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Honshū is the main island in Japan (so it could be called something like 大州 or 広州). But it is also common in cosmogonies to say the gods created our land first and foremost, and the rest of the planet is just an afterthought to use up left-over materials, Honshū may then have been 元州. Related questions: How old is the name, what is the source?

  • Not that this answers the question, because there are a lot of assumptions to address, but in this case 本 and 元 could mean the same thing, so I'm not sure what distinction you're drawing? – Leebo Jan 27 at 8:50
  • you may be interested to read: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuniumi – Nicolas Louis Guillemot Jan 27 at 8:54
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But it is also common in cosmogonies to say the gods created our land first and foremost, and the rest of the planet is just an afterthought to use up left-over materials, Honshū may then have been 元州.

Interestingly, according to the traditional legends, Honshū was created last out of the eight islands.

The earliest references to「本州」I could find dates back to the early 19th century. For example,「本州」shows up in a book published in 1833 小原桃洞『桃洞遺筆』.

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I think the name 秋津州 was more common until the turn of the 18th century. Here's an excerpt from the Japanese history book Tokushi Yoron (新井白石『讀史餘論』), written in 1712 (although this version was published in 1876):

enter image description here


So, the name「本州」might only be in widespread use since 200~250 years ago. I think the etymology of「本州」should be just taken at face value: main「本」island「州」; it is, after all, the biggest island with the most population and probably where most historical events of Japan took place.

I would expect「本州」to have a native poetic/literary/archaic Japanese reading, rather than just the on'yomi ほ​んしゅう, if「本州」was a representation used since ancient times.

  • So 「本州」 is of fairly recent invention (or at least recent dominance). This answers part of the question. Why the switch? – Mathieu Bouville Jan 28 at 10:16
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    @MathieuBouville Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to that, as I can't find the person (if any) who came up with the name 本州. However, note that 秋津州 became overloaded, gaining the meaning of Japan in addition to Honshū (see the Wikipedia link for 秋津州 - 2. 転じて、日本の異名の一つ。), so this may have encouraged the eventual drop of the name 秋津州 for Honshū. – droooze Jan 28 at 10:22
  • It could have been an official decision (as seems to have happened with Osaka), with a clear date and purpose. But otherwise, of course it may be fuzzy. – Mathieu Bouville Jan 28 at 10:39

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