Only in later years have I understood anything about how our planet moves around itself and around the Sun, and how it therefore appears to always "rise in the East" and "set in the West", apparently "traveling across the sky" (but it's actually our planet that is traveling and spinning at the same time while the Sun is fixed in the centre). At least I'm pretty sure that there are no exceptions to this rule, but I wouldn't be surprised if things are different in other positions on Earth's surface.

Anyway, Japan is called the "land of the rising sun", supposedly because it is... far to the... East? But the Earth is spherical, so this has no meaning, does it? Yes, North is "up", but East... there is nowhere you can say that East "ends" because the most extreme East position on a 2D world map is just next to where the "West" is beginning. So is the idea that just because (some?) world maps have Japan to the right, and thus "East" in some misleading sense, then Japan is the "land of the rising sun"?

This confuses me. Does the sunrise and sunset have something particular about it when you are watching it from Japan, as opposed to central Europe or North America or anywhere else? Is this just a reference to semi-recent "Western" world maps? I'm pretty sure that Asian world maps place themselves in the centre rather than in the "far East"?

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but to East from Japan is the Pacific Ocean, thus practically nothing. In the world view of the ancient Asia, it was the most eastern country. Btw, in some languages the ethimology of the word "east" can be traced back to the sunrise. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Jun 4 '20 at 23:56

Nippon means "sun origin" or "land of the rising sun". From the direction and point of view of the older, larger civilisation of the continent to the West - China - the island of Japan were in the general direction of where the sun rises, with no known lands further East beyond them.

China was a powerful cultural influence for Japan. Nihon/Nippon was a nicer, more poetic name than the Chinese name of "Wa" - which was Chinese for "Dwarf"; Nihon/Nippon ("sun origin") was used, possibly intentionally, to supplant it within Japan.

I don't know if Japanese or Chinese historically understood that Earth was a globe but suspect it was largely irrelevant to that naming.

  • $\begingroup$ i think this has to do with the timezones so this has to do with what country can see the first light of a new day(it is not realy the first place to see the first light of a new day,some islands lay closer to the international date line) $\endgroup$ Jun 4 '20 at 4:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @trond hansen: The name Nihon predates time zones by many centuries. Somewhere around 665-703 CE, per Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Japan $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 4 '20 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf it is still the land area that see the sun first every new day and it was where the known land area ended for a very long time. $\endgroup$ Jun 4 '20 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ @trond hansen: No, you're still thinking in terms of artifical constructs like time zones and the international date line, which weren't even thought of at the time. Before such things existed, seeing the sun rise was the DEFINITION of a new day, wherever you happened to be. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 5 '20 at 16:54

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