America in Japanese

Hey y’all! I just got to America in Wanikani and was wondering a few things:

  1. The explanation for 米国 said that it’s an older and more formal way of referring to America, but how common is it compared to アメリカ, and when is it used?
  2. Is 米国人 used at all?
  3. Would the rule apply to other countries? For example, a French person is フランス人, is France
    フランス or does it have a word that follows the *国 pattern?
  4. Am I putting too much thought into this?
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France does have 仏国 (ふっこく) from the fact that France in kanji is 仏蘭西.

I’ve never seen 米国人 (but it probably does get used in newspapers or something occasionally).

But basically you’ll only ever see 米国 in official settings (like the translation of the name of an organization or sporting event) or in newspapers, because it’s shorter than アメリカ.

Like, one translation of NASA is 米国国家航空宇宙局 (べいこくこっかこうくううちゅうきょく literally America State Air Space Navigation Bureau)

But the Japanese Wikipedia article for NASA is called アメリカ航空宇宙局.

Some others I checked

Russia 露国 (ろこく) from 露西亜 (ろしあ)
Australia 豪州 (ごうしゅう) from 濠太剌利 (as you can see sometimes the abbreviation kanji and the actual ateji kanji are different, because 豪 is a common kanji and 濠 is not)


Here’s the first link I find giving a pretty good list of other countries using the old-style spellings.

As far as I understand it, those spellings are derived from a practice called ateji, where kanji are used for their phonetic readings rather than their meaning to represent a foreign word. Via this StackExchange thread, the 米 in 米国 is an abbreviation for 亜米利加, for example.


Useful list! One I didn’t see on there is 朝鮮 (ちょうせん) which means Korea but is usually used to refer to North Korea (while South Korea is referred to as 韓国). Of course, that isn’t an example of ateji.

Thank you! I remembered reading about ateji when I first started learning Kanji but it’s always nice to have a quick refresh! Slightly off topic, but according to the website you linked Mongolia is made of the kanji for ignorance and old, ”蒙古” and upon searching Jisho I found out adding 症 makes the word become Down’s Syndrome. Makes me think the Japanese didn’t link the Mongols for some reason.

Probably related to the obsolete (and now offensive) English word for Down syndrome: mongolism. Odd that such a word would be carried over into Japanese as it’s a euro-centric name because Dr Down perceived that people with Down syndrome had what might now be called asian features. It appears that that’s also now a dated, and perhaps offensive, term in Japanese. The relevant Japanese Wikipedia article is about ダウン症候群 which is a pretty literal translation of Down Syndrome.

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One thing that amuses me here:

英語 = British English
米語 = American English
豪語 = boasting; big talk; bombast​

Yep, sounds about right to me.


Japanese people only say “お米人/米人/米国” when they wanna talk about American people in front of American people lol because it’s really easy to catch ”アメリカ人/アメリカ” if you don’t speak Japanese lol.

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