Photo/Illutration An artist's rendition of the Suzuki Yashiki (Suzuki residence) after it will be restored in 2022 in Kainan, Wakayama Prefecture (Provided by the Kainan city government)

Fujiwara no Hidesato, a court bureaucrat and warrior of the mid-Heian Period (794-1185), was apparently a man of exceptional valor who slew a giant centipede by Lake Biwa, according to folklore.

He is also credited with suppressing a revolt led by Taira no Masakado and beheading him in 940.

Hidesato's descendants flourished, spreading from their home base in the present-day city of Sano in Tochigi Prefecture to various parts of Japan. Many of the progeny assumed the surname of Sato--a composite of the first kanji characters in Sano and Fujiwara--except in the latter case, the kanji for "Fuji" is pronounced as "to."

Drawing inspiration from this history, officials of the Sano municipal government, including Akihiro Yuzawa, 47, decided to promote the city as the "holy land" of an estimated 2 million people around Japan whose surname is Sato.

Last autumn, Yuzawa and his team checked out a historic landmark known as Suzuki Yashiki (Suzuki residence) in the city of Kainan in Wakayama Prefecture. They declared the site the "birthplace of the surname Suzuki," and held a "national Suzuki summit" there, which proved a great success.

This encouraged them to proceed this fiscal year with a full-scale project to revitalize the city of Sano.

They have designated March 10 as "Sato no Hi" (Sato Day), as the numbers 3 and 10 can be pronounced "sa" and "to," respectively.

The team is holding its first event on this day in Tokyo to promote the "holy land," although it has been scaled down from the original plan due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

I know a number of Satos, and I asked them how they feel about their name.

"I had many classmates of the same surname, and things got pretty confusing at times," said one. Another said that due to it, "I used to suffer from a sense of inferiority."

I wonder if sharing the same surname with many people makes them feel as if they are lacking in individuality.

In Japan today, in order of population, the most common surnames are Sato, Suzuki, Takahashi, Tanaka, Watanabe, Ito and Yamamoto, according to one of the "Rekishido" book series published by Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc.

But even if one's surname is too common, getting to know about the achievements of one's ancestors can arouse a sense of fondness for it.

I felt quite certain about that when I gazed at a wide expanse of the northern Kanto region from the ruins of Hidesato's castle.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.