Japan (or Japon) is an exonym , and is used (in one form or
another) by a large number of languages. The Japanese names for Japan
are NIPPON (にっぽん listen (help ·info )) and NIHON (にほん
listen (help ·info )). They are both written in Japanese using the
* 1 History
* 2 Historical
* 2.1 Nifon
* 2.2 Jippon
* 3 Nihon and Nippon
* 3.1 Meaning
* 3.2 History and evolution
* 3.3 Modern conventions
* 4 Jipangu
* 5 Other names
* 5.1 Classical names
* 5.2 Other Southeast and East Asian nations\' languages
* 5.3 Other non-East and non-Southeast Asian nations\' languages
* 6 See also
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
Wa (Japan) Cipangu on the 1453 Fra Mauro
map , the first known Western depiction of the island.
Both Nippon and Nihon literally mean "the sun's origin", that is,
where the sun originates, and are often translated as the Land of the
Rising Sun. This nomenclature comes from Imperial correspondence with
Sui Dynasty and refers to Japan's eastern position
China . Before Nihon came into official use,
known as Wa (倭) or Wakoku (倭国). Wa was a name early
to refer to an ethnic group living in
Japan around the time of the
Three Kingdoms Period .
Although the etymological origins of "Wa" remain uncertain, Chinese
historical texts recorded an ancient people residing in the Japanese
archipelago (perhaps Kyūshū), named something like *ʼWâ or *ʼWər
倭. Carr (1992:9–10) surveys prevalent proposals for Wa's etymology
ranging from feasible (transcribing Japanese first-person pronouns
waga 我が "my; our" and ware 我 "I; oneself; thou") to shameful
(writing Japanese Wa as 倭 implying "dwarf"), and summarizes
interpretations for *ʼWâ "Japanese" into variations on two
etymologies: "behaviorally 'submissive' or physically 'short'." The
first "submissive; obedient" explanation began with the (121 CE)
Shuowen Jiezi dictionary. It defines 倭 as shùnmào 順皃
"obedient/submissive/docile appearance", graphically explains the
"person; human" radical 亻 with a wěi 委 "bent" phonetic, and
quotes the above
Shijing poem. "Conceivably, when Chinese first met
Japanese," Carr (1992:9) suggests "they transcribed Wa as *ʼWâ 'bent
back' signifying 'compliant' bowing/obeisance. Bowing is noted in
early historical references to Japan." Examples include "Respect is
shown by squatting" (Hou Han Shu, tr. Tsunoda 1951:2), and "they
either squat or kneel, with both hands on the ground. This is the way
they show respect." (Wei Zhi, tr. Tsunoda 1951:13). Koji Nakayama
interprets wēi 逶 "winding" as "very far away" and euphemistically
translates Wō 倭 as "separated from the continent." The second
etymology of wō 倭 meaning "dwarf, pygmy" has possible cognates in
ǎi 矮 "low, short (of stature)", wō 踒 "strain; sprain; bent
legs", and wò 臥 "lie down; crouch; sit (animals and birds)". Early
Chinese dynastic histories refer to a Zhūrúguó 侏儒國
"pygmy/dwarf country" located south of Japan, associated with possibly
Okinawa Island or the Ryukyu Islands. Carr cites the historical
precedence of construing Wa as "submissive people" and the "Country of
Dwarfs" legend as evidence that the "little people" etymology was a
Chinese, Korean, and Japanese scribes regularly wrote Wa or Yamato
"Japan" with the Chinese character 倭 until the 8th century, when the
Japanese found fault with it due to its offensive connotation,
replacing it with 和 "harmony, peace, balance". Retroactively, this
character was adopted in
Japan to refer to the country itself, often
combined with the character 大, literally meaning "Great", so as to
write the preexisting name Yamato (大和) (in a manner similar to
e.g. 大清帝國 Great
Qing Empire , 大英帝國 Greater British
Empire ). However, the pronunciation Yamato cannot be formed from the
sounds of its constituent characters; it refers to a place in Japan
and is speculated to originally mean "Mountain Gate" (山戸). Such
words which use certain kanji to name a certain Japanese word solely
for the purpose of representing the word's meaning regardless of the
given kanji's on\'yomi or kun\'yomi , a.k.a. jukujikun , is not
uncommon in Japanese. Other original names in Chinese texts include
Yamatai country (邪馬台国), where a
Queen Himiko lived. When hi no
moto, the indigenous Japanese way of saying "sun's origin", was
written in kanji , it was given the characters 日本. In time, these
characters began to be read using Sino-Japanese readings , first
Nippon and later Nihon, although the two names are interchangeable to
Nippon appeared in history only at the end of the 7th century. The
Old Book of Tang
Old Book of Tang (舊唐書), one of the
Twenty-Four Histories ,
stated that the Japanese envoy disliked his country's name Woguo
(倭國), and changed it to Nippon (日本), or "Origin of the Sun".
