Ever wondered why in Japan the country is called Nihon and Nippon? Or have you ever wondered why the West calls the country Japan? Where did these terms come from? Are there other alternatives for referring to the land of the rising sun?
In this article, we will understand why Japan has several names like Nihon and Nippon. Let's see how these names came about, some curiosities and how to say Japan in several languages. Below is a summary of the article:
How do you say Japan in Japanese?
As the title of the article and its introduction suggest, Japan in Japanese is nihon or nippon [日本] both spelled the same way. Throughout the article you will understand a little better about the meaning and origin of this name.
If you want to call Japan Japan in Japanese, you can say jyapan [ジャポン] equivalent to English Japan. Japan officially uses this English version in official documents displayed internationally and also in passports.
There are other ways to transcribe Japan from different languages into the Japanese language using katakana. The closest we have to Portuguese and Spanish is japanese [ジャポン] although rarely known by the Japanese.
Meaning and origin of the name Japan
Japan in Japanese is written [日本] where [日] means sun and [本] means origin. For this reason, Japan is known as the land of the rising sun and has a simple flag which represents the sun. The ideograms in the Japanese language have several readings allowing the pronunciation nihon and nippon for the name of the country [日本].
Phonemes in the Japanese language are called hiragana and katakana where each drawing represents a sound. Using these alphabets we can write nihon [日本] as follows: [にほん] or [ニホン]. Now notice the tiny difference in the Nippon word written in hiragana and katakana: [にっぽん] [ニッポン].
The hiragana or katakana letters used are practically the same, the difference is that nippon uses a accentuation to transform a H in P and a small tsu [っ] to lengthen the pronunciation of the P. There is basically no different reading of the ideograms [日本] to pronounce the name of Japan, it's just phonetic details.
Why is Japan the land of the rising sun? That's because according to the Chinese, the country is located in eastern China, where apparently the sun rises. It is also believed in the influence of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. We can also notice in the time zone, where Japan is 12 hours ahead of us.
What is the old name of Japan?
The Chinese called Japan before it became an official country of wow [倭] becoming what we know in Japanese from wakoku [倭国] which probably has a difference in pronunciation at the time.
However [倭] was not a good character, so it was changed to [和] which means “agreement”. Then the name was established as wamato and then yamato which means something like behind the mountain.
For Westerners, Japan has always been called by some variant of the word japan, we'll talk about that later in the article.
Why call it Japan in the west?
Ever wondered why the West or the rest of the world calls the country of the rising sun Japan and not Nihon or Nippon? This happened because the person who introduced Japan to the world, the famous Marco Polo, only knew Japan through the Chinese by some dialect in southern China that pronounced the ideograms [日本] as zipangu.
In traditional Chinese, the characters of Nihon or Nippon [日本] are usually pronounced as Rìběn. Marco Polo ended up taking Zipangu and turning it into a Jipen that later became Japan in English and in Brazil it became Japan. In Japanese we can write Japan using the katakana [ジャパン].
Not even the Japanese usually question this decision of the world, since the ideogram [日] also has the Chinese pronunciation jitsu. So it wouldn't be unusual for someone to say jitsupon or jitsuhon slightly reminiscent of Zipangu or Japan, even more so in the English pronunciation.
Japan has undergone several phonological changes during its history. Possibly Nifon and Jippon were some of them. This explains a lot why the country is called Japan in English and have pronunciations beginning with J in many languages.
When to use Nihon and Nippon?
The first pronunciation used in ideograms [日本] was Nippon. This term began to be used around 640 and it makes perfect sense to use the P in relation to the word Japan or Japan. It is believed that the term Nihon arose in the Edo period in the Kanto region. So much so that the commercial district of Tokyo is called Nihonbashi, while the commercial district of Osaka that is close to Kyoto (former capital) is called Niponbashi.
Throughout Nihon's history, people have argued about the best way or the official way to pronounce [日本], is it Nihon or Nippon? Currently Nihon has become more popular than the original Nippon, used by more than 60% of the population. Also note that no one refers to the Japanese language as nippongo, only as nihongo [日本語].
Not even the government accepted the proposal to make official the pronunciation of the land of the rising sun as Nippon in the year 1934. It is more common to pronounce Nippon when the word is isolated and alone. If the word is together with another ideogram presenting some concept or idea of the country, it is more normal to use the Nihon reading…
Other ways of referring to Japan
Basically the name of Japan is composed of 2 ideograms that can be pronounced the way the person wants. Was it always like this? Before 640 what was Nihon called? Are there alternatives to the words Japan, Nihon and Nippon?
Before Nihon and Nippon [日本], the land of the rising sun was called Yamato [倭] or simply wa, or better, wakoku [倭国]. This name was given by the Chinese who first encountered the Japanese in Southern China. The country at the time was divided into several ancient provinces. Yamato was the main one, responsible for founding an imperial court in Nara.
Over the years the character [倭] has been simplified to [和] which means harmony and peace. This ideogram is still widely used in the Japanese language in several words related to Japanese people, such as traditional Japanese food washoku [和食]. the kanji wow [我] also has a certain connection and concept about Japan.
Throughout the history of Nihon or Nippon, he gained other names and nicknames such as:
- Ōyashima [大八洲] Great country of 8 (many) islands;
- Yashima [八島] Eight (many) islands;
- Hinomoto [日の本];
- Akitsukuni [秋津国];
- Shikishima [敷島];
- Mizuho [瑞穂];
- Fusō [扶桑];
How do you say Japan in other languages?
To end the article we will leave a list of how the land of the rising sun is called in different languages. Hope you like it, thanks for sharing, commenting and reading our article.
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