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The Name of the Country

         The Japanese refer to their country as "Nippon" or "Nihon. These two names have their origin in the words "place from where the sunrises" used by Prince Shotoku, an early seventh century Japanese ruler, to designate his country in a letter he sent to China. The meaning of "place from where the sun rises" was translated into a pair of Chines characters that came to be used to indicate the name of the country in writing. At first the characters were read in the Japanese "Yamato." "Nippon" and "Nihon" used today were adopted in the Nara period. 

         At present, both readings are in common use. There is no general rule, legal or otherwise, for deciding which to use. However, "Nippon" is used, for example, at international sporting events and on postage stamps. "Japan has been chosen as the formal name designating the country in the English language.