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Surname Imai - Meaning and Origin

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Imai: What does the surname Imai mean?

Imai is a Japanese surname meaning “rice farming family”, and is also the name of a well-known Japanese department store. Historically, Imai was a family name originating from Okinawa prefecture, Japan. As rice is considered a staple of the Japanese diet, it is not surprising that the Imai surname is associated with those who cultivated it.

Imai is one of the most common surnames in Japan, ranking in the top 500 as of 2016. It is also common throughout Okinawa prefecture, where it was first established, as well as other areas of Japan, such as Tokyo and Osaka. There are a number of Japanese celebrities who have either the Imai surname or are affiliated with it, such as Masataka Imai, Shintarō Imai, and Junichi Imai.

The Imai surname is a reminder that cultivating and providing essential food items for the community remain important values in modern-day Japanese society. While some families have moved away from agriculture to pursue different professions, the Imai family still prominently celebrates their agricultural roots.

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Imai: Where does the name Imai come from?

The last name Imai is most commonly found in Japan today. This is mainly because the name is derived from the Japanese vice-minster deity of the Kofun period (also known as Imaki no Mikoto). Imai is a common Japanese surname, so much so that it’s even found in ancient texts and artwork.

Outside of Japan, the name Imai can be found fairly rarely, and is most commonly seen in countries with strong ties to Japanese culture, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. The name is especially popular amongst Japanese communities living in areas of the United States such as Hawaii and California. However, due to the relatively small size of these communities, it is still a fairly rare last name in these places too.

Imai is also found in small numbers in countries such as the United Kingdom, Singapore, and South Africa. This is likely due to the influx of Japanese immigrants that moved away from their home country over the last few decades, attracted by the prospect of better economic opportunities abroad.

Overall, while the name Imai is still fairly common in Japan today, it is quite rare outside of it.

Variations of the surname Imai

Imai is a Japanese surname, derived from the Japanese characters for "rice" and "water" and meaning "rice-water," symbolizing the abundance of rice harvested in the area where the clan resided. The Imai surname is associated with various spellings and variants, although it can also be seen appearing as Imay, Imae, Iimae, Iimay, and Ima.

In other countries, such as China, the surname is written differently using the same Japanese characters, resulting in spellings such as Yemei, Yemay, Yemae, Iyemae, and Iyemay.

The surname can also be shortened into Imai as Yema, Yemae, Yemai, Yemaya, Iyemae, and Iyemaya. Additionally, there are several other related surnames that are variations on the original, such as Imaishi, Imazu, and Imabayashi.

Other surnames with similar pronunciation and similar etymological origins include Imanaga, Imanishi, Imamiya, Imatari, Imatsuragi, Imatogawa, and Imaoka.

Finally, in Okinawan, the surname is written as Imachi and the variants may include Imach, Imechy, Imatchi, and Imicchi.

Famous people with the name Imai

  • Masahiro Imai: an award-winning Japanese entrepreneur and investor. He is the founder and president of the Japanese venture capital firm, Imai Ventures, and has invested in well-known startups such as AirBnB and Softbank.
  • Junichi Imai: a former Japanese racing driver. He won the Japan Grand Prix Formula 3 in 1985 and competed for several years in both the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix (1998–99) and Japanese Touring Car Championship (1995–96).
  • Hideo Imai: a former Japanese professional golfer who has won six tournaments on the Japan Golf Tour. He was also a member of the Japan National Team at the 1998 Asian Games.
  • Goh Imai: a Japanese musician and former member of the punk band, Bureaucrats, which formed in 1984.
  • Shozo Imai: a former Japanese soccer player and manager who represented Japan in the 1968 Summer Olympics.
  • Yūsuke Imai: a Japanese actor and model. He is best known for his role as Daisuke in the Netflix original series, Terrace House: Tokyo.
  • Tsukasa Imai: a Japanese actress who has appeared in a number of television shows, such as Hana Yori Dango and Last Cinderella.
  • Takahide Imai: a Japanese musician known for his solo albums as well as his work with the band, TM Network.
  • Masaharu Imai: a Japanese actor and voice actor who has appeared in numerous films and television series, such as the long-running anime, Dragon Ball Z.
  • Kimiko Imai: a Japanese-Italian conductor, violinist, and pianist. She is the founder and artistic director of the Imai Orchestra in Rome.

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