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Are the two used completely interchangeably or are there specific situations where one might be used more than the other? For example I've never heard 日本語 said にっぽんご.

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There is a cite for nippongo here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Japan#Nihon_and_Nippon . The text is 西洋道中膝栗毛. –  Dono Feb 28 '13 at 7:52
    
I see, that's a lot less solid that what I was hoping for, guess it's a thing you'll just have to get used to. –  Jamal Feb 28 '13 at 8:00
    
I don't think this question should be closed as "Not Constructive". Knowing when to read a kanji compound one way or another is a valid question, even if the answer isn't clear-cut (or if it turns out there's no distinction to be made). –  snailboat Feb 28 '13 at 14:17

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

[EDIT] I only 'heard' that にっぽん was overused during WWII to encourage patriotic feelings. After Jesse Good comment I tried findind document backing up this but as I didn't found anything it's probably better not to remember this point !

Also I remembered that Japan was officialy read as にっぽん according to the Government, I haven't had time to check it yet but this link linsting words who are mainly read as にほん or にっぽん tends to say the two form are reckognize by the government.

Finally, I find Tim answer better than my original answer, so I adwise you to scroll down if it still appear after mine.

[ORIGINAL ANSWER]

From what I heared, 日本 was read にっぽん but was 'overused' during WWII to suggest patriotism toward the country. In order to take distance with this meaning, people switch to a softer reading which is にほん.

Still, 日本 is still 'officially' read as にっぽん, but from what I observed people will mostly prefer the softer version except if you want to explicitly affirm your attachment toward the country, some simple example could be a footbal match, some really 'official' context (I'm mostly thinking of politicians, such as the right orientied parties you can find on saturday in Shibuya).

So I think you will mostly never be wrong using にほん in normal cases. And if you find yourself wanting to cheer for Japan (as a team) feel free to use にっぽん if you feel like it.

There is probably other situation to use にっぽん but I prefer to base me reply on situation I actually saw happen.

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にっぽん is used widely, even now, like in the 「がんぱろう!にっぽん」 campaigns for ... dealing with the tsunami that struck the coast of Fukushima on 3/11. –  Earthliŋ Feb 28 '13 at 9:28
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Yes, here again it's a context when we 'root for' Japan. But it's true such rooting aren't only for competition events as I said in my reply, you're right to note にっぽん can be used in any context we cheer for 'Japan' in any challenge (be it a competition, or in your case a challenge for reconstruction). –  Xval Feb 28 '13 at 10:45
    
Thank you kindly, that was a good explanation. –  Jamal Feb 28 '13 at 13:34
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日本 was read にっぽん but was 'overused' during WWII to suggest patriotism toward the country Do you have any reference material to back this up? This is the first time I've heard this and cannot find any reference material that says this. –  Jesse Good Mar 6 '13 at 18:01
    
Well, shame on me. If I remember correctly I heard this from one of my Japanese teacher when I was in University, but as I couldn't find anything to back it up, I updated my answer to be clear that this part is unsure (so wrong until proven true). –  Xval Mar 6 '13 at 23:02

I think it helps to understand why we have two ways to say 日本、Nihon and Nippon. Nippon comes from the south of Japan and was used by the Choshu-Satsuma alliance (薩長同盟(さっちょうどうめい))that overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate (aka the 幕府 (ばくふ)) in the mid-19 century. We can still see this influence on the institutions that came out the the Meiji Restoration such as the Bank of Japan which uses Nippon Ginko on its bank notes. The alliance led the modernisation of Japan in the Meiji period ultimately acquiring an empire through military expansion and establishing the country as one of the so-called "Great Powers" that dominated the world politics of 100 years ago.

Hence, Nippon tends to be used in nationalistic/patriotic situations such as charging in to battle and firing up the crowd at a political rally. It is a only small (harmless) extention to hear it being used at a football match or any other situation where the intention is to encourage patriotism.

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Choshu is really Chōshū, written 長州 with kanji. See the Wikipedia page for 薩長同盟. –  snailboat Mar 2 '13 at 17:59
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Thanks - I've added the kanji. I don't this was why the answer earned a down voted though. If there is something else that is missing/wrong be interested to hear it - we live and learn after all. –  Tim Mar 2 '13 at 23:31
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With a few exceptions, no one on JLU knows why anything was voted down. –  snailboat Mar 3 '13 at 1:52

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