They’re Coming to America

渡米 [とべい] – going to America

  • 渡 [ト・わたる] – transit; cross
  • 米 [ベイ・こめ] – rice; U.S.A.

For those who didn’t know, the character for rice (米) is often used by the Japanese to indicate “America.”  Why?  Glad you asked!

In the olden days, before the word “America” came to be written in katakana, it was written 亜利加, with each character chosen for pronunciation.  Later, it was simplified to 国 or “rice country.”  As far as I know, the name has little, if anything, to do with actual rice.  If anyone out there knows more about this than I do, please leave a comment!

Note that other countries are also abbreviated in this manner.  I’ll tackle that tomorrow.