in Japan.
They are some of the Kanji I know by writing, visiting and seeing in that combination as a place name.
Does anyone else do things like this and study the place names you are going to just so you can travel there, hit the correct ticket button/zone for a fare or be able to recognise the place you are visiting.
There were a few I’ve never heard of in your list, but I was excited to see 登別 among them!
I live in Hokkaido, and it’s honestly a different game up here. In most cases, the place name and Kanji meaning have no relation at all! 登別 for example is actually an Ainu word that means “milky river” (別 is often used when Ainu refers to a river) and is so named for the hot springs there.
Here are a few other Hokkaido place names that have given me some trouble:
積丹 (this one is often written in Katakana because it’s so strange)
There’s a really great song by Wednesday Campanella that incorporates a lot of these place names as well!
I could read 8 from your list immediately, for a few more I was able to guess after thinking a bit.
When I was in Japan, I found that I quickly learned new place names when they were part of my usual routes - like specific districts, street, and building names. But sadly, I already forgot most of them.
Yes Noboribetsu is a very special place for me. I really enjoyed it for a few reasons. It is not only friendly but also beautiful with the hell valley a big highlight if you are into that kind of nature and scenery.
But back to my way of learning things I like to focus on relevancy which is why I learn in the way I do by taking in place names as well as other topics related to travel.
I am keen to see place names that others have managed to master in all forms.
I can guess that the two place names people may have trouble with or have not heard of are Ginzan and Nachi. At least Nachi is a major world heritage site with the pagoda and second largest waterfall in Japan. It is a very significant place in Japan as part of a religious pilgrimage but the serenity of it is beyond words.
Yes Toba and Sakata are lovely places. Toba is a port that has access to the nearby Ise Shrines which are quite famous. Called there on a cruise ship which is one of the many ways I get around Japan. Sakata is a good place if you like Sake! It was a major trading port for rice I believe and is a very friendly part of Japan to visit as they do not get too many foreign tourists they really go out of their way to make you feel more welcome there. In fact I am keen to go back again.
When I first visited Tōbetsu last year, I was rather surprised that I could read the name: 当別
I soon found, as you said, that this was a case of ateji being used to write Ainu place names:
当別 is an approximation of to-pet, or トペッ, meaning something like “marsh river”, or “river from the marsh”.
Many places in Hokkaido (at least around Asahikawa) have signs explaining the Ainu origins of their names, which I think is really cool:
I live in Kyushu, so I’m good with the major cities and am starting to get more familiar with smaller cities. Gotta love 大分’s funky reading, though. If I lived in 別府 I’d call my town “separate government” to distance myself from that mess too.
Special がばい Saga points from me for anyone who can get these readings without googling
Also, those Hokkaido place names are terrifying and every time I see Hokkaido on a map I refuse to acknowledge what’s going on up there.