|sci.lang.japan FAQ / 3. Word origins|
Nihon appeared in Chinese history during the Tang (Japanese Tou, 唐) dynasty, when at the end of 7th century a delegation from Japan introduced their country as Nihon. In about 605, Prince Shotoku, the then Regent of Japan (the Empress was Suiko), sent a mission to China with a letter in which he called himself `the Emperor of the Land in which the Sun rises'. So, the notion of Nihon might have originated in this period. The reading of the message in Japanese is:
Hi iduru tokoro no Tensi, Sho wo Hi bossuru tokoro no Tenshi ni itasu. Tsutsuga nakiya?which means
"The Emperor of the land where Sun rises sends a letter to the Emperor of the land where Sun sets. Are you healthy?"Having read the letter, the Emperor of China became angry, and ordered such barbarian things not to be shown to him.
This letter was sent in the early period of the 7th century, either 605, 608 or 612. The message is recorded in the official history book of the Sui (in Japanese Zui, 隋) dynasty.
This answer was edited from posts by very many people. Special thanks to NAKANO Yasuaki and Bart Mathias for several corrections and additions.
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