lifestyle

Why is the UK called Igirisu in Japanese?

55 Comments
By Philip Kendall, RocketNews24

Amerika. Supein. Kanada. The majority of countries are known in Japan by names that sound vaguely similar to their native monikers. So why on earth do the Japanese call the UK Igirisu?

As anyone who has spent even a few hours studying Japanese will tell you, when adapted into the Japanese syllabary, foreign names can sound rather odd. Chris becomes Kurisu; my own name, Philip, becomes Firippu; and if your name’s Deborah but you prefer to go by Deb you can forget about being taken seriously by kids because Debu, as your name will become, also means "fatty" in Japanese.

But even with these many errant vowels and additional syllables, you have to admire Japan’s willingness to adapt foreign-sounding words into its own language. A great many countries’ names, too, are represented fairly faithfully in Japanese: the U.S. becomes Amerika; Germany, or rather Deutschland, becomes Doitsu; they even have a stab at pronouncing Australia (resulting in the admittedly rather cumbersome Osutoraria, but still, full marks for effort, Japan).

It’s understandable, then, that the question my friend Hiro asked on Facebook a few weeks ago should be one that a great many Japanese have asked me during my time in his homeland.

The short answer to this question is that it’s not, since England is called Ingurando in Japanese. Rather, what the Japanese are referring to — or at least ought to be referring to — when they say Igirisu is the United Kingdom as a whole.

It’s at this point that a number of the people reading this will shift uncomfortably in their seats as they, too, realise that they aren’t 100% sure of the difference between England, the UK and Great Britain. Fear not, gentle geographobe — a great many British nationals don’t know the difference either. For the unsure and those who’d like a recap, below is the great and always informative YouTuber CGP Grey to explain everything you need to know about England, Britain and the UK.

Too long; didn’t watch? In brief, the UK is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Britain, meanwhile, is the main island that the first three of those countries can be found on.

Now, with that out of the way we can get back to the question that stumps so many Japanese people and which has been put to me dozens of times over the years: Why is the UK called Igirisu in Japan?

In short, it’s all because of the Portuguese.

Hardcore Japanophiles will tell you that a great many words in the Japanese language — tempura, castella (a type of cake), pan (bread) to name but a few — come from the Portuguese. And they’d be right. Back in the days of long ocean voyages, tall ships and the trading of gunpowder for spices, the Portuguese were extremely busy boat-owning bees, sailing around the world getting things done. They first arrived in Japan in 1543, bringing with them a great many things that piqued Japanese curiosity — most notably the rather ironic combination of firearms and Christianity — and continued to trade and influence Japanese society for decades to come — they even turned Nagasaki into a thriving trading port.

Of course, the English (not to be confused with the British, thank you Mr Grey!) were also busy making a name for themselves around this time, sailing to foreign lands and loading their boats up with pretty much everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor, not to mention getting into sea scuffles with their various European neighbours. It stands to reason, then, that the English should come up in conversation between the Japanese and the Portuguese at some point during their bargaining and various cultural exchanges, with the latter telling of the Inglês (English), possibly while miming sipping tea with their pinky fingers outstretched or doing Basil Fawlty impressions (the Portuguese were were centuries ahead of their time).

With the English navy making a name for itself on the high seas and with England being the most populous country in Britain, it was only natural that the global community at that time should think of the English when they spoke of the island as a whole. On the international stage, Britain invariably meant the English, the Inglês, the people from 英吉利 Egeresu (later Igirisu) — a name which sticks to this day.

It’s worth noting that today’s Japanese are perfectly familiar with the names Ingurando (England), Sukottorando (Scotland), Ueeruzu (Wales) and Kita Airurando (Northern Ireland), but the similarity between Ingurando and Igirisu often leads many to think that England and the UK are one and the same thing, which, as I’m sure my Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish friends would like me to impress one last time, they’re not. The term 英国 Eikoku is also used to refer to the UK, much like how other countries have their own kanji-fied names (the U.S. is also known as 米国 Beikoku, for example), but for the average Japanese citizen, the UK has always been, and probably always will be, Igirisu.

