How to Say Japan in Japanese 

By Kai Yoshizaki | July 24th, 2023

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    Japan, renowned for its rich culture, history, and technological advancements, has a unique language with various ways to refer to the country itself. In this article, we will explore the different ways to say Japan in Japanese, focusing on the distinctions between Nippon and Nihon. We will also delve into expressions related to visiting Japan, such as 来日する, or rainichi suru, and explore the intriguing world of Japanese music genres, including 洋楽, or yōgaku, and 邦楽, or hōgaku. Through sample conversations, we will provide practical usage examples to help you get a better understanding.

    This article is a part of our extensive series on Learning Japanese through Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.

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    Nippon vs. Nihon: The Names for Japan

    In Japanese, there are two primary ways to say Japan: Nippon, 日本, and Nihon, 日本. While both terms refer to the same country and use the same kanji, they differ in terms of formality and usage.

    What Makes Nippon and Nihon Different?

    Nippon is the more formal and traditional way to say Japan. It carries a sense of national identity and is often used in official contexts, national events, and formal speeches. For example, during ceremonial occasions or in diplomatic settings, Nippon is the preferred term. The following are some very common uses of the term Nippon

    National Sporting Events: The term Nippon is often used during international sports competitions such as the Olympics. When the Japanese national team is playing, they are often referred to as Nippon to create a sense of pride. 

    Government Contexts: The Japanese government uses Nippon in a number of official contexts. For example, Nippon is used in the national anthem, as well as on Japanese currency and stamps.

    Company Names: Many Japanese businesses use Nippon in their official names to stress their Japanese origins and authenticity. For instance, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, Nippon Oil, and Nippon Airways.

    Ceremonial Occasions: During ceremonies or public holidays like Emperor's Birthday, National Foundation Day, or Constitution Memorial Day, Nippon is often used in speeches and announcements.

    Diplomatic Settings: When the Japanese government is represented abroad or during international conferences, Nippon is commonly used to refer to the country.

    Educational Settings: In some more traditional or formal educational contexts, Nippon might be used, particularly when discussing the country's history or culture in a more formal or academic way.

    Media and Broadcasting: Some broadcasters, like NHK, use Nippon in their name or when reporting on significant national events.

    On the other hand, Nihon is the more commonly used and informal way to say Japan. It is widely used in everyday conversations and is the preferred term among Japanese people. When interacting with friends or in casual situations, Nihon is the go-to term.

    Sample Conversation:

    Student A


    Nihon no rekishi wa totemo kyōmi-bukai desu ne.

    The history of Japan is very fascinating.

    Student B


    Sō desu ne. Tokuni Nihon no kodai-shi ni tsuite manabu to, Nippon to iu kuni no kigen o shiru koto ga dekimasu.

    Yes, it is. Especially when you study ancient Japanese history, you can learn about the origins of the country called Nippon.

    Need help learning Japanese? Check out our article on our Guide to Japanese Tips!

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    来日する: Visiting Japan

    To express the act of visiting or coming to Japan, the phrase 来日する, or rainichi suru, is commonly used. It captures the excitement and anticipation of experiencing the unique culture, landmarks, and hospitality of Japan.

    Using 来日する, you can convey your intention or plan to visit Japan. Whether it's for travel, work, or study purposes, this expression is widely understood and used in various contexts.

    Friend A


    Raigetsu, yūjin ga rainichi suru yotei desu.

    My friend is planning to visit Japan next month.

    Friend B


    Hontō desu ka? Sore wa tanoshimi desu ne! Issho ni Nihon no meisho o meguru koto ga dekiru deshō.

    Really? That's exciting! We can explore famous places in Japan together.

    Whether you're discussing your own travel plans or someone else's visit to Japan, using 来日する adds a level of clarity and specificity to the conversation.

    洋楽・邦楽: Western Music and Japanese Music

    Japan has a vibrant music scene that embraces both Western music (洋楽, yōgaku) and Japanese music (邦楽, hōgaku). Understanding these terms can help you navigate conversations about music preferences and genres.

