Watanabe (渡辺 and other variants[note 1]) is a Japanese surname derived from the Watanabe clan, a branch of the Minamoto clan, and refers to a location called 'Watanabe no tsu' which was settled by the Watanabe clan, who took the name of the place. It was located in the medieval period near the mouth of the Yodogawa River in Settsu Province, in present-day city of Osaka.

Region of originJapan
The emblem (mon) 'Mitsuboshi ni ichimonji' of the Watanabe clan
Keep of Kishiwada castle



The surname Watanabe comes from the samurai clan founded by Watanabe no Tsuna (953-1025), of the Saga Genji branch of the Minamoto clan, and his official name was Minamoto no Tsuna.[1] He established the Watanabe branch of the Minamoto clan, taking the name from his stronghold at Watanabe no tsu, a port on the Yodogawa River in Settsu Province, and in 1020 he was appointed Tango no kami (Governor of Tango Province). He was the son of Minamoto no Atsuru (933-953), married to a daughter of the Chinjufu-shōgun (Commander in chief of the defense of the north) Minamoto no Mitsunaka (912-997); he was the grandson of Minamoto no Tsuko (891-942), Musashi no Kami (Governor of Musashi province); was the great-grandson of Minamoto no Noboru (848-918), Dainagon (Chief Councilor of State); great-great-grandson of Minamoto no Tōru (822-895), Sadaijin (Minister of the Left); and was the great-great-great-grandson of the Emperor Saga (786-842), the 52nd Emperor of Japan. He was the stepgrandson of the Chinjufu-shōgun Minamoto no Mitsunaka, a descendant of Emperor Seiwa (850-881), and having lost his father the year of his birth, he was adopted by Minamoto no Atsushi, a descendant of Emperor Ninmyō (808-850), and son in law of Mitsunaka. He was companion in arms to his stepuncle Minamoto no Yorimitsu (944–1021), son of Mitsunaka; and was famous for his military exploits in a number of tales and legends. He is known as one of the Four Guardian Kings (Shitennō) of Yorimitsu, referring to the Buddhist Four Heavenly Kings.

Late Heian period to the Genpei warEdit

Watanabe no Den, great-grandson of Tsuna, received from Emperor Shirakawa (1053-1129) the hereditary title of Shokan (Governing officer) of the huge Oe no Mikuriya estate, and in Kyoto he inherited the military charges of Takiguchi no musha (Takiguchi warriors Guards of the Imperial Palace), as well as Emonfu (Government office of the Outer Palace Gate Guards) and Hyoefu (Administrative office of Middle Palace Guards).

Dominating Settsu Province as a focal area of maritime transportation in medieval Japan, the Watanabe family spread its influence widely. Their descendants settled in other areas, including Kyushu.

Watanabe Hisashi (1064-1148 or 1154), also called Minamoto no Hisashi, great-grandson of Watanabe no Tsuna, was appointed Kebiishi (Chief of police and justice), was granted the title of Shokan (Governing officer) of Uno no Mikuriya estate in Matsuura (Hizen province, in Kyushu) and called himself Matsuura Hisashi. He ruled the County of Matsuura, the province of Iki, and a part of Sonogi district, and is the ancestor of the Matsuura Watanabe branch, Lords of Hirado castle.

During the Hōgen rebellion (1156), and the Genpei War (1180–1185), the Watanabe sided with Minamoto no Yorimasa (1106–1180), until his death at the Battle of Uji, then with Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199).

At the Battle of Uji (1180), the opening battle of the Genpei War,[2] the Watanabe clan formed with the warrior monks of Miidera Temple most of the Minamoto clan army.

The Heike Monogatari describes some of the Watanabe samurai present at this battle :

  • Watanabe Choshichi Tonō : "He was attired that day in a samurai clothing of light green, and body armour ornamented with cherry blossoms on a yellow ground, and wore a sword with mounts of red copper; in his quiver he carried twenty four arrows feathered with white and under his arm was a bow lacquered in black and bound with red bands".
  • Watanabe no Kiō : "clad in a brocaded hunting suit profusely embroidered with chrysanthemums, and wearing a general's armour of scarlet; its name was Kisenaga, and it had been a treasured heirloom for many generations. On his head was a helmet shining with silver stars, and a splendid sword hung at his side. In his quiver were twenty four arrows barred with black on their white feathers, not to speak of the special arrow, feathered with a hawk's wing, always carried by the Imperial Guards of the Takiguchi. His bow was a 'shigeto' of black lacquer with red binding. He rode on (the horse named) Nanryo, while one of his retainers followed with a remount and another bore his shield under his arm".

