Why are the inhabitants of Japan called both “Japanese” and “Japanese”?

The inhabitants of Japan are also called “Japanese” because the Japanese call their country their own Nihon or Nippon, according to the classical pronunciation, which literally means “(place of) origin of the sun”, which we can translate as “Land of the Rising Sun”: a reference to the fact that in ancient times Japan was the easternmost known land. From “Nippon” therefore derives the adjective “Japanese”.
In much of the world, however, they say JapanJapan, hence the adjective “Japanese”. The term “Japan” is therefore what in linguistics is called a exonym, or a name for a country or population used outside that country. “Nippon” is instead a endonym, that is, the name of a place in the language of those who live in that place. Now, the question is: why are these two terms used, like this different? To answer, let's start from the term “nippon”: understanding the origins and meaning of this word, we will arrive at the term “Japanese”.

Nippon, the land of the Rising Sun: this is what the term means

The word Nippon (in Japanese 日本), with which the Japanese call their country, is made up of two kanji, the characters used in the Japanese language, meaning “origin” and sun respectively. For this reason, Japan is also known as the Land of the Rising Sun.
The first written attestation of this term is found in Book of Tang, a Chinese historical work from 703, which chronicled the exploits of the Chinese Tang dynasty. In fact, it was precisely around that period that the Japanese gradually began to call their country this way.

Before this historical period, the Chinese referred to the Japanese with the term Wa, presumably meaning “submissive.” This word, however, sounded offensive to the Japanese, as it sounded similar to the term meaning “dwarf, short in stature”. For this reason, starting from 7th centurythe Japanese began to present their Earth by name Nippon, origin of the Sun precisely. There modern pronunciation Of Nippon became Nihonthe term most used in spoken language today.


From Marco Polo to the Portuguese: how the term “Japan” spread

How we arrived at the word Japan is not certain. According to Treccani the correct etymology comes from ancient Chinese. The Chinese called it the Land of the Rising Sun Jih Pen-Kuo (Kuo: Village; Jih Pen: origin of the sun). The Venetian traveller Marco Polowho reached China in 1275, mentions the Japanese in his travel account The million with the term Cipangutranscribed precisely from ancient Chinese.

It must be considered that Europeans did not have direct contact with Japan until 1542-1543. However, they heard about it precisely from China and the countries of Southeast Asia, with which they established close relationships. It seems that precisely i Portuguese merchantsactive in XVI century in the Strait of Malacca, were the first to bring Malay and Indonesian words to Europe Jepang, Jipang and Jepung, also deriving from ancient Chinese. The term has therefore established itself throughout the world.

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Etymology of name – Treccani Source 2