Why Japan and not Nihon/Nippon??

日本 Nihon/Nippon/Japan

It is natural for me to ask this question but textbooks don’t necessarily answer it. The few books that I read that were for basic learning of the language only told me that in Japan, natives say Nihon 日本 not “Japan”.  Well I finally looked it up after so many days of wondering and not really searching on the wonderful God of Knowledge, that’s right GOOGLE! I get it.  Google is not a god but seriously who doesn’t go to Google to search things nowadays.  It used to be Dogpile and Yahoo for me awhile back but now Google is my number one choice of search engines.  As I digress, I searched for my answer and the second main site that popped up was….go ahead and guess.  Wikipedia! :-). Now this is what Wikipedia had to say about my conquest of the word Japan:


Main article: Names of Japan

The English word Japan is an exonym. The Japanese names for Japan are Nippon (にっぽん?), About this sound listen (help·info), and Nihon (にほん?), About this sound listen (help·info). They are both written in Japanese using the kanji 日本. The Japanese name Nippon is used for most official purposes, including on Japanese money, postage stamps, and for many international sporting events. Nihon is a more casual term and the most frequently used in contemporary speech. Japanese people refer to themselves as Nihonjin (日本人?) and they call their language Nihongo (日本語?).

Both Nippon and Nihon literally mean “the sun’s origin” and are often translated as the Land of the Rising Sun. This nomenclature comes from Imperial correspondence with the Chinese Sui Dynasty and refers to Japan’s eastward position relative to China. Before Nihon came into official use, Japan was known as Wa (倭?) or Wagoku (倭国?).[13]

The English word for Japan came to the West from early trade routes. The early Mandarin or possibly Wu Chinese (呉語) word for Japan was recorded by Marco Polo as Cipangu. In modern Shanghainese, a Wu dialect, the pronunciation of characters 日本 ‘Japan’ is Zeppen [zəʔpən]; in Wu, the character 日 has two pronunciations, informal (白讀?) [niʔ] and formal (文讀?) [zəʔ]. (In some southern Wu dialects, 日本 is pronounced [niʔpən], similar to its pronunciation in Japanese.) The old Malay word for Japan, Jepang (now spelled Jepun in Malaysia, though still spelled Jepang in Indonesia), was borrowed from a Chinese language, 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 a 1565 letter spelled Giapan.[14]

So apparently it was Marco Polo’s fault us European style speaking people say Japan and not Nihon.  Damn you Marco! In actuality I don’t care that much about it but I was highly curious.  As I should be.  As I continue my journey through fluency I am bound to continue my curiosity between cultures and language.  Again it is only natural and with this blog I plan on writing about my curiosities and the answers I hope to get.

6 Responses to “Why Japan and not Nihon/Nippon??”
  1. アヤナ says:

    Let me know what you think about my first post 🙂 よろしくおねがいします。Be nice. hehe

  2. Andrea says:

    You make me wonder why we often say “Chinese” instead of “Mandarin” or “Cantonese” or whatever Chinese people actually call these and the other languages they speak.
    In response to the answer the Japanese contributor gave to the spacing issue – a lot of things in Japan are the way they are because it’s the way they are. There doesn’t always seem to be a logical reason why everyone does something a certain way, but it’s the way things are done there and that pertains to everything from the formation of their language to their approach to education and discipline to how they celebrate things. It also isn’t uncommon for Japanese people to explain things to foreigners the way overly patriotic Americans do: ‘We do it this way because it’s Japanese way and it’s the best way.’
    Gambatte with your studies – I look forward to more posts =)

  3. Adi says:

    I think wtf people say, japan, nihon or nippon, im still like japan, lol, yoroshiku. .

  4. kelky says:

    I just stumbled upon your blog, and I’m fascinated! I’m also learning Japanese on my own, and I’ve had many of the same questions. Thanks for the wonderful explanations that you’ve found!

  5. Michael Lorentzen says:

    Your information was good. I am glad to learn of how that contry became known as japan. Seems to get the same thing with most native American tribes. Most tribes know them selves as the people but their enemy’s called the Navajo, or Apache

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