He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

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Saturday, July 21, 2012 

What's in a Name? Japan, Nippon, Nihon, Jih-pen, 日本

Westerners often refer to Japan as "the land of the rising sun." Like so many things from the Japanese language, this is a somewhat lost in translation descriptor. This is what Westerners accept as the translation of what the word Japan means. But the devil is in the details. This is close, but still widely misses the mark.

When Chinese, thousands of years ago, saw the sun rise over the islands of the east, they named that country "jih-pen." That's where English-speakers get the pronunciation for our term, Japan. Japanese call the country Nihon (Nee-hone) or when it comes to official things like government, national sports, postal service, it is called Nippon (Nee'Pone).

The translation for the Chinese name for "jih-pen" means "the source of the sun." And when you look at the kanji that makes up the word "Japan" in Japanese, 日本, you see this hits the true mark of the meaning. The first character, 日, in this case means sun and 本 means origin or birthplace in this kanji combination. So the literal translation is not "land of the rising sun," but is actually "the origin or birthplace of the sun." Or as the Chinese said thousands of years ago, "the source of the sun."

That's a vast difference. The place the sun rises (which everywhere can claim) versus the place from which the sun was born, or the place where the sun originates, carries an entirely different meaning and weight. When every time you hear your country's name you hear, "the land that gave birth to the sun," that may indeed inspire some nationalism in you. It's a very different thing than hearing, "USA," as proud as we are. And what is the sun except the earthly source of all life? This is the kind of pride that can lead you into world war, or cause you to think you are born superior to other cultures, peoples, & nations. This kind of pride can lead you to say, "why do I need your weak, crucified Son when I am of the people whose land created the life-giving sun?"

There's a lot to a name. Next time you hear Japan referred to as "the land of the rising sun," don't let it fool you. Now that you know what the name really means, let every time you hear the word mentioned in a newscast or see it online or read it on a product, let it prompt you to pray for this nation that on the whole as a people, has never come close to rejecting their pride in their sun. Pray they will repent and believe in the true Creator of the sun's Son.

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