Class dismissed!

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Japanese expat turns frustration with ordering from Amazon UK into a comic -- Everyday Japanese names that make English speakers chuckle -- Be careful how you talk about “spaghetti” in Japanese — you may sound unhip

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55 Comments
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But even with these many errant vowels and additional syllables, you have to admire Japan’s willingness to adapt foreign-sounding words into its own language.

Willingness to adopt, but not allow to be seen nor accepted as part of the Japanese language itself. They will ALWAYS be foreign loan words.

But the funny thing about it is that it is ONLY here in Japan that people might know or understand what the loan word means, because typically in the language that the word or phrase is borrowed from no one knows what they heck it means.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

With all due respect, Amerika (America) is not the name of a country or nation ... America (North, Central & South and the Caribbean) is the name of the entire continent. The United States of America (Bekoku) is the name of the country or nation and it is abbreviated as USA, U.S., the States, among others.

-2 ( +12 / -14 )

Half the media in the United States don't even know what the UK is. They constantly call it England.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

The British isles is a colonial term no longer used nor is it recognised by the Irish government. The Republic of Ireland are Irish not British. People born in Northern Ireland can be either be Irish or British if they are born there. But we are all European's.

-10 ( +5 / -15 )

@kamejima47,

I teach my students the same thing. However on the other hand, people from the US actually call themselves American, whereas Canadians and Mexicans do not. People in the States also say 'America' about their own country, and comedians and others lovingly say 'This is Murrica', etc.

So really, instead of splitting hairs, we should add caveats.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

@Saoirse,

The British Isles is a geographic term.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

MapleG:

Half the media in the United States don't even know what the UK is. They constantly call it England.

Ha ha ha. Yeah, this article should be informative to many Americans!

Supein

Why on earth aren't the Japanese calling it Esupania?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

All the accents sound the same to me, so not a problem.

-13 ( +0 / -13 )

Ha ha ha. Yeah, this article should be informative to many Americans!

In regards to those fussing about the USA laying claim to "America," how should Pukey2 have phrased this? United Statesians doesn't exactly roll off the tounge.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Great work, Mr. Kendall! One of the first, if not The first, RocketNews essay that was entertaining, informative, and well-written.

One nitpick:

the rather ironic combination of firearms and Christianity

Where's the irony? This was the modus operandi for Christian missionaries for centuries.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

Much easier to say igirisu than yu-naitedo kingudamu

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I guess the same goes for the Netherlands being called 'オランダ' (Holland), while North and South Holland are part of the Netherlands just like England is part of the UK

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well In Australia country they call a Irish Irish, they call scotts scotts but the enghish is refer to as pom or pommy. Try and work out how they came about that name for the English ?. Also a American is referred as a seppos. Seppo is sort for septic tank which rimes with Yank.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

A lot of people outside the USA also call it America - it's just short for instead of saying United States of America.

People use whatever word is convenient and useful for them. The French learned it the hard way that ya can't dictate how people use words.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Bread is Pao in Portuguese not pan.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Philip doesn't really answer the question that he poses in the title. Not once does he actually compare the Portuguese 'Inglaterra' (England) which is used in Spain too, with the Japanese イギリス The name of the people and the country are completely different! As for the other rote given examples such as pan etc - the actual word is more similar to French than Portuguese. The actual word in Portuguese is pão, which sounds nothing like the Japanese. Still, the Japanese art of mangling foreign languages nicely allows a lot of foreigners to make a living....

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Millennial Alert:

Video transcript: "When people say they are Irish, they are referring to the Republic of Ireland..."

Even Ian Paisley, to whom the Republic was anathema, referred to himself as an Irishman.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

To be fair, the English language is chock-full of exonyms, particularly for country names and major European cities, while the Japanese pronunciation is closer to the endonym. Not that it matters; it's just interesting.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_exonyms

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well that was informative... though as some has stated, in Portuguese and Spanish England is called Inglaterra... so may be the Igirisu comes from "Los Ingleses" (The English)... I am just wondering though

And, although Protugal influenced many words in Japanese, Spanish had also almost the same amount of influence (if not a bit more?)

