The English word Japan derives from the Chinese pronunciation of the Japanese name, Nippon, which in Japanese is pronounced にっぽん or にほん.
From the Meiji Restoration until the end of World War II, the full title of Japan was Dai Nippon Teikoku 大日本帝國 , meaning ‘the Empire of Great Japan’. Today the name Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku 日本国 is used as a formal modern-day equivalent; countries like Japan whose long form does not contain a descriptive designation are generally given a name appended by the character koku 国 , meaning ‘country’, ‘nation’ or ‘state’.
Japanese people refer to themselves as Nihonjin 日本人 and to their language as Nihongo 日本語 . Both Nippon and Nihon mean ‘sun-origin’ and are often translated as Land of the Rising Sun. The term comes from Japanese missions to Imperial China and refers to Japan’s eastward position relative to China. Before Nihon came into official use, Japan was known as Wa 倭 or Wakoku 倭国 .
The English word for Japan came to the West via early trade routes. The Old Mandarin or possibly early Wu Chinese pronunciation of Japan was recorded by Marco Polo as Cipangu. In modern Shanghainese, a Wu dialect, the pronunciation of characters 日本 ‘Japan’ is Zeppen. The old Malay word for Japan, Jepang, was borrowed from a southern coastal Chinese dialect, probably Fukienese or Ningpo, and this Malay word was encountered by Portuguese traders in Malacca in the 16th century. Portuguese traders were the first to bring the word to Europe. An early record of the word in English is in a 1565 letter, spelled Giapan.