What are the Different Names of Japan?

  • There are many names of Japan in different languages. The name “Japan” is a relatively new name which has become popular in the West. It has evolved from the name “Iapam” which it was named by the Portuguese missionaries in the early 17th century. The French call it “Japon”.

    Nihon and Nippon

    The Japanese call themselves “Nihonjin” and their language as “Nihongo”. Japan is called “Nihon” by the locals which can be literally translated into “The Land of the Rising Sun”. Due to many phonological changes, Nihon is written as Nippon. Nihon and Nippon are still the most popular names of Japan. At the ancient times Japan was also known as “Yamato”.


    Chinese ancient trade seal depicting Japan as “Wa”

    The Chinese used to call Japan “Wa” or “Wakoku” before the coinage of the word Nihon. It is misinterpreted in the Western historical documents, due to similarities in writing of various sounds in Kanji script, as “Short and Submissive”. It actually refers to “Compliant and Obedient” people’s land. This name was extensively used in the ancient Chinese literature. The Chinese used to see Japan as an exotic land and it was referred to as a flower “Fuso (Hibiscus)” in many poetic verses. The region is called as “DongYing (Eastern Ocean)”.


    Marco Polo`s map depicting Asia, Africa, and Europe

    “Cipangu” or “Jipangu” is the name coined by Marco polo, an Italian traveler during the 14th century. He wrote a book on his Asian adventures and it is widely revered as the greatest ancient travel book until now. His travel map was used as a guide for many travelers later including Christopher Columbus. He traveled for 24 years and visited Persia, India and China, Japan, South East Asia and finally returned to Venice where he died.
    There are many other names for Japan in many cultures and countries. In Korea, Japan is called “IIbon” while, in Vietnam, it is referred to as “Nhựt Bổn”. In Malay, it is called “Jepun” and in Bahasa Indonesian “Jepang”.