Why Japan is called land of the rising sun

Japan - country of rising sun

Why Japan is called the land of the rising sun

Japan is often called “the land of the rising sun”.  In Japanese name, the country is called Nihon (Nippon). Both Nihon and Japan oroginate from the same words; they literally mean “where the sun rises” .

It was Marco Polo, the Italian trader and explorer, who introduced Japan to the Western world in the 13th century. He never actually travelled to Japan but instead went to the Southern part of China.   There, the people told him about Japan.  To the people in South China,  where Marco Polo had travelled, Japan lies in the direction where the sun rises. Therefore, people called it Ji-pang or Zu-pang, which can be translated as “the sun’s origin”, i.e. where the sun originates. The Japanese write 日本 to represent the country of Japan in Japanese. It is pronounced Nippon or Nihon.

There is more to the story of how the Chinese started calling Japan Ji-pang or Zu-pang (written as 日本). To be more accurate, around the end of the 6th century (the exact year is not known), the government in Japan started calling the country Nihon. Until the 7th century, Japan was called “ Wa” or “Yamato “ using the Chinese character 倭.

When the Japanese government sent a sovereign message to the Chinese government around the beginning of the 7th century, it used a term similar to “the land where the sun rises” . The Japanese government changed the country’s name from Wa (Yamato) to Nihon (Nippon) in the early 8th century. An interesting point is that when naming the country they took Chinese government into consideration possibly to show its esteem for the Chinese, as Japan is located where the sun rises for the Chinese not for the Japanese.

Japanese national flag is called “ the rising sun flag” in English. It was at the beginning of the 7th century that the Japanese flag which had the sun in the center was first used. However, it is said that the combination of the colors of the flag was different from what it is now. The original combination of the color was the sun in yellow and the red in the background. The flag of this design was used for ships to show the nationality toward the end of the Edo Era and then it begun to be used in many places.

It was in the year 1999 that the rising sun flag was *officially* designated as the national flag by law although it has a very long history.


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