Semiotic principles of naming methods for folk plot names: The cases of three Japanese villages that underwent agricultural land readjustment in Shiga Prefecture

Satoshi Imazato

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Numerous geographers, folklorists, and social linguists have studied minor place names within Japanese villages. However, rural Japanese people have recognized and used agricultural plot names, which are given to patches of rice paddies, dry fields, and woods ; these areas cover smaller units than those represented by minor place names. Although it is usually difficult to clearly determine the origin of minor place names originating in the distant past, it is relatively easy to elucidate the origin and naming method of folk plot names that circulate within a single household. Few studies, however, have systematically examined the historical changes in and universal principles of naming methods for such plot names within villages either inside or outside Japan. Accordingly, this paper examines the naming methods used by residents themselves for plot names within the villages of Kominami, Toba-kou, and Kibe in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. These three villages are located on the Omi Basin near Lake Biwa. Two households were selected in each village to investigate the historical changes in plot names and their naming methods during the agricultural land readjustment project undertaken from the 1970s to the 1980s. Based on interviews, households land registers, and cadastral maps, the paper clarifies that each household used six to twenty plot names before the land readjustment and that drastic changes in the boundaries of agricultural plots and in their folk names occurred as a result of the readjustment. Finally, it was determined that both before and after the land readjustment, the six case-study households used four semiotic principles in naming each plot : parts-to-whole relationships (59 cases), spatial adjacency (25 cases), distinctive features (17 cases), and temporal adjacency (9 cases). In the first type, the parts-to-whole relationship corresponds to the relation between a plot and a parcel represented by a cadastral minor place name, which has often been directly applied to the plot name, as well as to the relative location of a plot within a series of plots. In the second type, spatial adjacency is based on a particular reference point such as a resident's house, a stream bank, or a major road near the plot. In the third type, distinctive features include the area, landforms, and the crops grown on the plot. In the fourth type, temporal adjacency is based on the owner or tenant farmer of a plot in the recent past. From the perspective of cognitive linguistics, these four principles are based on metonymical recognition, which can be related to universal schemas of human spatial perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-26
Number of pages22
JournalJapanese Journal of Human Geography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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