    洋楽: Western Music

    The term 洋楽, yōgaku, refers to Western music or foreign music from various genres and artists worldwide. It encompasses popular Western music styles such as pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, and more. Japanese fans of Western music often use this term to discuss their favorite artists and songs.

    Music Lover A


    Saikin, yōgaku no ātisuto ni hamatte irun desu.

    Lately, I've been getting into Western artists.

    Music Lover B


    Hē, sore wa omoshirosō desu ne. Dono yōgaku ātisuto ga o-ki ni irimasu ka?

    Oh, that sounds interesting. Which Western artists are your favorites?

    邦楽: Japanese Music

    The term 邦楽, hōgaku, on the other hand, refers to Japanese music or music produced by Japanese artists. It encompasses various genres like J-pop, enka, traditional Japanese music, and more. Japanese music has a distinct style and has gained popularity both domestically and internationally.

    Music Lover A


    Saishin no hōgaku arubamu o kikimashita ka?

    Have you listened to the latest Japanese music album?

    Music Lover B


    Hai, kikimashita. Hōgaku wa Nihon no bunka o kanjiru koto ga dekiru subarashii ongaku desu yo ne.

    Yes, I have. Japanese music is a wonderful genre that allows you to feel the essence of Japanese culture.

    By understanding the terms 洋楽 and 邦楽, you can engage in conversations about different music styles and share your preferences with others.

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    Unique Japanese Customs and Traditions

    Apart from the linguistic aspects of Japan, it's also fascinating to explore the unique customs and traditions that make the country distinct. Let's jump into a few customs that people interested in Japanese culture may find interesting.


    Bowing is an integral part of Japanese etiquette and is used to greet, show respect, and express gratitude. The depth and duration of the bow depend on the context and the relationship between individuals. It's customary to return a bow when someone bows to you as a sign of acknowledgment and respect.

    Tourist A


    Nihon e ryokō suru yotei desu. Ojigi no shikata o oshiete itadakemasu ka?

    I'm planning to travel to Japan. Could you teach me how to bow?

    Tourist B


    Mochiron desu. Kihonteki ni wa, aite no ojigi ni awasete onaji fukasa de ojigi o kaeshimasu. Mata, nagasa mo aite ni awaseru no ga ippan-teki desu.

    Of course. Basically, you should return the bow with the same depth as the other person. It's also common to match the duration of the bow to the other person's.

    Are you curious about Japanese customs? Check out our Guide on Japanese Customs article!

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    Tea Ceremony

    The tea ceremony, known as 茶道, chadō, or 茶の湯, chanoyu, is a traditional Japanese art form that emphasizes the aesthetics and mindfulness of serving and enjoying matcha otherwise known as powdered green tea. It embodies harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Participating in a tea ceremony is a wonderful way to experience the essence of Japanese hospitality and cultural traditions.

    Note: While previously mentioned, Nippon is often used in traditional ceremonies, but this doesn't mean it's used within the context of every ceremony, such as the tea ceremony. In this case, the ceremony is focused on the ritual of preparing, serving, and drinking tea, rather than discussing or referencing the country itself. However, the principles of the tea ceremony deeply embody the spirit of Japanese, Nippon/Nihon, culture. So while the term Nippon might not be explicitly used during the ceremony, the ceremony itself is a celebration and expression of Japanese tradition.

    Visitor A


    Nihon no chadō ni kyōmi ga arimasu. Dono yō ni sanka dekimasu ka?

    I'm interested in the Japanese tea ceremony. How can I participate?

    Visitor B


    Chadō taiken ga dekiru ochashitsu ya senmon no basho ga arimasu. Mata, kankōchi ya dentōteki na Nihon teien demo chadō no taiken o tanoshimu koto ga dekimasu.

    There are tea rooms and dedicated venues where you can experience a tea ceremony. Additionally, you can enjoy tea ceremony experiences in tourist spots or traditional Japanese gardens.

    What's so special about Japanese tea? Take a look at our article on Japanese Tea to find out!

