1. Why is Japan called “Japan” in English? ≪ Marco Polo ≫

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☆1  ” The Travels of Marco Polo”

 It is said that “Japan” was first introduced to Europe by “The Travels of Marco Polo”.  ( * )

Marco Polo was born in Venice, the prosperous city state that traded with the East in the 13th century. When Marco was 17, he crossed over the Asian Continent with his father and uncle, trade merchants, through the Silk Road, all the way to the East, China.

In the 13th century, Emperor of Mongol Empire, Kublai Khan, conquered China, united the country, named “Yuan (元)” and dominated the vast area of Asia far west to the Mediterranean Sea. Kublai Khan, who had a strong interest about the countries of East and West, welcomed the Polos who came from the country of the West. Especially young Marco was recognized as a marvelous travel reporter, and he was dispatched to many unknown regions and brought back a lot of new topics. He stayed in the court of Kublai Khan for 17 years.

The travel route of Marco Polo

After many experiences, when he returned to Venice by taking a South Sea passage by boat on return, he was at age of 41. As he talked to everyone a lot of incredible stories in the East, he was sometimes called “Big-mouthed  Marco”.

Developed cities in Europe in the 13th century were Venice and Genoa competing each other. After returning home, since Venice was in battle with Genoa, Marco volunteered to fight on a fleet, but he was captured and put in a prison in Genoa. During his captivity, he dictated the stories of what he had heard and seen in “The Travels of Marco Polo”.  (1299)

Marco Polo

☆2 ” Zipang “

Although Marco himself had not been there, he heard that “Zipang is a very large island in the east sea, 1500 miles from the continent”, and “in that country there is enormous amount of gold and a golden palace”.

It was not just a dream that Japan was said to be “a golden country”, but Japan was really one of the world’s leading gold producing countries at that time. And because  it was known that Japanese Buddhist monks studying in China had brought a lot of gold dust as a study abroad expense.

From this sound of “Zipang, Chipang”, the name of Japan became in European languages, Giappone ( Italy ), Japon ( France ), Japan ( England ), etc.


☆3 Why did Marco Polo express Japan as the sound like “Zipang”?

Japanese name of “Japan” is “Nippon 日本” ( the place where the sun rises).

But the sound Marco Polo heard in China was like “Jipenkuo” in Chinese way.


In a word

Japan was introduced to Europe with the sound like “Zipang” by Marco Polo in the 13th century.


――― ( * )  ---

*   “The Travels of Marco Polo” translated by Otagi Matsuo, Heibonsha Toyo Bunko 1971

Marco Polo (1254~1324 ) was traveling during 1271 and 1295 (from 17 to 41 years old ), in the era of Kamakura in Japan.