The words, Pan, Castella (Castilla) and Vidrio are more close to Spanish than Portuguese

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I thought Great Britain was a name used in the Victorian era pointing to Britain and their overseas colonies.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

The "Great" in "Great Britain" was first used by the French to distinguish the island from the smaller area of "Brittany" on the mainland.

It refers to size, not some sense of imperial achievement, whatever the swivle-eyed patriots want to believe.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

All the accents sound the same to me, so not a problem. LOL oh dear how little you understand about the english language then,

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Well, me being in a Portuguese speaking country (Brazil), what I can say is: Portuguese and Spanish are very similar. They share, I guess, 80% of their vocabulary - with their owe accent of the same word. The word "Mexico", for instance, is pronounced "me-hi-co" in Spanish and "me-she-co" in Portuguese. I say that to cast some light on why "pan, castilla" were brought to Japan via the Portuguese cruzades. As for "Igirisu", I think the origin in still to be found out, for if it had been borrowed from Portuguese as the author claims - or from Spanish - it would have been spelled "Ingeresu" - inglês, in Portuguese. The tonal signal meaning that "e" must sound like the vowel in "homer", not as in the first "e" in "there".

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Never liked the name

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The names used by Japan show a mixture of influences from various countries active around Japan at the time. 'Igirisu' comes from Portuguese 'Ingles', meaning 'English' rather than 'England'. There must have seemed no reason to distinguish England from Britain, and of course until 1603 England and Scotland were two completely separate countries so referring to England or English was not that wrong.

'Oranda' comes from the Portuguese 'Ollanda', meaning 'Holland', which as somebody noted, only refers to a part of the Netherlands but is often used as a shorthand for the whole country including by people from the Netherlands. 'Supein' clearly comes from the English name for the country, though I don't know why that would be. 'Doitsu' is from the Dutch (Netherlandic) name for Germany, 'Duitsland', rather than directly from the German (though the two are closely related linguistically of course).

Regardless of the derivation, though, the modern name 'Igirisu' always and only refers to the UK, also commonly referred to in English as Britain. It does not mean 'England', and does not exclude the non-English parts of the UK.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"Much easier to say igirisu than yu-naitedo kingudamu'

Most of my Japanese coworkers refer to it as "The UK".

1 ( +2 / -1 )

it would have been nice if the author actually answered his own question (igurisu), fact checked (pan does not come from portuguese) and not added superfulous info (the difference between the UK, Britain and England). other than that, well written!!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@nakanoguy

It's usual to say 'pan' derives from Portuguese pão. You're the one who needs to fact check.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

the modern name 'Igirisu' always and only refers to the UK, also commonly referred to in English as Britain. It does not mean 'England', and does not exclude the non-English parts of the UK.

But does it include the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"...the UK is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland..." No it is not; it is made up of two countries (England and Scotland), one principality (Wales — hence the Prince of Wales) and one province (Northern Ireland).

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

But does it include the I love man and the Channel Islands?

there, I've corrected that for you.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

PSandoz

and one province (Northern Ireland).

Really?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

For the same reason that Nihon or Nippon is referred to as Japan in the rest of the world. The early Jesuits who opened up this country to the rest of the world simply got it wrong and the name stuck. The same as the early Japanese tried to adapt the foreign names into the Japanese kana and mangled them horribly.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

and one province (Northern Ireland). - Really?

Well, two thirds of a province, but rounded to the nearest integer, I guess so.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

No it is not; it is made up of two countries (England and Scotland), one principality (Wales — hence the Prince of Wales) and one province (Northern Ireland).

Wales is a country, there is no official doubt on that.

As to it being a principality, well, you'd better go and look that one up.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Germans still calls their father land Deutschland. Their largest bank is named Deutsche Bank or ドイツバンク for us Japanese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Germans still calls their father land Deutschland.