Another 8th-century chronicle, True Meaning of Shiji (史記正義),
however, states that the Chinese Empress
Wu Zetian ordered a Japanese
envoy to change the country's name to Nippon. The sun plays an
important role in
Japanese mythology and religion as the emperor is
said to be the direct descendent of the sun goddess
Amaterasu and the
legitimacy of the ruling house rested on this divine appointment and
descent from the chief deity of the predominant
Shinto religion. The
name of the country reflects this central importance of the sun.
Cipangu described on the 1492 Martin Behaim globe .
The English word for
Japan came to the West from early trade routes.
Mandarin Chinese or possibly
Wu Chinese word for
Marco Polo as Cipangu. In modern
Shanghainese (a language
Wu Chinese subgroup), the formal pronunciation of the
characters 日本 (Japan) is still Zeppen . The colloquial
pronunciation of the character 日 is , which is closer to Nippon.
The Malaysian and Indonesian words Jepang, Jipang, and Jepun were
borrowed from Non-
Mandarin Chinese languages, and this Malay word was
encountered by Portuguese traders in
Malacca in the 16th century. It
is thought the Portuguese traders were the first to bring the word to
Europe . It was first recorded in English in 1577 spelled Giapan.
In English, the modern official title of the country is simply
"Japan", one of the few nation-states to have no "long form " name.
The official Japanese-language name is Nippon koku or Nihon koku
(日本国), literally "State of Japan". From the Meiji Restoration
until the end of
World War II
World War II , the full title of
Japan was the
"Empire of Greater
Japan " (大日本帝國 Dai Nippon Teikoku). A
more poetic rendering of the name of
Japan during this period was
"Empire of the Sun." The official name of the nation was changed after
the adoption of the post-war constitution; the title "State of Japan"
is sometimes used as a colloquial modern-day equivalent. As an
adjective, the term "Dai-Nippon" remains popular with Japanese
governmental, commercial, or social organizations whose reach extend
beyond Japan's geographic borders (e.g.,
Dai Nippon Printing , Dai
Nippon Butoku Kai , etc.).
Though Nippon or Nihon are still by far the most popular names for
Japan from within the country, recently the foreign words
even Jipangu (from Cipangu, see below) have been used in Japanese
mostly for the purpose of foreign branding .
Portuguese missionaries arrived in
Japan at the end of the 16th
century. In the course of learning Japanese , they created several
grammars and dictionaries of Middle Japanese . The 1603–1604
dictionary Vocabvlario da Lingoa de Iapam contains two entries for
Japan: nifon and iippon. The title of the dictionary (Vocabulary of
the Language of Japan) illustrates that the Portuguese word for Japan
was by that time Iapam.
Historically, Japanese /h/ has undergone a number of phonological
changes. Originally * , this weakened into and eventually became the
modern . Note that modern /h/ is still pronounced when followed by
Middle Japanese nifon becomes Modern Japanese nihon via regular
Before modern styles of romanization , the Portuguese devised their
own . In it, /zi/ is written as either ii or ji. In modern Hepburn
style, iippon would be rendered as jippon. There are no historical
phonological changes to take into account here.
Etymologically, jippon is similar to nippon in that it is an
alternative reading of 日本. The initial character 日 may also be
read as /ziti/ or /zitu/. Compounded with -fon (本), this regularly
Unlike the nihon/nippon doublet, there is no evidence for a *jihon.
NIHON AND NIPPON
Japanese name for Japan, 日本, can be pronounced either Nihon
or Nippon. Both readings come from the on\'yomi .
日 (nichi) means "sun" or "day"; 本 (hon) means "base" or "origin".
The compound means "origin of the sun" or "where the sun rises" (from
a Chinese point of view, the sun rises from Japan); it is a source for
the popular Western description of
Japan as the "Land of the Rising
Nichi, in compounds, often loses the final chi and creates a slight
pause between the first and second syllables of the compound. When
romanised, this pause is represented by a doubling of the first
consonant of the second syllable; thus nichi 日 plus kō 光 (light)
is written and pronounced nikkō, meaning sunlight.
