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The word 太平洋{たいへいよう} can be translated literally as "peaceful ocean" as somebody noticed in the question Oceans ー Thick or Big?.

But, as far as I know, the name was invented by Ferdinand Magellan: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/pacific.html.

My question is, how was this area of water named by Japanese people before getting in contact with Europeans?

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This is a great answer, I think. To summarize in English, in the olden days, people didn't really need to refer to separate oceans in the same sense we do today, and would instead denote narrow regions of ocean by the areas of land they were closest to, or by adding [灘]{なだ} onto the end to denote a tough-to-sail area of ocean. Even 瀬戸内 didn't get its name until the end of the 江戸 era, before which it was named in sections like how I described above.

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  • Yes, to give some credit, it was already pointed out by Leebo as a comment to the original post you refer to in your question. – jarmanso7 Nov 1 '19 at 12:58
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    To be fair, though, I didn't see Leebo's comment; it would appear he posted it around the same time I posted my answer. – sbkgs4686 Nov 1 '19 at 21:28

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