Just saw this picture:

enter image description here

Notice the ニッポン.

Why is it written in Kana?!

Isn't that like super bizarre?

  • 4
    Notice any other super bizarre words written in kana?
    – Earthliŋ
    Jul 14, 2014 at 16:07
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    Maaybe because they want you to say がんばろうにっぽん! not がんばろうにほん! ??
    – user1016
    Jul 14, 2014 at 16:38
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    @Choko 読み方を説明するだけなら普通は平仮名では…。あと「チカラ」が片仮名である理由は別なのでしょうか。
    – naruto
    Jul 15, 2014 at 0:50
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    @naruto はあ・・・。まあ、普通、「ニッポン」って、ひらがなじゃなくてカタカナで書かれていることが多いでしょう?(個人的には「にっぽん」でもいいんじゃないの‌​、って思いますが。)「にほん」はひらがなでよさそうなのに。理由は知りません。「ニッポン」って、日本人より外国人のほうがよく言う言い方だから、カタカナで書くことが定‌​着したのかも?「チカラ」は「力」って書いたらカタカナの「カ」と紛らわしいので、こういう宣伝やスローガンや看板などには、一瞬見ただけで理解されやすい書き方を選んだんじゃないですか‌​ね・・・。子どもにもわかるように漢字を避けて。(「ひとつ」、とか。)
    – user1016
    Jul 15, 2014 at 3:35

3 Answers 3


I suppose this banner struck OP as "super bizarre" for either of the two reasons:

  1. Because you are a diligent Japanese learner who only learned how traditional textbooks say about when to use kanji or kana.
  2. Because you have a kind of fascination with kanji, as a design element. You regard kanji as cool, and kana as mere, dull, phonetic symbols.

Whichever is the case with you, the fact is that this kind of "kana-fication" is very common, and "がんばれ、ニッポン", is recognized as the standard catchphrase of cheering up Japanese national sport teams.

Actually, we're talking about two facts here: "にっぽん is better than にほん (acoustically)", and "ニッポン is better than 日本 (visually)". I think both are true and important. "にっぽん" is definitely the standard pronunciation here.

However it seems to me that OP's main interest is the visual impression of this banner. And unfortunately, the mere fact that にっぽん sounds better, acoustically, does not fully explain why this is written in katakana. Usually modern Japanese uses hiragana, not katakana, to instruct the readings. And we all know how to read 日本 in situations like this; there is no practical need to instruct how to read this in a banner. If 日本 looked better than ニッポン, they'd absolutely use 日本 because this is intended to be seen by millions of Japanese soccer fans who love shouting Nippon! Nippon! Nippon!

That's why I believe this ニッポン is in katakana mainly for visual reasons.

I'm not a native English speaker so forgive me if some adjectives which follow are weird. Anyway, to me, "がんばれ、日本", as written in kanji, looks a bit uncool. It's dull, uninteresting, too plain. To us Japanese, "日本" is simply the plain, matter-of-fact way of expressing "Japan", and I can hardly feel the attractiveness, which is needed for slogans like this.

We always see this kind of kana usage in comics, ads or lyrics written in Japanese. Using katakana or hiragana for words, which are normally written in kanji, has a special visual effect. Just like ALL UPPERCASE or all_lowercase or lowerCamelCase gives different impressions in English comics, logos and ads.

It's hard to generalize the impression of katakana as a design element, though. Simply putting "this is a equivalent of bold face in English" is not enough. Sometimes it's simply impressive/cool, sometimes robotic/toneless, sometimes exotic/peculiar, sometimes mysterious/magical/horror, sometimes nostargic/archaic, sometimes businesslike. You have to be very familiar with Japanese language to fully understand this.

TLDR: In this specific case, I'd say that ニッポン was chosen instead of 日本, for two reasons: a) because ニッポン looks like a foreign word, and thus symbolizes Japanese people performing internationally (cf. サムライ・ブルー, not 侍ブルー), and, b) because they wanted ニッポン to look like something repeated in a loud voice, closer to Ole!, Hurray!, etc.

