As Japanese language students, we are used to reading and writing countries in Katakana. It’s quite confusing but yes, countries CAN be written in Kanji!

Written in the stars: Countries DO have Kanji

Gairaigo, Ateji and Kanji

Just so everyone can understand how kanji is used in writing countries, let’s talk about the use of Gairaigo and Ateji to have a better understanding on how this is possible.

What is Gairaigo (外来語)?

Most people think they do not know what Gairaigo is, but much to their surprise, Gairaigo is the most common type of Japanese words which foreigners who study Japanese find easier to learn. To break it down, GAIRAIGO(外来語) consists of 3 main kanji. 外(gai) the kanji for outside, 来(rai) the kanji for come, and 語(go) the kanji for language. Gairaigo are what are commonly referred to as “borrowed words” or words that are from a foreign language that was not from the ancient times from Old or Middle Chinese. These are usually words with a European or English origin. These words are usually modern words that have been absorbed from the reopening of Japan to the West back in the 1900’s. Although there are many Japanese words borrowed from the Chinese language, these were all in a time where Chinese characters were, leading these Chinese borrowed words to be written in Kanji

The concept of gairaigo is quite convenient for students learning due to how most words are pulled from a modern language, which are more commonly used in casual conversations. These are mainly written in Katakana. A few common examples are ラジオ(radio), テレビ(television: its an abbreviation!), タバコ(tobacco), and クリスマス(Christmas). In Japanese language books and Japanese schools, written Gairaigo versions of countries more commonly used since it is easier for foreigners to remember.

HOWEVER, there are some Gairaigo words that can be written in Kanji. Confusing? Yes, it is. There are some cases where single character Gairaigo (mostly units of measure) are given a kanji

What is Ateji(当て字)?

When looking at a word comprised of kanji characters, it’s quite easy to tell what a word is from the meaning of its kanji  despite not knowing how its read phonetically. For “Ateji”, however, it is a bit more confusing than that. Although composed of kanji characters, the meaning of the kanji is totally ignored and only the phonetic sounds are used. In some cases of Atejis, words borrow the meaning of kanji characters but not the readings. There are also cases where Ateji borrow both the reading and meaning of kanji characters. For Japanese language students who do not know what Atejis are, this can be very VERY confusing and might lead to many misunderstandings while learning Japanese. A few common examples are as follows. 

TYPE 1: 

The main focus is the phonetic reading of the kanji.

EnglishRomajiAteji
CoffeeKo-hi-コーヒー珈琲 
SushiSushiすし寿司
AmericaAmairikaあまいりか亜米利加 

TYPE 2:

The meaning of the kanji is the main focus and the reading is ignored. Usually the words already were made before the writing system came into use.

EnglishRomajiAteji
Tobacco/ cigarettesTabakoたばこ煙草 
ShrimpEbiえび海老
SpeechSerifuせりふ台詞 

TYPE 3:

Both the reading and meaning of the kanji is used into the word.

EnglishRomajiAteji
RaincoatKappaかっぱ合羽
CountrysideInakaいなか田舎
ClubKurabuくらぶ倶楽部

Do countries have Kanji characters?

YES, countries do have kanji! Most Japanese language aren’t familiar with them and are more exposed to the Gairaigo version where Katakana is used to write them. Garaigo and Ateji are used in the kanji versions (and abbreviations) of some countries, which can be found below. 

List of Japanese Kanji Country Names

Country’s Kanji : ASIA

EnglishRomajiKatakanaKanjiAbbreviation
IndiaIndoインド 印度
IndonesiaIndoneshiaインドネシア印度尼西亜
KazakhstanKazafusutanカザフスタン香佐富斯坦
Saudi ArabiaSaujiarabiaサウジアラビア沙地亜剌比亜
SyriaShiriya シリア 叙利亜
SingaporeShingapo-ruシンガポール星嘉波
Sri LankaSurirankaスリランカ 錫蘭
ThailandTaiタイ
South KoreaTaikanminkoku (Kankoku)(no katakana)大韓民国
TajikistanTajikisutanタジキスタン塔吉克斯坦
ChinaChuuka Jinmin Kyouwakoku (Chuugoku)(no katakana)中華人民共和国
TaiwanChuuka Minkoku(no katakana)中華民国
North KoreaChousen Minjujugi Jinmin Kyouwakoku (Kita Chousen)(no katakana)朝鮮民主主義人民共和国
TurkeyTorukoトルコ 土耳其
JapanNihon(no katakana)日本
PhilippinesFuiripinフィリピン 比利賓
VietnamBetonamuベトナム 越南
MalaysiaMaree-shiyaマレーシア 馬来西亜
MyanmarMyanmaa-ミャンマー 緬甸
MongoliaMongoruモンゴル 蒙古
LaosRaosuラオス 老檛

Country’s Kanji : OCEANIA

EnglishRomajiKatakanaKanjiAbbreviation
AustraliaOsutorariaオーストラリア豪斯多剌里亜
New ZealandNyuu-ji-randoニュージーランド新西蘭土

Country’s Kanji : NORTH AMERICA

EnglishRomajiKatakanaKanjiAbbreviation
USAAmerikaアメリカ亜米利加
CanadaKanadaカナダ加拿大
PanamaPanamaパナマ巴拿馬
MexicoMekishikoメキシコ墨西哥

Country’s Kanji : SOUTH AMERICA

EnglishRomajiKatakanaKanjiAbbreviation
ArgentinaArugenchinaアルゼンチン亜爾然丁
ChileChiriチリ智利
BrazilBurajiruブラジル伯剌西爾
VenezuelaBenejueraベネズエラ委内瑞拉
PeruPeru-ペルー秘魯
BoliviaBoribiaボリビア波利美亜

Country’s Kanji : EUROPE

EnglishRomajiKatakanaKanjiAbbreviation
IcelandAisurandoアイスランド氷島
IrelandAirurandoアイルランド愛蘭土
EnglandIgirisuイギリス英吉利西
ItalyItariaイタリア伊太利亜
UkraineUkurainaウクライナ烏克蘭
AustriaO-sutoriaオーストリア墺太利
NetherlandsOrandaオランダ阿蘭陀
GreeceGirishaギリシャ希臘
SwitzerlandSuisuスイス瑞士
SwedenSuuei-denスウェーデン瑞典
SpainSupeinスペイン西班牙西
DenmarkDenma-kuデンマーク丹麦
GermanyDoitsuドイツ独逸
NorwayNoruwei-ノルウェー那威
HungaryHangari-ハンガリー匈牙利
FinlandFinrandoフィンランド芬蘭土
FranceFuransuフランス仏蘭西
BulgariaBurugariaブルガリア 布爾加利亜
BelgiumBerugi-ベルギー白耳義
PolandPo-randoポーランド波蘭土
PortugalPorutogaruポルトガル葡萄牙
LatviaRatobiaラトビア良都美野
RomaniaRu-maniaルーマニア羅馬尼亜
RussiaRoshiaロシア露西亜

Country’s Kanji : AFRICA

EnglishRomajiKatakanaKanjiAbbreviation
EgyptEjiputoエジプト埃及多
Republic of the CongoKongo Kyou Wakokuコンゴ共和国公果
Democratic Republic of the CongoKongo Minshu Kyou Wakokuコンゴ民主共和国公果
TunisiaChunishaチュニジア突尼斯
South AfricaMinami Afurika南アフリカ南阿弗利加南阿

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