HISTORY AND EVOLUTION
Japanese 日 and 本 were historically pronounced niti (or jitu,
reflecting a Late Middle Chinese pronunciation ) and pon,
respectively. In compounds, however, the final voiced vowels(i.e. p,
t, k) of the first word were “silent” in Middle Chinese(unlike the
silences in French, in Middle Chinese, there were corresponding
movement of mouth and tounge for these vowels but they didn’t make
sound), and the pronunciation of 日本 was thus Nippon or Jippon
(with the adjacent consonants assimilating).
Historical sound change in Japanese has led to the modern
pronunciations of the individual characters as nichi and hon. The
pronunciation Nihon originated, possibly in the
Kanto region , as a
reintroduction of this independent pronunciation of 本 into the
compound. This must have taken place during the
Edo period , after
another sound change occurred which would have resulted in this form
becoming Niwon and later Nion.
A Japanese survey showed that 61 percent of
Japanese people reads the
characters as Nihon while 37 percent reads it as Nippon. Nihon is also
much more prevalent among younger Japanese people.
Several attempts to decidedly determine an official reading were
rejected by the Japanese government, who declared both as being
While both pronunciations are correct, Nippon is frequently preferred
for official purposes, including money , stamps , and international
sporting events , as well as the Nippon koku, literally the "State of
Other than this, there seem to be no fixed rules for choosing one
pronunciation over the other; in some cases one form is simply more
common. For example, Japanese speakers generally call their language
Nihongo ; Nippongo, while possible, is rare. In other cases, uses are
variable. The name for the Bank of
Japan (日本銀行), for example,
is given as NIPPON GINKO on banknotes, but often referred to (in the
media, for example) as Nihon Ginkō.
NIPPON is used always or most often in the following constructions:
* Nippon Yūbin, Nippon Yūsei (
Japan Post Group )
* Ganbare Nippon! (A sporting cheer used at international sporting
events, roughly, 'do your best, Japan!')
* Zen Nippon Kūyu Kabushiki-gaisha (
All Nippon Airways
All Nippon Airways )
Nipponbashi (日本橋) (a shopping district in
Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha (
Japan Optical Industries
Co. Ltd., (also called Nippon Kōgaku) which is known since 1988 as
Nikon Corporation since the Nikon brand name was used on its
camera product line)
NIHON is used always or most often in the following constructions:
* JR Higashi-Nihon (East
Japan Railway ,
JR Group )
* Nihonbashi (日本橋) (a bridge in
* Nihon Daigaku (
Nihon University )
* Nihon-go (
Japanese language )
* Nihon-jin (
Japanese people )
* Nihon-kai (Sea of
* Nihon Kōkū (
Japan Airlines )
Nihon-shoki (an old history book, never Nippon shoki)
On June 8, 2016, the IUPAC announced their proposal that Element 113
be named nihonium , so named to honor its discovery in 2004 by
Japanese scientists at
RIKEN . It is the first element to have been
discovered in an Asian country.
Another spelling, "Zipangni" (upper left), was used on a 1561
Sebastian Münster .
As mentioned above, the English word
Japan has a circuitous
derivation; but linguists believe it derives in part from the
Portuguese recording of the early
Mandarin Chinese or
Wu Chinese word
for Japan: Cipan (日本), which is rendered in pinyin as Rìběn(IPA
: ʐʅ˥˩ pən˨˩˦), and literally translates to "sun origin". Guó
IPA : kuo˨˦) is Chinese for "realm" or "kingdom", so it could
alternatively be rendered as Cipan-guo. The word was likely introduced
to Portuguese through the Malay Jipang.
Cipangu was first mentioned in
Europe in the accounts of
Marco Polo .
It appears for the first time on a European map with the Fra Mauro map
in 1457, although it appears much earlier on Chinese and Korean maps
such as the
Kangnido . Following the accounts of Marco Polo, Cipangu
was thought to be fabulously rich in silver and gold, which in
Medieval times was largely correct, owing to the volcanism of the
islands and the possibility to access precious ores without resorting
to (unavailable) deep-mining technologies.
The Dutch name, Japan, may be derived from the southern Chinese
pronunciation of 日本, Yatbun or Yatpun. The Dutch J is generally
pronounced Y, hence Ja-Pan.
