In some countries, their principal chinese characters are represented differently between Chinese and Japanese. For example,

  • 意 vs 伊 (Italy)
  • 法 vs 仏 (France)
  • 德 vs 独 (Germany)

That being said, there are some cases that use the same principal character, like 韩 (Korea) and 英 (UK).

Why are they different between these two languages? What made them apart during the long history?

  • Japanese and Chinese are no more related to each other than Japanese and English. Both languages are transcribed with Chinese characters, but in Japanese, some of the characters are borrowed for their meanings, some are borrowed for their sounds, and both kinds of characters are supplemented by 2 syllabaries. Chinese characters, while complex in their particulars, are conceptually simple: 1 character usually stands for one morpheme. Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 4:16

2 Answers 2


The reason is simple - Japanese and Chinese read kanji differently. 露西亜 is read roshiya in Japanese and is a good transliteration for English "Russia", but 露西亞 is read luh-hsi-ya in Mandarin and sounds nothing like "Russia". Well, neither does 俄羅斯 sound like "Russia" in either English or Russian, but this translation came from Mongolian, not directly from Russian. This is why Russia is 俄 in Chinese but 露 in Japanese.

When Mandarin wasn't predominant in most of China, many regions of China did have their own translations of country names based on their local dialects. For example, Russia was called 羅宋 in Shanghai, where translation is based on the local Wu dialect. The name 羅宋 is still used in China now, as the name of the adapted version of the Russian soup borscht, 羅宋湯 (literally "Russian soup").

The same applies to most names. Sometimes Chinese and Japanese do use the same translation (e.g. Britain and Colombia), but this is purely coincidental.


There are various reasons for this. The Chinese and Japanese people got into contact with foreign people separately. Each would then map the words they heard to what's closest their language. Due to the different in pronunciation of Hanzi/Kanji in both languages, in many cases they might choose the different characters to write that. In some cases it's because the names get into Chinese/Japanese from different languages. Sometimes it's because characters got changed when languages develop...

See also Why is the Japanese word for the United States (beikoku - 米) different than the Chinese/Korean (美)?

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