A country of Asia on an archipelago off the northeast coast of the mainland. Traditionally settled c. 660 B.C., Japan's written history began in the 5th century A.D. During the feudal period (12th-19th century) real power was held by the shoguns, whose dominance was finally ended by the restoration of the emperor Mutsuhito in 1868. Feudalism was abolished, and the country was opened to Western trade and industrial technology. Expansionist policies led to Japan's participation in World War II, which ended after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 1945). Today the country is highly industrialized and noted for its advanced technology. Tokyo is the capital and the largest city. Population: 127,000,000. Word History:
Stamp collectors know that Nihon
on Japanese stamps mean “Japan”; what they probably don't know is that Nihon, Nippon,
are all ultimately the same word. In the early part of the Chinese Tang dynasty—in A.D.
670, to be precise—Japanese scholars who had studied Chinese created a new name for their country using the Chinese phrase for “origin of the sun, sunrise,” because Japan is located east of China. In the Chinese of the time (called Middle Chinese), the phrase was nzyet-pwun.
To this the scholars added the Chinese suffix -kwuk,
“country,” yielding a compound nzyet-pwun-kwuk,
“sun-origin-country, land of the rising sun.” The consonant clusters in the word were not pronounceable in Old Japanese, so the form was simplified to Nip-pon-gu
the latter developing by regular sound change to Ni-hon-gu.
The forms Nippon
of today are the same as these, minus the “country” suffix. Interestingly, the Chinese themselves took to calling Japan by the name that the Japanese had invented, and it is from the Chinese version of the name that English Japan
is ultimately derived. In Mandarin Chinese, one of the forms of Chinese to develop from Middle Chinese, the phrase evolved to Rìběnguó,
an early form of which was recorded by Marco Polo as Chipangu,
which he would have pronounced as (chĭ-pän-go͞o) or (shĭ-pän-go͞o). The early Mandarin word was borrowed into Malay as Japang,
which was encountered by Portuguese traders in Moluccas in the 16th century. These traders may have been the ones to bring the word to Europe; it is first recorded in English in 1577, spelled Giapan.
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