Shanghainese pronunciation of
Japan is Zeppen . In modern
Japanese, Cipangu is transliterated as ジパング which in turn can
be transliterated into English as Jipangu, Zipangu, Jipang, or Zipang.
Jipangu (ジパング (Zipangu)) as an obfuscated name for
recently come into vogue for Japanese films , anime , video games ,
These names were invented after the introduction of Chinese into the
language, and they show up in historical texts for prehistoric
legendary dates and also in names of gods and Japanese emperors :
* Ōyashima (大八洲) meaning the Great Country of Eight (or Many)
Islands, Awaji , Iyo (later
Shikoku ), Oki , Tsukushi (later Kyūshū
), Iki , Tsushima , Sado , and Yamato (later
Honshū ); note that
Chishima , and
Okinawa were not part of
Japan in ancient
times. The eight islands refers to the creation of the main eight
Japan by the gods
Izanagi in Japanese mythology
as well as the fact that eight was a synonym for "many".
* Yashima (八島), "Eight (or Many) Islands"
* Fusō (扶桑)
* Mizuho (瑞穂) refers to ears of grain, e.g. 瑞穂国
Mizuho-no-kuni "Country of Lush Ears (of Rice)." From Old Japanese
midu > Japanese mizu ("water; lushness, freshness, juiciness") + Old
Japanese fo > Japanese ho ("ear (of grain, especially rice)").
* Shikishima (敷島) is written with Chinese characters that
suggest a meaning "islands that one has spread/laid out," but this
Japan supposedly originates in the name of an area in Shiki
Yamato Province in which some emperors of ancient Japan
resided. The name of Shikishima (i.e. Shiki District) came to be used
in Japanese poetry as an epithet for the province of Yamato (i.e. the
ancient predecessor of Nara Prefecture), and was metonymically
extended to refer to the entire island of Yamato (i.e. Honshū) and,
eventually, to the entire territory of Japan. Note that the word
shima, though generally meaning only "island" in Japanese , also means
"area, zone, territory" in many languages of the Ryūkyū Islands .
* Akitsukuni (秋津国), Akitsushima (秋津島), Toyo-akitsushima
(豊秋津島). According to the literal meanings of the Chinese
characters used to transcribe these names of Japan, toyo means
"abundant," aki means "autumn," tsu means "harbor," shima means
"island," and kuni means "country, land." In this context, -tsu may be
interpreted to be a fossilized genitive case suffix, as in matsuge
"eyelash" (< Japanese me "eye" + -tsu + Japanese ke "hair") or
tokitsukaze "a timely wind, a favorable wind" (< Japanese toki "time"
+ -tsu + Japanese kaze "wind"). However, akitu or akidu are also
archaic or dialectal Japanese words for "dragonfly ," so "Akitsushima"
may be interpreted to mean "Dragonfly Island." Another possible
interpretation would take akitsu- to be identical with the akitsu- of
akitsukami or akitsumikami ("god incarnate, a manifest deity," often
used as an honorific epithet for the Emperor of
Japan ), perhaps with
the sense of "the present land, the island(s) where we are at
* Toyoashihara no mizuho no kuni (豊葦原の瑞穂の国).
"Country of Lush Ears of Bountiful Reed Plain(s)," Ashihara no
Nakatsukuni , "Central Land of Reed Plains," "Country Amidst Reed
* Hinomoto (日の本). Simple kun reading of 日本.
The katakana transcription ジャパン (Japan) of the English word
Japan is sometimes encountered in Japanese, for example in the names
of organizations seeking to project an international image. Examples
include ジャパンネット銀行 (
Japan Netto Ginkō) (
Bank), ジャパンカップ (
Japan Kappu) (
ワイヤレスジャパン (Waiyaresu Japan) (Wireless Japan), etc.
OTHER SOUTHEAST AND EAST ASIAN NATIONS\' LANGUAGES
Dōngyáng (東洋) and Dōngyíng (東瀛) – both literally,
"Eastern Ocean" – are Chinese terms sometimes used to refer to Japan
exotically when contrasting it with other countries or regions in
Eurasia ; however, these same terms may also be used to refer
to all of
East Asia when contrasting "the East" with "the West". The
first term, Dōngyáng, has been considered to be a pejorative term
when used to mean "Japan", while the second, Dōngyíng, has remained
a positive poetic name. They can be contrasted with Nányáng
(Southern Ocean), which refers to
Southeast Asia , and Xīyáng
(Western Ocean), which refers to the
Western world . In Japanese and
Korean , the Chinese word for "Eastern Ocean" (pronounced as tōyō in
Japanese and as dongyang (동양) in Korean) is used only to refer to
Far East (including both
East Asia and Southeast Asia) in general,
and it is not used in the more specific Chinese sense of "Japan".