Were also present that day from the Watanabe clan : Minamoto no Sazuku, Minamoto no Tsuranu, Watanabe Habuku, Minamoto no Okoru, and others, who fought to death and were killed in battle fighting against the Taira.

The Watanabe had a powerful navy, and in 1185 they sent their navy ships to support the Minamoto cause.

In February 1185, the Minamoto army stayed at Watanabe no tsu, in the lands of the Watanabe clan, to rest, gather troops, army provisions, and prepare a fleet of ships for the raid in Shikoku.

At the Battle of Yashima (March 1185) the Watanabe horsemen proved to be decisive, and due to the fall of Yashima, the Taira clan lost their bases in Shikoku.

At the Battle of Dan-no-ura (April 1185), when the Dowager Empress Kenrei-mon-In, daughter of Taira no Kiyomori, tried to drown herself, she was pulled out by the samurai Watanabe no Mutsuru.

The priest Mongaku Shōnin who urged Minamoto no Yoritomo to start a war against the Taira, and who managed to get a letter from the Emperor Go-Shirakawa (1127–1192) to Yoritomo, requesting that he set up an army and liberate the country from the tyranny of the Taira, which enabled the Minamoto to take up arms,[3] was the son of Watanabe no Endo Mochito.

Kamakura to Muromachi periodsEdit

After the Genpei war, the Matsuura Watanabe received the additional titles of Gokenin (Direct Retainer of the Shogunate), and of Jitō (Military Governor). During the Mongol invasions (1274 and 1281), the Matsuura Watanabe fought fiercely to repel the invaders. Sashibo, the Soryo (Heir) of the Matsuura Watanabe and his cousin Yamashiro Kai, from the Yamashiro Watanabe branch descending from Oi, sixth son of Watanabe Hisashi, were killed in battle fighting against the Mongols.

The Kamachi clan were descendants of Minamoto no Noboru (848-918), like their cousins of the Watanabe clan, and had the titles of Shokan (Governing officer) of Kanzaki no shō estate (Hizen province), of Gokenin, of Jitō (Military Governor) of the County of Mizuma (Chikugo province),[4] and held the court rank of Kizoku (Officer). Minamoto no Hisanao, son of Watanabe Hisashi, was 'Uhyoe no jo' (Officer of the guards of the Middle Palace), and owner of Mikuriya no shō estate. After the Jokyu war (1221), Hisanao's son, Minamoto no Sanen, was adopted by the Kamachi as their son in law to succeed their estates and titles; he changed his name to Kamachi, and was the founder of the Kamachi Watanabe branch, Lords of Kamachi castle. At the time of the Mongol invasions, Morohisa went to the front as a member of the Matsuura Watanabe clan.

In 1235, the Watanabe clan received from the Kamakura shogunate the responsibility of overseeing large shipments of tax and tributes due the shogunate from the provinces of western and central Japan[5]

Watanabe Toru

During the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (1336-1392), the Matsuura Watanabe sided with the Northern Court, and fought at the Battle of Chikugogawa (1359). The Kamachi Watanabe sided with the Southern Court, and Takehisa was killed at the Battle of Tatarahama (1336).

Watanabe Mochi, descendant of Watanabe no Tsuna, rendered distinguished military service to the Shogun Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358), and was granted the title of Jitō (Military Governor) of Yamada no shō (Bingo Province). He is the ancestor of the Yamada Watanabe branch, Lords of Ichijoyama castle, who owned the whole area of the Peninsula of Numakuma. During the Ōnin War (1467-1477), they sided with the Eastern camp. They were treated by the Ashikaga Shoguns as equal to a Shugo (Governor of province), and were allowed to use the 'Shirokasabukuro' and 'Mosen kuraoi' seals allowed only to the Shugo in the Muromachi period.

