July 2, 2009 / 8:04 AM / 10 years ago

Japan's inconsistency over its own name irks lawmaker

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - What’s in a name? A lot, according to a Japanese lawmaker who’s appalled by his country’s inconsistent pronunciation of the two “kanji” characters that, in English, are translated as Japan.

“What is the formal name of this country? Overseas it is called Japan, but Japanese people say both ‘Nihon’ and ‘Nippon’,” opposition lawmaker Tetsundo Iwakuni told Reuters.

“There’s no other country that doesn’t standardize its name.”

Iwakuni, a former Merrill Lynch Japan executive, asked the government this week what the official view was, only to be told that there was none. The literal meaning of the two characters is “origin of the sun.”

The Japanese language is written with “kanji” ideographs — ancient Chinese characters that symbolize an idea but can have varying pronunciations — and two phonetic scripts.

Bank notes and stamps are imprinted with “Nippon” in the Western alphabet, but the governor of the Bank of Japan calls himself the head of the “Nihon Ginko” — ginko means bank.

During World War Two, when Japan was still known as the “Dai Nippon Teikoku” or “Empire of Great Japan,” the military tried to standardise on “Nippon,” Iwakuni said.

Japanese sports fans chant “Nippon, Nippon” when backing their national soccer team, but the emperor and empress prefer “Nihon,” though they’ve never explained why, he added.

Popular prime minister Junichiro Koizumi was heard opting for “Nippon” while in office, Iwakuni said, but current Prime Minister Taro Aso, an outspoken nationalist, uses “Nihon” in a video interview now posted on his website.

Frustrated by the confusion, the 72-year-old Iwakuni has suggested a compromise.

“For the country name, we should use ‘Nihon’ while company names and sports fans should be allowed to use ‘Nippon’,” he said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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