The English word Japan is not the name used for their country by the Japanese while speaking the Japanese language: it is an exonym. The Japanese names for Japan are Nippon (にっぽん) and Nihon (にほん). They are both written in Japanese using the Chinese characters 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.
HistoryBoth 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 Chinese Sui Dynasty and refers to Japan's eastward position relative to China. Before Japan had relations with China, it was known as Yamato and Hi no moto, which means "source of the sun". Wa (倭) was a name early China used to refer to an ethnic group living in Japan around the time of the Three Kingdoms Period. Because the character originally used to transcribe the ethnonym Wa (i.e. 倭) acquired pejorative connotations, a different character, 和, which has more positive connotations, came to be used in Japan instead of 倭. Retroactively, this character was adopted in Japan to refer to the country itself, often combined with the character 大, literally meaning "Great", to give the name Yamato (大和). When hi no moto was written in kanji, it was given the characters 日本. In time, these characters began to be read using pseudo-Chinese readings, first Nippon and later Nihon.
Nippon appeared in history only at the end of the 7th century. 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.
Another old name for Japan is Ōyashima (大八洲) meaning the country of eight islands, Awaji, Iyo (later Shikoku), Oki, Tsukushi (later Kyūshū), Iki, Tsushima, Sado, and Yamato (later Honshū); note that Hokkaidō, Chishima, and Okinawa were not part of Japan in ancient times. The eight islands refers to the creation of the main eight islands of Japan by the gods Izanami and Izanagi in Japanese mythology. Also Yashima (八島), Fusō (扶桑), Mizuho (瑞穂), Shikishima (敷島) and Akitsushima (秋津島）are the names to designate ancient Japan.
The katakana transcription ジャパン of the English word Japan is sometimes encountered in Japanese, for example in the names of organizations seeking to project an international image.
Other East Asian nationsDongyang (東洋) and Dongying (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 eastern Eurasia; however, these same terms may also be used to refer to all of East Asia when contrasting "the East" with "the West." They have been considered to be pejorative terms when used to mean "Japan." They can be contrasted with Nanyang (Southern Ocean), which refers to Southeast Asia, and Xiyang (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 in Korean) is used only to refer to the Orient (including both East Asia and Southeast Asia) in general, and it is not used in the more specific Chinese sense of "Japan."
In China, Japan is called Riben, which is the Mandarin Chinese pronunciation for the hanzi/kanji 日本. The Cantonese pronunciation is Yahtbun [jatpun], the Shanghainese (Wu Chinese) pronunciation is Zeppen [zəʔpən], and the Min Nan (Hokkien) pronunciation is Jit-pún. In Korean, Japan is called Ilbon (일본/日本), which is the Korean pronunciation of the Sino-Korean name, and in Sino-Vietnamese, Japan is called Nhật Bản (also seen as Nhật Bổn).
Ue-kok (倭國) is recorded for older Hokkien speakers. In the past, Korea also used 倭國, pronounced Waeguk (왜국).
zipangu in German: Cipangu
zipangu in French: Noms du Japon
zipangu in Italian: Cipango
zipangu in Latin: Index nominum Iaponiae
zipangu in Dutch: Jipangu
zipangu in Japanese: ジパング
zipangu in Chinese: 日本國名