Sengoku periodEdit

Kishiwada castle
Watanabe Moritsuna, Lord of Terabe, General of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu

During the 16th century wars, the following Watanabe samurai distinguished themselves :

  • Watanabe Tōru († 1543), also called Kayo, descendant of the Matsuura Watanabe, was a vassal of Mōri Motonari, and was the son of Watanabe Suguru († 1524), Lord of Nagamiyama castle. In 1540, at the Battle of Yoshida-Koriyama, he was the General of a detached force, and defeated the army of Amago Sanehisa. In 1543, at the Battle of Gassan-Toda, he was killed in a fierce battle in place of Motonari. After that the Mōri clan continued to give important posts to the Watanabe family, and the Watanabe clan members were honored at the head of the Choshu Mōri Domain's New Year's Kacchu-kaiki ceremony for generations.
  • Watanabe Hajime (1534-1612), son of Watanabe Toru, fought at the Battle of Kanbe (1548), against the Hiraga clan of Takayatozaki castle (1551), against the Miya clan of Takiyama castle (1552), at Miyajima (1555) and Moji (1561).[6] In 1586, he took part in the invasion of Kyushu, and in 1588, he went to Kyoto with Mōri Terumoto, and received from Toyotomi Hideyoshi the title of Hida no kami (Governor of Hida Province). He is listed as one of the eighteen Generals of the Mōri.
  • Watanabe Tadasu († 1615) was a descendant of the Matsuura Watanabe, and a retainer of the Toyotomi clan. He took a part in the Battle of Dōmyōji (1615), in the Battle of Tennōji (1615), and died at the Siege of Osaka castle (1615).
  • Watanabe Motoharu, of the Yamada Watanabe branch, Lord of Ichijoyama castle, was a direct retainer of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki (1537-1597). At the Battle of Sekigahara, he fought against Tokugawa Ieyasu. After that his family was deprived of their fief.
  • The Matsuura Watanabe of Izumi, were Shugodai (vice-Governors) of Izumi province and Lords of Kishiwada castle. At the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), they sided against the Tokugawa, and were deprived of their fief. Hisanobu, also called Hideto, was Iyo no Kami (Governor of Iyo province), Lord of Ise Iyo castle, and the General of the gun unit of Toyotomi Hideyoshi; during the Sekigahara campaign, he was killed at the Battle of Anotsu (1600).
  • Watanabe Moritsuna (1542–1620), descended from the Matsuura Watanabe, through Watanabe Yasushi, grandson of Matsuura Hisashi, great-grandson of Watanabe no Tsuna. His ancestors were direct retainers of the Ashikaga Shoguns, and later moved to Mikawa province, thence they were called the Mikawa Watanabe branch. He joined Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1557, and fought at the Battles of Yawata (1562), Anegawa (1570), Mikatagahara (1573), Nagashino (1575), Komaki and Nagakute (1584), and the Siege of Osaka (1614-1615). He was the Lord of Terabe castle, General of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), and is the ancestor of the Hakata Watanabe branch, Lords of Hakata, and the Hanzo Watanabe branch, Lords of Terabe.

Edo period to the Meiji RestorationEdit

Watanabe Sadatsuna (1668-1715), fifth head of the Hanzo Watanabe, Karō (Chief retainer) of the Owari Tokugawa, Lord of Terabe estate and Hida no Kami (Governor of Hida province)

Besides the mainstream of Watanabe, the Matsuura branch, had the title of Daimyō (Grand feudal Lords) of Hirado Domain (Hizen Province) until 1868, were the most famous and flourished branch, and had a revenue of 61,700 koku. The territories of the Lords of Hirado included the Province of Iki (with the County of Iki (11 villages), and the County of Ishida (11 villages)); in the Province of Hizen : the County of Matsuura (47 villages), and 7 villages in the County of Sonogi.

The Matsuura Watanabe of Hirado Shinden, Daimyō of Hirado Shinden Domain (Hizen Province) until 1868, descending from the fourth lord of Hirado, was given 10,000 koku, and established a branch domain.

The Hakata Watanabe branch, were Daimyō (Grand feudal Lords) of Hakata Domain (Izumi Province) until the Meiji Restoration (1868), had a revenue of 13,500 koku, and descend from Watanabe Yoshitsuna (1611-1668), who was appointed Sobayonin (Grand Chamberlain) by the 4th Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna (1651–1680), and was the grandson of Moritsuna. The territories of the Lords of Hakata included in the Province of Izumi : 12 villages in the County of Otori, 4 villages in the County of Izumi; in the Province of Kawachi : 5 villages in the County of Furuichi, 5 villages in the County of Shiki, and 2 villages in the County of Tanboku; in the Province of Omi : 1 village in the County of Kurita, 2 villages in the County of Yasu, 2 villages in the County of Gamo, and 6 villages in the County of Takashima.