    Seasonal Festivals

    Japan is known for its vibrant and colorful seasonal festivals or 祭り, matsuri. These festivals celebrate various aspects of Japanese culture, history, and spirituality. From the lively cherry blossom festivals in spring to the dazzling fireworks festivals in summer and the enchanting lantern festivals in autumn, there's always a festival happening throughout the year. Participating in these festivals allows you to immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere and experience the local traditions.

    Summer festivals are famous in Japan and have a great deal of excitement around them. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Summer Festivals in Japan article!

    Enthusiast A


    Nihon no matsuri ni itte mitai desu. Osusume no matsuri wa arimasu ka?

    I would like to go to Japanese festivals. Do you have any recommendations?

    Enthusiast B


    Takusan no suteki na matsuri ga arimasu ga, tatoeba natsu ni wa "Gion Matsuri" ya "Takayama Matsuri", aki ni wa "Hikiyama Matsuri" ga ninki desu. Chiiki goto ni dokusai no tokushoku ga arimasu no de, zehi ikutsuka no matsuri o taiken shite mite kudasai.

    There are many wonderful festivals, but for example, the "Gion Matsuri" and "Takayama Matsuri" are popular in summer, while the "Hikiyama Matsuri" is popular in autumn. Each region has its own unique characteristics, so I recommend experiencing several festivals.

    By exploring these unique customs and traditions, you can gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural richness of Japan and engage in meaningful conversations with locals and fellow enthusiasts.

    Looking to go to a Japanese festival?

    Check out our article on our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Festivals!

    洋画・邦画: Western Films and Japanese Films

    Just like music, the Japanese language also categorizes films into Western (foreign) films and Japanese films. The term 洋画, yōga, refers to Western or foreign films, while 邦画, hōga, is used to denote Japanese films.

    Fun Fact: Western and Japanese films have influenced each other in numerous ways. A famous example is the influence of Akira Kurosawa's films on George Lucas' Star Wars saga. Lucas has openly acknowledged the impact of Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" on the original Star Wars movie, particularly in the structure of the plot and the characterization of some figures. The dynamic of the two bickering peasants in "The Hidden Fortress," for instance, inspired the beloved droid duo, C-3PO and R2-D2. It's a wonderful example of how global cinema can cross-pollinate, leading to universally beloved stories.

    Movie Enthusiast A


    Konshū no kin'yōbi, atarashii yōga ga kōkai saremasu. Issho ni mi ni ikimasen ka?

    A new Western film is being released this Friday. Would you like to go watch it with me?

    Movie Enthusiast B


    Sore wa ii desu ne. Shikashi, saikin wa hōga ni kyōmi ga arimasu. Dokoka de hōga o mi ni ikimashou ka?

    That sounds great. However, I've recently been interested in Japanese films. Shall we go see a Japanese film somewhere?

    なんです is a form of んです that is often used in a neutral tone to provide explanations or ask questions. It's a common variant of のです (no desu) that is used in everyday conversation.

    日本語: Japanese Language

    When talking about the Japanese language itself, the term 日本語, Nihongo, is used. This is widely used in academic, casual, and formal contexts when discussing language.

    Student A


    Nihongo wa muzukashii desu ga, totemo tanoshii desu ne.

    Japanese is difficult, but it's a lot of fun.

    Student B


    Sō desu ne, Nihongo no gakushū wa arata na bunka o rikai suru subarashii hōhō desu.

    Yes, learning Japanese is a wonderful way to understand a new culture.



    Nihon: Two Cylindrical Objects

    Interestingly, in another context, Nihon (二本) is also used to refer to two cylindrical objects in Japanese. The character 二 means 'two', and 本 refers to long, cylindrical objects. This could include anything from bottles (of soda, sake, etc.) to trees, pencils, and legs.

    For example, you would say ビールを二本ください (Biiru o nihon kudasai), which means "Please give me two (bottles of) beer."

    Japanese has a very particular counting system. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Counting in Japanese to find out how to count properly in Japanese!

    Nihon: Two Cylindrical Objects

    Interestingly, in another context, Nihon (二本) is also used to refer to two cylindrical objects in Japanese. The character 二 means 'two', and 本 refers to long, cylindrical objects. This could include anything from bottles (of soda, sake, etc.) to trees, pencils, and legs.

