As far as I understand, the Chinese people called America "美国" (among many) which literally translates to 'beautiful country'. I understand it was phonetic transcription of 'America'.

But I wonder why Japanese use "米国" which translates to "rice country". I know '美' and '米' have the same pronunciation in Japanese.

When did Japanese start to use '米国'? Was there any time when '美国' was used in Japanese? is there any reason to use the Chinese character '米' for the name?

  • Possibly Related: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/24295/… Jun 25, 2016 at 19:16
  • No, I wouldn't say it is a duplicate of the one I linked. They're just similar enough that I wanted to generate a link between them. (Related and duplicate are two different things - nothing wrong with the former). Jun 25, 2016 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


As stated in the thread that WeirdlyCheezy linked to, the full kanji "spelling" for America is 亜米利加. 米 is officially only ベイ or マイ, but, as in other places it acts as a phonetic -- 迷 謎 -- it can also be read as メイ. Ok, so why not 亜国 then? Well, 亜 already referred to Asia in general, so that was out. Ok, 米国 then. Except, 米 isn't commonly read as メイ, and if read as マイ, is strongly associated with compounds that refer to rice... perhaps that's why the less common reading of ベイ (米寿・米飯・米穀・米価)was chosen?

As for 美, it's really only read as ビ; the possible ミ reading is nearly only used in person / place names.

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