  • 1
    Does ニッポン look cool then?
    – Mou某
    Jul 15, 2014 at 11:37
  • In a word, yes, I believe it's there because it looks good. And I think this チカラ is in katakana for the same reason. I believe this would be in katakana if this were something like "夢をカタチに".
    – naruto
    Jul 15, 2014 at 11:42
  • Revised again... "magical spell" was too much.
    – naruto
    Jul 16, 2014 at 1:16

"日本" is normally pronounced as ニホン/nihon at the present day. In this case, however, the flag designer is aiming at having audiences pronounce it as ニッポン/nippon explicitly.

At international sport matches including football, Japanese supporter traditionally prefer "Nippon" for the cheering call, like "Nippon Cha-Cha-Cha" (c.f. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fagu9L2AntA). If you use "Nihon" for the cheering call alternatively, it would be not good rhythm.

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    I'm not sure I agree. Wherever nongeminated and geminated forms can co-occur, the latter are marked for emotional emphasis. And that's what we would expect in a sports setting. However, one should note that ニッポン is the pronunciation of 日本 favored by the ministry of education, etc. (=MEXT). I've heard young Japanese use ニッポン, who when I asked them, explained to me that that was the pronunciation they learned at school. So I believe the ニホン・ニッポン issue goes a bit deeper. Jul 14, 2014 at 19:12
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    I agree that emotional factor affects whether they read 日本 as nihon or nippon. Such gemination can be seen in other Japanese words and it is basically aimed at increasing emphasis. But in some case, such accentuation difference had been extended to the difference of the meaning through the history of Japanese language.
    – hartack
    Jul 15, 2014 at 3:40
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    Some example below. "yahari / yappari": Both are being used in the present. The meaning is almost the same (except the nuance of accentuation explained above). "pitari / pittari": Both are being used in the present but the usage is rather differentiated. pitari is more used to explain stillness. pittari is more used to explain suitableness. "ahare(aware) / appare": The ungeminated one is completely archaic.
    – hartack
    Jul 15, 2014 at 3:41
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    – user1016
    Jul 15, 2014 at 4:17
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    「がんばろうにほん」「がんばろうニホン」でなく「がんばろうニッポン」なのは、「がんばれ!にほん!」「がんばれ!ニホン!」でなくて「がんばれ!ニッポン!」Wiki が浸透しているからかもしれませんね。(4+4でリズムもいいし)
    – user1016
    Jul 15, 2014 at 5:01

I would say there's no one specific answer here. It's a stylistic choice, made by the designer based on the target audience and circumstances and cultural norms and expectations and/or the breaking down of same. The choice between kanji, hiragana and katakana is often an arbitrary one, and especially in advertising and design the choice is usually made on the way it will make the audience feel and perceive the message.

In this case, ニッポン just feels a lot more energetic and apropos then 日本. That's all, I think. Just try screaming it:


Anything else would feel more like:


Not quite the same feel... ;)

  • This reminded me of the recent English logos with no capitalization at all; at&t, facebook, twitter, hp, intel... Maybe they wanted to look somewhat friendly, by breaking the rule? :)
    – naruto
    Jul 14, 2014 at 17:53
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    Pretty much the same thing, yes. I wouldn't go as far as saying "breaking a rule" though. Simply, in English and the current tech culture, lowercase logos seem cool and modern. In Japanese, katakana simply feel stronger and more energetic. If you know the feeling of writing those letters by hand, katakana can be written very quickly and energetically, while the fine balance of kanji requires more restraint and grace. It's simply those more or less unconscious connections everyone makes that make them feel differently when reading it.
    – deceze
    Jul 14, 2014 at 18:04
  • See my comment re hartack. Gemination is a tool to mark emotional emphasis, witness yahari vs. yappari, etc. Jul 14, 2014 at 19:14

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