    For example, you would say ビールを二本ください (Biiru o nihon kudasai), which means "Please give me two (bottles of) beer."

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    日本画: Japanese Painting

    日本画, nihonga, is a term that refers to traditional Japanese painting techniques. It was coined during the Meiji era to differentiate Japanese-style paintings from Western-style paintings, which are referred to as yōga.

    The term embodies the unique aesthetics, materials, and techniques of Japanese art, including the use of washi or Japanese paper, iwaenogu or mineral pigments, and nikawa or animal glue. 

    Fun Fact: Nihonga are often created using traditional Japanese artistic conventions and techniques, using natural materials and pigments. An interesting feature of this style is that it often incorporates gold and silver leaf into the artwork, resulting in unique, shimmering effects. Also, a typical feature is that many works are painted on silk or washi (traditional Japanese paper) rather than canvas.

    Art Enthusiast A


    Nihonga ni kyōmi ga arimasu. Nanika yoi tenrankai wa arimasu ka?

    I'm interested in Japanese paintings. Are there any good exhibitions?

    Art Enthusiast B


    Sō desu ne, chikaku no bijutsukan de wa raishū, atarashii Nihonga no tenrankai ga hirakaremasu yo.

    Yes, there's a new Japanese painting exhibition opening at the nearby art museum next week.

    Want to learn about Japanese Culture?

    Japanese culture is extensive and rich. Check out our Guide Japanese Culture!

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    Advice from a Native Speaker

    While this article provides information on how to say Japan in Japanese and related topics, it's also crucial to get insight from native speakers for a more nuanced understanding. Here are some tips and advice that can help you when interacting with locals.

    Context is Key

    Understanding the context is key in Japanese conversations. As mentioned, while both "Nippon" and "Nihon" refer to Japan, their usage is highly dependent on the situation and context. If you're unsure, following the speaker's lead can be a safe approach.

    Embrace the Formality

    The Japanese language and culture are often formal, with a significant emphasis on respect. Be open to using formal language, even in what might seem like casual conversations. The use of Nippon in formal contexts is just one example of this.

    Cultural Immersion

    The best way to understand the usage of the words Nihon and Nippon, as well as other language intricacies, is to immerse yourself in the culture. Whether that's through visiting the country, engaging with locals, or consuming Japanese media, understanding the culture will deepen your understanding of the language.

    Know Your Genres

    In terms of music, knowing the distinction between yōgaku and hōgaku can lead to engaging conversations with Japanese music lovers. Being able to talk about your favorite music in these terms can make discussions more interactive and meaningful.

    Diving Deeper

    The examples given in this article, such as 来日する, rainichi suru, for visiting Japan, or 洋楽, yōgaku, and 邦楽, hōgaku, for music genres, are just the beginning. Japanese language has a rich vocabulary to express various concepts. The more you explore, the richer your Japanese vocabulary will become.

    Practice Makes Perfect

    Last but not least, practice as much as you can. The more you use the terms in real-life contexts, the more comfortable you'll become with them. Remember, learning a language is not just about memorizing vocabulary or grammar rules; it's about understanding the culture that shapes the language. As you delve deeper into your Japanese studies, don't forget to explore and appreciate the cultural nuances that make the language so unique.


    Mastering the different ways to say Japan in Japanese, understanding the nuances of Nippon and Nihon, and exploring expressions like 来日する, the tea ceremony, and seasonal festivals can significantly enrich your cultural understanding and enhance your interactions with Japanese people. Embracing the language and customs and traditions of Japan allows for a more immersive and rewarding experience. Keep exploring the fascinating aspects of Japanese culture and language on your language-learning journey.

    Related Phrases & Guides

    If you're looking to expand your knowledge of Japanese particles or linguistic nuances, check out our other articles on topics such as How to Say Please in Japanese or check out more about our guides to navigating Japanese:

    How to Say Please in Japanese

    Top 40 Japanese Slang to Know

    Guide to Japanese Adjectives

    Guide to Japanese Verbs

    Guide to Hiragana and Katakana

    Guide to Japanese Idioms

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