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Wikipedia says that Osaka used to be spelt 大坂, and is now spelt 大阪. Is there a term for what happened, and does it happen often?

Related question: On the replacing of kanji obsoleted in the 1946 reforms with similar-looking kanji. , but the question and answer seem to refer to changes that had different circumstances than this change.

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By "like", are you implying some other examples as well? – user458 Jul 25 '12 at 8:32
@sawa I didn't mean to imply that other examples definitely existed. – Andrew Grimm Jul 25 '12 at 11:22
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Wikipedia says that Osaka used to be spelt 大坂, and is now spelt 大阪.

It is more complicated than that:

  • Initially it was 難波 (Naniwa).
  • In 1496, it was 小坂 ("Little Hill", Osaka AND Ozaka). 尾坂 and other spellings also exist. This is thought to focus more on the area around Ishiyama Honganji.
  • In 1583, Toyotomi Hideyoshi built 大坂城, and throughout the Edo period it was 大坂. Regardless of the kanji 大, the early pronunciation seemed to be short Osaka or Ozaka. Later Ōsaka and Ōzaka are found. Likely influenced by the area around Ishiyama Honganji, but expanded to represent the entire surrounding city. Hence, a change from 小 to 大.
  • In 1871, the government decided to spell it 大阪 and pronounce Ōsaka.

Is there a term for what happened, and does it happen often?

If you are only referring to the spelling 大坂 vs 大阪, then I would say government respelling; there is not much in the way of linguistics involved. As for the difference between Osaka, Ozaka, Ōsaka, and Ōzaka, some of it I have indicated above. As for s/z, I suppose it could be related to rendaku, but I can only speculate.

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Is it language reform? Your story is interesting, but you are not answering the crucial point: why 坂 was changed to 阪. – user458 Jul 23 '12 at 15:18
Supposedly it was due to a dislike of the character 坂, which can be decomposed into 土 and 反 and thus interpreted as "return (反) to the soil (土) ". – Dono Jul 23 '12 at 16:24
@Dono which the Wikipedia article claims can mean samurai rebellion, right? – Andrew Grimm Jul 23 '12 at 22:47
@AndrewGrimm Return to the soil means to die. – Dono Jul 23 '12 at 22:57

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