The Hanzo Watanabe branch, descending from Watanabe Shigetsuna (1574-1648), son of Moritsuna, were lords of Terabe estate, Hida no Kami (Governors of Hida province), senior retainers of the Owari Tokugawa, and had a revenue of 10,000 koku. After 1868, they were raised to the Peerage.

The Watanabe of Ōmura (Hizen Province) were ranked among the Peers after 1868.

The Watanabe of Suwa (Shinano Province) were also raised to the Peerage after 1868.

Several Watanabe samurai had the title of Hatamoto ('Guardians of the Banner'), Direct retainers of the Tokugawa Shoguns, high ranking samurai, and senior retainers of the Shoguns and their principal branches, like the descendants of :

  • Watanabe Terutsuna, Noto no Kami (Governor of Noto province), and Hatamoto with a revenue of 6,000 koku.
  • Watanabe Zonosuke, a Taishin (high) Hatamoto.
  • Watanabe Shinzaemon, younger brother of Moritsuna, and ancestor of the Shinzaemon Watanabe branch, senior retainers of the Owari Tokugawa. His descendant, Watanabe Aritsuna (1820-1868), was the Commander of the Owari Tokugawa army; he fought at the first Choshu war (1864), the second Choshu war (1865), and was killed in 1868.
  • Watanabe Tozutsuna, Karō (Chief retainer) of the Tayasu Tokugawa, and of the Hitotsubashi Tokugawa.
  • Watanabe Naotsuna, Wakasa no Kami (Governor of Wakasa province), had a revenue of 8,000 koku, and was the founder of the Wakasa Watanabe branch, Karō (Chief retainers) of the Kishū Tokugawa.



Zama jinja : Mitsutorii
Zama jinja, as published in the 18th century

渡辺, means ‘to cross over a river’. Even by the standards of Japanese names, there is an unusual degree of variation in the second kanji used to write Watanabe, with at least 51 recorded variants including the common 渡部, 渡邉 and 渡邊.[7]

According to the 'Japanese Family Names and Family Crests', the surname Watanabe is a toponymic surname (and never an occupational surname).[8]

The location called 'Watanabe no tsu' was located between Tenmabashi Station and Tenjinbashi Station, in the present day Osaka City.

Watanabe no Tsuna took charge of Zama jinja Temple, also called Ikasuri jinja. The hereditary Guji (Chief Priest) of the temple were descending from Watanabe Kaoru, descendant of Watanabe no Tsuna. The original site of the shrine was different from the current one, and the main hall was in the place where Watanabe no tsu used to be. Toyotomi Hideyoshi relocated to its current location near Nishiyokoborikawa River, at the address 3 Watanabe, 4-chome Watanabe, Kyutaromachi, Chuo Ward, Osaka City.

It is the fifth most common Japanese surname.[9]

In the context of the Japanese economy, Mrs. Watanabe is a generic name for housewives who deal in foreign exchange.[10]

People with the surnameEdit



















Fictional charactersEdit

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Reider, Noriko L (2016). Seven Demon Stories from Medieval Japan. Utah State University Press. p. 27. ISBN 9781607324898.
  2. ^ "The Heike Monogatari".
  3. ^ McClain, James L (1999). Osaka The Merchants' Capital of Early Modern Japan. Cornell University Press. pp. 26. ISBN 0801436303.
  4. ^ "MINAMOTO no Mitsusue". japanese-wiki-corpus.github.io.
  5. ^ McClain, James L (1999). Osaka The Merchants' Capital of Early Modern Japan. Cornell University Press. pp. 28. ISBN 0801436303.
  6. ^ "Watanabe Hajime".
  7. ^ https://www.fujitv-view.jp/gallery/post-149246/?imgid=1
  8. ^ Morioka, Takahiro; Takasawa, Hitoshi (2017). Japanese Family Names and Family Crests. President Inc. pp. 8–10.
  9. ^ "Top 10 Most Popular Japanese Names". Japanverse. Archived from the original on 11 June 2014. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  10. ^ "The Forex Power of Mrs. Watanabe". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 27 October 2013.