It's probably the most extreme example when it comes to different names for a country. Deutschland in the native language, Germania in Italian, Allmange in French, Tyskland in Danish, Niemcy in Polish, Saksa (Saxony?) in Finnish.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"All the accents sound the same to me, so not a problem."

Do the different languages sound the same to you as well?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Germania was named by the Romans.

By the way Japanese never called the motherland Japan it was Nihon from the beginning. Japan derives from Zipangu by Marco Polo when he visited Yuan dynasty China. It is believed he misinterpreted another nation that the Mongols had invaded and conquered.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

With all due respect, Amerika (America) is not the name of a country or nation ... America (North, Central & South and the Caribbean) is the name of the entire continent.

With all due respect, Americans are taught there are seven continents, not 6 or 5. South America is treated as a separate continent in the same manner that Africa is treated as a separate continent from Asia.

In regards to those fussing about the USA laying claim to "America," how should Pukey2 have phrased this? United Statesians doesn't exactly roll off the tounge.

Exactly. Citizens of the United States of America are referred to around the world (when they're not being cursed at) as "Americans". No other country in North, Central, or South America includes "America" in their official country name. Only the U.S.A. actually has "America" as part of it's name. So there is no ambiguity whenever someone refers to "America"... unless you've been taught WRONG by your geography teachers and think there's anything less than seven continents. ;-P

Also a American is referred as a seppos. Seppo is sort for septic tank which rimes with Yank.

Sounds like Cockney rhyming slang from East London.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Star-viking as Professor of Geopolitics at NUI Maynooth Gerry Kearns puts it “Whenever someone refers to all those islands off the coast of Europe as the British Isles, they are engaged in some unconscious anglo-centrism.” >. There is also a Wikipedia article about the dispute. But my personal take on it is .. it is talking about two countries one British and one not. So why call them British. I like the term western European Archipelago. There are lots of other former colonial names that are no longer deemed appropriate to use as well.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"I like the term western European Archipelago"

For crying out loud. I'm off to bed to join a female homo sapien with whom I am involved in a relationship referred to as a marriage.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

So why call them British.

It was good enough for Pytheas of Massalia (Nesoi Brettaniai), so why not?

I know there are negative connotations of the word "Britain" - it's association with empire, and so on. It's unfortunate, as the word was used before the Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic invasions. Today, Wales is the last linguistic bastion of the original Britons. But here and there, you can still see the remnants of that language in place names outside of Wales. For example, Aberdeen, Carlisle, and Penicuik.

@Jimizo, regards to your reciprocal significant meat unit partner.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

But does it include the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands?

They are not part of the UK, so no they are not included in 'Igirisu'. But I imagine most Japanese people, like most British people and most people generally don't find it really necessary to specify whether the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are included or not. Unless we are talking about tax, of course, in which case it becomes quite significant.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Where's the irony? This was the modus operandi for Christian missionaries for centuries

The irony is that firearms are used to kill, and one of the Ten Commandmants states "Thou Shalt Not Kill". Pretty ironic if you ask me.

An interesting article. I've always wondered about "Igirisu", and now I know. It derives from the Portuguese. That's one mystery wrapped up. Onto the next one!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why is the UK called Igirisu in Japanese?

To annoy Scottish people?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Being an american learning Japanese probably the one thing I dont get is why japanese officials spell English based on the spelling rather than phonetics. Katakana is a phonetic alphabet after all, why not use it that way.

I suppose some reason exists for this but really if English words in japan were phonetically spelled with katakana, the words would probably be a much closer match to english pronunciation.

On the other side, I can say the same thing for Japanese words in english. After all Tokyo is really toukyou, typhoon is really taifuu of course kareoke is correct not karioki and my favorite in business, kaizen not kazan, kaizanm kezan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Todd

"Typhoon" is from the Ancient Greek "typhon"; the English is closer than the Japanese....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the one thing I dont get is why japanese officials spell English based on the spelling rather than phonetics.

I generally don't find that to be the case. Maybe there are a few exceptions. Do you have some examples?

