Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Japanese – Chihou | Chiiki | Bunkaken

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Japanese, Region

Terms relating to ‘region’:

1. 地方ちほうchihou

This word is used to mean ‘region’ as an area within a single country, though not necessarily just Japan. E.g. 関東地方 kantoo chihou ‘the Kanto region (around Tokyo)’. When used by itself it also has the sense of locality. Thus 地方によります (chihou ni yorimasu) ‘It depends on the locality (as to whether they eat spicy food).’ In the case of regions in Japan, at least, it would imply some sort of unit that has cultural values in common as well as being a geographical term.


2. 地域ちいきchiiki

Chiiki conveys the meaning of, ‘region’, in which a region can be an area within a single country – such as the Kanzai region in Japan – or it can refer to a region which encompasses geographically close countries, for instance, Europe or the Asia-Pacific. For instance, 地域つくり (chiiki dukuri or chiiki zukuri) meaning ‘region building’ is equally used to mean a region that comprises more than one nation. The word ‘Asia-Pacific region’ is always translated using this word into アジア太平洋地域 Ajia taiheiyoo chiiki. There is no sense that the countries that make up a chiiki have anything in common but geographical proximity. In terms of ‘regionalism’, chiiki shugi, is a term used in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for describing its Regional Affairs” bureau, and is also used to indicate academic, ‘Area Studies’. Thinking about region in terms of chiiki allows for the possibility of a regional architecture that encompasses countries of profoundly differing cultures.

For example, in the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s description of APEC[1]:


Ajia taiheiyou chiiki no jizoku kanoona hatten wo mokuteki toshi, ikinai no zenshuyookokuchiiki ga sankasuru fooramu.

‘All principal countries and regions participate in the forum, with the aim of sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region’


3. 文化圏ぶんかけん bunkaken

This is the same word as the Korean munhwakwon and is either borrowed directly from Chinese or made in Japan on the model of Chinese word-building from Chinese morphemes. Bunka is ‘culture’ and –ken is a suffix meaning ‘sphere’. The infamous ‘Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere’ 大東亜共栄圏 Dai Tooa Kyooei-ken also has this –ken morpheme and the term ‘bunkaken’ continues to carry an allusion to that war-time usage and aspiration. Currently, its political importance is also related to its link to the civilisation-states of Northeast Asia, which use Chinese characters in their writing systems. This is a further explanation of bunkaken’s problematic and politically sensitive usage. If the China, Korea and Japan region is referred to as bunkaken this stresses the centrality of Chinese culture and cultural links to Korea and thus creates problems for Japanese commentators. Another reason that Japanese people generally do not to use the term bunkaken in the context of international relations is that it is culturally focused, and thus does not capture the social, political and economic factors that are often covered in current discussion of ‘regions’

Bunkaken, however, is often used in Japanese when it is clear that what is at the centre of the sphere is China. For instance if one says:


Kono higashi Ajia bunkaken wa Chuugoku o chuushin to shite keisei sare…

‘This East Asian cultural sphere is formed with China in the centre.’

The culture that would be referred to is only Chinese. In particular, it refers to the culture that has been spread throughout Asia via the means of the Chinese writing system. Thus many examples of this word occur together with the word for ‘Chinese character’. For instance if one says:


Nihon oyobi Chuugoku o chuushin to suru kanji bunkaken no gengo ni yoru bunka no samazama na sokumen

‘Various aspects of the cultures represented in languages in the Chinese character cultural sphere centring on Japan and China…’

Therefore by implying a ‘cultural sphere’ one also implies a ‘Chinese-centric sphere.’ This sphere included Vietnam, as it rightly and historically should, but the common usage in Japanese refers to China, Japan and Korea (in that order of importance, of course).  It is more common to refer to these countries as 日中韓Nichi, Chi, Kan which is simply an abbreviation of the names of the three countries concerned, 日本 Japan中国 China 韓国 Korea.



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