What Was Japan Called in Ancient Times?

Japan, known for its unique culture, technology, and cuisine, has a rich history that dates back thousands of years. But what was Japan called in ancient times? Let’s delve into the past and explore the various names by which Japan has been known throughout history.

Ancient Names of Japan


One of the earliest names by which Japan was referred to was Wa. This name dates back to the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) when China had diplomatic relations with the Japanese archipelago.

The Chinese referred to Japan as Wa because they noticed that the Japanese people had tattoos on their faces, which resembled the character for “dwarf” in Chinese. The character for “dwarf” is pronounced “Wa” in Japanese, and thus the country came to be known as Wa.


During the Kofun period (250 CE – 538 CE), which is named after large burial mounds or kofun that were built during this time, Japan was known as Yamato. This name comes from one of the clans that dominated this period and established a centralized government in present-day Nara Prefecture.


The name Nihon or Nippon, which are still used today as the official names of Japan, first appeared during the Asuka period (538 CE – 710 CE). The name is derived from two characters: “ni,” meaning “sun,” and “hon,” meaning “root.” The name signifies that Japan is a land where the sun rises or a land with deep roots.


In conclusion, Japan has been known by several names throughout its long history. From Wa to Yamato to Nihon/Nippon, each name reflects a different era in Japanese history and culture. Regardless of the name, Japan has always been a land of innovation, beauty, and distinctiveness.