Japan is called Rìběn, which is the Mandarin
pronunciation for the kanji 日本. The
Cantonese pronunciation is
Yahtbún , the
Shanghainese pronunciation is Zeppen , and the Hokkien
pronunciation is Ji̍tpún. This has influenced the Malaysian name for
Japan, Jepun, and the Thai word Yipun (ญี่ปุ่น). The
terms Jepang and Jipang, ultimately derived from Chinese, were
previously used in both Malaysian and Indonesian, but are today
confined primarily to the
Indonesian language . The Japanese
introduced Nippon and Dai Nippon into Indonesia during the Japanese
Occupation (1942–1945) but the native Jepang remains more common. In
Japan is called Ilbon (
Hangeul : 일본,
Hanja : 日本),
which is the Korean pronunciation of the Sino-Korean name, and in
Japan is called Nhật Bản (also rendered as
Nhựt Bổn). In Mongolian ,
Japan is called Yapon (Япон).
Ue-kok (倭國) is recorded for older
Hokkien speakers. In the past,
Korea also used 倭國, pronounced Waeguk (왜국).
OTHER NON-EAST AND NON-SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS\' LANGUAGES
CONTEMPORARY NAME FOR JAPAN (ROMANIZATION)
Japanese name (names of Japanese people)
Japanese place names
List of country-name etymologies
List of country-name etymologies
* ^ Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric et al. (2005). "Nihon" in Japan
encyclopedia, p. 707., p. 707, at
Google Books ; n.b.,
Louis-Frédéric is pseudonym of Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, see
Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Authority File.
* ^ Joan, R. Piggott (1997). The emergence of Japanese kingship.
Stanford University Press. pp. 143–144. ISBN 0-8047-2832-1 .
* ^ "Ž×"n‘ä?‘‹ã?B?à". Inoues.net. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
* ^ In Japanese, countries whose "long form" does not contain a
designation such as republic or kingdom are generally given a name
appended by the character 国 ("country" or "nation"): for example,
ドミニカ国 (Dominica), バハマ国 (Bahamas), and
* ^ Doi (1980:463)
* ^ Doi (1980:363)
* ^ Nippon or Nihon? No consensus on Japanese pronunciation of
* ^ Nussbaum, "Nippon" at p. 709., p. 709, at
Nihon Kokugo Daijiten Henshū Iin Kai, Shōgakukan Kokugo
Daijiten Henshūbu (2002) .
Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (2nd edition) .
* ^ A B Nussbaum, "Nihon Ginkō" at p. 708., p. 708, at Google
* ^ Nussbaum, "Nippon" passim at pp. 717., p. 717, at
* ^ Nussbaum, "Nihon" passim at pp. 707–711., p. 707, at Google
* ^ Nussbaum, "
Nihon University (Nihon Daigaku)" at pp. 710–711.,
p. 710, at
* ^ Nussbaum, "Nihonjin" at pp. 708–709., p. 708, at Google Books
* ^ Nussbaum, "Nihon shoki" at p. 710., p. 710, at
* ^ Richard Gonzales (2016-06-10). "Hello, Nihonium. Scientists
Name 4 New Elements on the Periodic Table". Ww2.kqed.org. Retrieved
* ^ Forbes JD (2007). The American Discovery of Europe. University
of Illinois Press. p. 21. ISBN 9780252091254 .
* ^ "
Japan Omnibus - General - Facts and Figures". Japan-zone.com.
* ^ Nussbaum, "Ō-ya-shima no Kuni" at p. 768., p. 768, at Google
* ^ Nussbaum, "Akitsushima" at p. 20., p. 20, at
* ^ "www.chineselanguage.org message board". Chinalanguage.com.
* Doi, Tadao (1980) . Hōyaku
Nippo Jisho (in Japanese). Tōkyō:
Iwanami Shoten . ISBN 4-00-080021-3 .
* Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric; Käthe Roth (2005). Japan
Harvard University Press
Harvard University Press . ISBN
978-0-674-01753-5 ; OCLC 48943301
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