Imagine you have a list of small square representing different languages where each symbol is using the language itself that it represents. For roman languages it is mostly language codes in roman letters like "DE" for German, "EN" for English and "ES" for Spanish as they do well fit into square boxes. But if you have to use just one symbol to represent the Japanese language (in Japanese), which would you choose so a Japanese person recognizes their own language as fast and distinctly as possible?

I think fitting 2 or more Kanji into the small square symbol is not a good option. Here are some options I thought about (though, I am only at a beginner's level of learning the language and don't have much experience using it):

  • I thought about "和" but to my understanding it represents the country, not the language.
  • Another option I thought abhout was simply "あ" because there is no other language than Japanese where Hiragana exist and therefore it can only represent Japanese, but then again it is not meaningfull in Japanese on its own.
  • Lastly I thought about "語", which could be missinterpreted as selecting "language" but just in Japanese.

Any suggestions and especially experiences are welcome!

  • 2
    I’d use 日 for this goal. (But why not JA, or even the icon of the flag?) Jul 31, 2020 at 15:56
  • 2
    "あ" is used by the Google Japanese IME as an icon to indicate Japanese.
    – jogloran
    Jul 31, 2020 at 18:18

1 Answer 1


ES, DE, EN are all ISO codes -- "ISO" as in "International Standards Organization" (technically, it's the "International Organization for Standardization"). These codes are used worldwide, particularly in programming and other technical contexts. In localization engineering, I've dealt with these codes for years. There's no particular value in developing a competing standard—the point of a standard is that, well, it's the standard.

That said, Japanese already has a convention for abbreviating country names in text -- usually the first kanji of the country's full name.

  • 英【えい】 for the UK / English, from 英【い】吉【ぎ】利【り】[ ]{す} (Igirisu, probably from Portuguese Inglês, with the spelling from Chinese)
  • 露【ろ】 for Russia / Russian, from 露【ろ】西【し】亜【あ】 (Roshia, from Russian Росси́я (Rossíja), with the spelling probably partly from Chinese)
  • 仏【ふ】 for France / French, from 仏【ふ】蘭【らん】西【す】 (Furansu, ultimately from French France, spelling derivation unknown)
  • [独]{ど or どく} for Germany / German, from 独【ど】逸【いつ】 (Doitsu, from Dutch Duits //dœy̯ts//)
  • 中【ちゅう】 for China / Chinese, from 中国【ちゅうごく】 (Chūgoku, from Chinese 中國)
  • 日【にち】 for Japan / Japanese, from 日【に】本【ほん】 (Nihon)

And so on and so forth. Pretty much every country that has a kanji-based name can be abbreviated in this way. However, there are exceptions, so be sure to look things up:

  • 蘭 for the Netherlands / Dutch, from 阿【お】​蘭【らん】​陀【だ】 (Oranda, from Portuguese Holanda with a silent "H", meaning "Holland" -- which historically was the leading province of the Dutch Republic and roughly corresponds to the provinces North Holland and South Holland, two of the twelve provinces that make up the present country of the Netherlands)


As pointed out by Earthliŋ in the comments, sometimes Japan and Japanese are referred to by the abbreviation 和. This stretches back over a thousand years to the initial textual references to any country referred to as "Japan", when Chinese-language sources describe the country of "Wa" or 倭 (wa, literally "dwarf" in Chinese). See the 和 entry at Wiktionary for more detail. (Full disclosure: I edited that entry.)

One example of modern usage of this 和 to mean "Japanese" is this German-Japanese dictionary over on Amazon, using 独和【どくわ】 to refer to "German" and "Japanese". It's also the component used in the term 和文【わぶん】 "Japanese text", in contrast to 漢文【かんぶん】 or "Chinese text". Or in 和語【わご】 "Japanese language" in contrast to 漢語【かんご】 or "Chinese language".

Meanwhile, there is also a dictionary from the early 1600s that has been very important in discovering how Japanese sounds have changed over the centuries, called the 日葡辞書【にっぽじしょ】, using 日 to refer to "Japanese" instead.

So I think both 和 and 日 would work as one-character abbreviations for "Japanese". My subjective sense is that the two might be used in different contexts, but I do not understand the difference well enough to explain it here.

Please comment if the above does not address your question.

  • But then, Japanese also has somewhat of a convention for languages, which for the most part coincides with the convention for countries, but where 和 = Japanese...
    – Earthliŋ
    Jul 31, 2020 at 20:45
  • @Earthliŋ: Granted, yes. However, in contexts like multilingual spreadsheets where the column headers indicate language, I'm more accustomed to seeing 日 than 和. The caveat might be contexts that list lots of different languages, perhaps? Jul 31, 2020 at 20:49
  • ... or maybe just my particular experience in the corporate world? Jul 31, 2020 at 21:20
  • Thanks for this deliberate answer! Lots of new information! I have to say anyway, that the conversation about 和 vs 日 honestly mostly confuses me due to the little information available. If you could elaborate a little more on that distinction in your answer, I would appreciate that a lot!
    – Matmarbon
    Jul 31, 2020 at 23:20
  • 1
    I have the impression that 日 is used as noun abbreviation, while 和 is used as adjective abbreviation.
    – mic
    Aug 1, 2020 at 12:50

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