"Typhoon" is from the Ancient Greek "typhon";

Interesting, I also thought it came from the Japanese 台風, but it appears you're right: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=typhoon

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is nothing complicated about the origin of the Japanese word for Britain "igirisu."

Igirisu comes from the Portuguese word for English: "Inglês."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The sun is hardly up here in "Igirisu" but already 50+ comments from the Land of the Rising Sun - and there's little I can add to what I thought was an interesting and amusing article, plus the comments.

First, some historical facts, then geographical

Yes, England and Scotland were separate countries - certainly up to the time when the first English came to Japan in the early 17th century. To confuse matters, from 1603, the two countries had the same monarch - James I of England and VIth of Scotland. He tried to have the countries united legally but this did not go down too well with either country and was never implemented.

For three years, from 1657 to 1660, after the English (and Scottish) king was executed, during the "interregnum", they were (sort of ) united - and Scottish representatives sat in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. This uneasy relationship dissolved with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 - although just to confuse matters even more, the restored king of England also became, again, the king of Scotland (got it?)

The two countries did not become legally joined as one until 1706/7 when Acts of Union were passed in the parliaments of both countries. The Scottish and also the English parliaments were abolished and a new parliament of Great Britain was created. The Scottish parliament did not re-emerge until 1998, although the two countries still currently exist within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (I guess Japanese readers will have given up on me by now!) As I guess readers will know, there's quite a chance that Scotland will vote to become comepletely independent in a few years.

Now to the geography:

Yes, as others have commented, the term "Great Britain" is a purely geographical term, used to distinguish this part of the world from Bretagne - Brittany in France. Of course, it's often seen as being used by the British to give themselves "airs and graces". I think we owe it to the aforementioned King James I (and VIth!) - he certainly used it. I've several times argued that it ought to be changed to "Greater" - but that still raises the question of "greater than what?"

The term "British Isles" is also a geographical term (solely) and refers to the physical islands of Great Britain and of Ireland. It does give some offence to some folk in Ireland, rather similarly to the Koreans' dislike of the use of the term Sea of Japan, Nihonkai. but I think to start calling it the "Western European Archipelago" is a bridge too far.

I've said nothing about Wales or Northern Ireland. Essentially, Wales was England's first colony, and so too, in many ways, Northern Ireland was Scotland's first, although that's rather a contentious statement over here!

Oh, finally, when was the United Kingdom most recently extended? Well, it was as recently in 1972, when the country unilaterally declared ownership of a forlorn rock called Rockall out in the North Atlantic. Specifically it was claimed in the name of Scotland. The dispute was with the Republic of Ireland - and Rockall does indeed lie closer to that country than to any part of Scotland. But, the wise Irish decided it wasn't really worth fussing too much over this. Perhaps a lesson there regarding the Pinnacle Islands - which is the English (British?!) name for the Senkakus.

To any Japanese person who has read this far, please come and visit ALL our countries and islands - including certainly Ireland - both Northern and the Republic. You will be assured of a warm welcome.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Typhoon comes from the Cantonese Dai Fung (Big Wind)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Meiyouwenti, yes, but I think that it was picked up by the Japanese when continental Europeans looked down on unsophisticated people from the English-speaking islands north of the Channel, especially after England broke with Catholicism and Rome. The word Ingles was probably always spoken pejoratively, as referring to the northern barbarians. To the question, "What ship is that?" or to a question regarding a map of Europe, the sneering answer would be "Ingles/Inglez", in a dismissive sort of way, meaning "don't bother with them".

The Japanese would be unable to deal with the 'l' sound or to fit the stress into their choice of Kanji. "Egiri"英吉利... also Egeresu, Engeresu. Texts of the time show so many variants in the way Japanese inscribed the name referring to Brits. The Chinese of course were ahead of the game with Ying-guo 英国 which probably provided the first Kanji of Igirisu/Egerisu, as it also provided the Japanese word "Eikoku".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Haha, try telling a Welshman or woman that Wales isn't a country!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@M3

It's been over thirty years since I did Italian at university, but I'm pretty sure they call Italy "Tedesco".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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