Why Do We Call It Japan and Not Nippon? Exploring the Origins and Cultural Significance

Delve into the fascinating world of etymology and cultural nuances as we uncover the reasons behind the usage of “Japan” instead of “Nippon.” Discover the historical factors, linguistic influences, and cultural significance that shape the naming conventions of this captivating country. Join us on a linguistic journey to unravel the mysteries behind Japan’s dual identity (日本 vs. Japan).

Why Do We Call It Japan and Not Nippon?

This is a fascinating question that many people have asked themselves at some point. While Japan is a common name used to refer to the island nation in East Asia, the Japanese themselves call their country Nippon or Nihon. So, why the difference in names? In this blog post, we’ll explore the history and reasons behind why Japan has multiple names and why it’s known as Japan in English-speaking countries. Get ready to learn some interesting facts and insights!

The Origins of “Nippon” and “Japan”: A Linguistic Odyssey

The Japanese name for their country is “Nippon” (日本), derived from the characters “日” meaning “sun” and “本” meaning “origin” or “source.” This name has deep historical roots, symbolizing Japan as the “Land of the Rising Sun” and the place where the sun originates each day.


From “Nippon” to “Japan”: Linguistic Evolution

The English name “Japan” has its roots in early trade relations between Japan and European countries. During the 16th century, Portuguese traders arrived in Japan and referred to the country as “Japão”. Over time, this term was adopted by other European nations, eventually evolving into “Japan” in English. The reasons behind this linguistic transformation are complex, involving phonetic shifts and cultural influences.

Why Do We Call It Japan and Not Nippon
Portuguese arrival in Japan, This was painted between the Momoyama and Edo periods | Source: Wikipedia Commons

Cultural Significance: The Duality of “Nippon” and “Japan”

The usage of “Nippon” and “Japan” carries both cultural and practical implications. In Japan, “Nippon” is the preferred term used by the Japanese themselves, signifying national pride, cultural identity, and a connection to tradition. On the other hand, “Japan” is widely recognized internationally, serving as a global standard for referring to the country.

Historical Context: Influence of International Relations

The adoption of “Japan” in international contexts can be attributed to historical factors and the influence of foreign interactions. During Japan’s period of isolation from the 17th to the 19th century, the term “Japan” gained prominence in the Western world through Dutch, English, and Portuguese interactions. As Japan gradually opened its doors to the global stage in the late 19th century, “Japan” became more widely recognized and accepted as the official name.

Dutch personnel and Japanese women watching an incoming towed Dutch sailing ship at Dejima by Kawahara Keiga (川原慶賀), c. 1811-1842, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons

Modern Usage: Global Recognition and Cultural Exchange

In contemporary times, the use of “Japan” is deeply ingrained in international discourse, including travel, business, media, and academia. It facilitates clear communication and avoids confusion in a globalized world. However, it is important to respect the cultural preferences of the Japanese people and acknowledge the significance of “Nippon” as their indigenous name.

Cultural Exchange Program at Prefecture University of Kumamoto Japan | Credit: FCS Universitas Brawijaya

Embracing Cultural Diversity: Celebrating “Nippon” and “Japan”

While the naming discrepancy between “Nippon” and “Japan” may seem puzzling, it is a testament to the rich tapestry of cultural diversity and linguistic intricacies that exist in our world. By understanding and appreciating both terms, we can foster cross-cultural understanding and embrace the unique heritage and identity of Japan.


The question of why we call it “Japan” and not “Nippon” is a fascinating exploration of history, linguistics, and cultural dynamics. While “Japan” has become the prevalent name internationally, “Nippon” holds deep cultural significance for the Japanese people.

It symbolizes their national pride, cultural heritage, and connection to their historical roots. As we navigate the intricacies of language and cultural exchange, it is crucial to acknowledge and respect the preferences of the Japanese people, using both “Japan” and “Nippon” in appropriate contexts.

In today’s globalized world, the usage of “Japan” has become standard practice due to its widespread recognition and ease of communication. However, it is essential to promote cultural understanding and celebrate the diversity of languages and naming conventions. By acknowledging the historical origins of “Nippon” and the international adoption of “Japan,” we can bridge the gap between different cultures and foster a sense of appreciation for Japan’s rich heritage.

In conclusion, the usage of “Japan” instead of “Nippon” has its roots in historical interactions, linguistic evolution, and international relations. While “Japan” has become the predominant term in global discourse, we should also honor the significance of “Nippon” as the native name of the country. Embracing cultural diversity and understanding the nuances of language allows us to appreciate the multifaceted nature of Japan’s identity. So, whether you refer to it as “Japan” or “Nippon,” let us celebrate the beauty and richness of this captivating country.


You see, my love for Japan is not only based on personal experience; it's based on a deep admiration for Japanese culture, history, and traditions. Thank you, Japan, for being a constant source of inspiration, joy, and wonder in my life. I may never be able to express my love for Japan in person, but I hope that through my blog and my writing, I can share a small piece of my admiration and devotion with the world.

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