What was Japan called before it was Japan?

Long ago, the Japanese had different names for each of their islands within the archipelago. Completely different names from what we now call them. The main island (now called Honshu) represented entire Japan, and long ago was called Yamato.

Later on in history, the Japanese referred to their country as 日本 "Nihon" or "Nippon". This name was derived from two kanji characters (characters the Japanese borrowed from China). The first one means "sun", and the other "origin" or "truth". "Origin of the Sun" is the meaning behind Nihon. Thus the phrase "Land of the Rising Sun" comes from as well.

With all of that said, The English term "Japan" came from early western trading. When Marco Polo explored asia, he took note of Nihon and wrote it in his book "The description of the World". Not knowing the Japanese pronounciation for the two kanji characters, he referred to the Mandarin Chinese pronounciation for 日本, which is quite different from Japanese. The Chinese pronounced the two kanji as "Cipan" or "Cipangu". The Malay word for Japan was borrowed from the Chinese and was pronounced as "Jepang", and it is believed that Portugese traders who visited Malacca were the first to bring this word to Europe. "Giapan" was the first recorded English form back in 1577. And from there, it is obvious to see how "Japan" become the ending product of a constant evolution from exploration times.