Katakana Parade of Nations.

A timely post by Joel at Far Outliers:

I don’t remember how Japan ordered the Parade of Nations when it hosted the Olympics in 1964 (when I was in high school there), but this year the nations were ordered according to how their Japanese names sounded in katakana, the Japanese syllabary used to render foreign names. A full list of the nations in Japanese order can be found in the NPR report about the parade.

Katakana order was used even when names contained kanji (Chinese characters). So Equatorial Guinea (赤道ギニア Sekidou Ginia, lit. ‘Redroad [=equator] Guinea’) appeared between Seychelles (セーシェル) and Senegal (セネガル) because they all start with the sound SE, written セ in katakana.

I wondered about that while watching the coverage; of course I knew the general principle, but I wanted to know the details without going to any trouble, so this is perfect. The whole thing is interesting, but perhaps especially so are these paragraphs about consonants with diacritics:

In katakana, voiced consonants are distinguished from their voiced equivalents by a diacritic that looks a bit like a double quote mark: KA カ vs. GA ガ, TA タ vs. DA ダ, SA サ vs. ZA ザ. The consonants with and without diacritics are considered equivalent for ordering purposes. So Canada (Kanada), Gabon (Gabon), Cameroon (Kameruun), Gambia (Ganbia), Cambodia (Kanbojia) are in that order because of what follows their initial KA/GA syllables (-NA-, -BO-, -ME-, -NBI-, -NBO-, respectively). On the same principle, Zambia (Zanbia) precedes San Marino (Sanmarino) (-NBI- > -NMA-), while Singapore (Singaporu) precedes Zimbabwe (Zinbabue) (-NGA- > -NBA-) among the nations whose names start with S/Z.

The same principle applies to the three-way diacritical distinction between HA ハ, PA パ, and BA バ. So Bahrain (Baareen), Haiti (Haiti), and Pakistan (Pakisutan) begin the series of names beginning with HA ハ, which also include Vanuatu (Banuatu) because Japanese has no syllable VA. (However, the V can be represented by adding the voiced consonant diacritic ” to the vowel ウ U, as in ヴァージン Vuaajin for the Virgin Islands.) […]

The TA/DA (タ/ダ) series is at least as complicated. When pronounced, the syllables TA TI TU TE TO (タチツテト) actually sound like Ta Chi Tsu Te To and are usually romanized that way in English, while DA DI DU DE DO (ダヂヅデド) sound like Da Ji Zu De Do. So nations whose names start with Ch or Ts sounds are ordered among those whose names start with T/D. So the teams for Chile (Chiri), Tuvalu (Tsubaru), Denmark (Denmaaku), and Germany (Doitsu < Deutsch) entered in katakana order チツテト (TI TU TE TO, which sound like Chi, Tsu, Te, To), keeping in mind that TE=DE and TO=DO for ordering purposes.

I too was in Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics — in fact, I attended some events and I think I was there at the opening ceremony — but like Joel I don’t remember the ordering. Anybody know?


  1. It appears they followed the English order https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1964_Summer_Olympics_national_flag_bearers

    The video clips I watched seemed to confirm that as well.

  2. That was fast — thanks!

  3. As recently as Nagano in 1998, they didn’t even display the Katakana names during the parade of nations—so there was obviously no chance they would use the Katakana for ordering. (They also set the parade to a traditional combination of Japanese wind and percussion, which had a very different effect from watching the athletes marching to the music from Chrono Trigger.)

  4. One thing that prompted me to examine the Japanese order at such length was seeing how badly Judith Flanders misunderstood Korean and Chinese Parade of Nations ordering in her book about alphabetization. The Korean alphabet is not a syllabary and the Chinese Parade of Nations was based on pinyin syllables, not ancient ordering by radicals and brushstroke counts.

  5. January First-of-May says

    and the Chinese Parade of Nations was based on pinyin syllables, not ancient ordering by radicals and brushstroke counts

    …best I can tell, while this order might not necessarily be used anywhere else, it was, in fact, the ordering used for the Parade of Nations specifically.

    (One of the Wikipedia sources is Radio Australia report from 29 July 2008, whose explanation of why Australia is so far down the list is so confused that they ended up talking about a “Chinese alphabet” [sic], but nevertheless confirms an order that does not match the alphabet even in pinyin.)

  6. Australia and Austria follows Andorra and Angola in pinyin order because AN (安) precedes AO (澳 and 奥). But it sounds like the Beijing Olympics didn’t use the pinyin order in the 1979 pinyin dictionary I consulted. I’ll have to correct my correction of Flanders.

  7. I wonder about the thought process that went into this decision. Over the years, I’ve seen stores that have products stocked in alphabetical order on their shelves, one day suddenly all changed to gojuon. And vice versa. Never an explanation. And I don’t ask, because I know the answer will be a shrug and a smile that means “not my decision, not my problem.”

  8. I remember the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when US television coverage of the Parade of Nations cut away to commercials somewhere around “Espagne”, apparently not realizing that “États-Unis” was about to come up.

    And in those days such coverage was always live-to-air.

  9. Bathrobe says

    It seems to me that the order is that of the kana syllabary, not that of katakana specifically. True, most countries’ names are in katakana, but 英国 would more normally be written as えいこく, not as エイコク.

  10. Bathrobe says

    Incidentally, in the earlier Outliers post about pinyin, it is stated that ‘curry’ is now written 咖哩 kali. In fact, the Mandarin pronunciation of 咖喱 is gālí. However, the larger point is correct. “the Chinese hosts followed traditional fourth-century classifying systems, which sorted each ideogram first by a single radical” is just so much uninformed nonsense.

    Strangely, for some reason the Baike article on the Beijing Olympics adopts the English-language order.

  11. Bathrobe says

    Actually, if you look at the opening ceremony, it doesn’t make sense.

    The first country is Greece (fair enough), then Guinea (starts with ji), then Guinea-Bissau (also ji), then Turkey (tu), Turkmenistan (tu), then Yemen (ye), then the Maldives (ma), Malta (ma), Madagascar (ma), Malaysia (ma), Mali (ma), Malawi (ma), Macedonia (ma), Marshall Islands (ma), Cayman Islands (kai), Bhutan (bu), Ecuador (e), Eritrea (e), Jamaica (ya), Belgium (bi), Vanuatu (wa), Israel (yi), Japan (ri), Chinese Taipei (zhong), Central African Republic (zhong), Hong Kong China (zhong), Gambia (gang), Benin (bei)….

    It appears to me that the order does relate to the writing of Chinese characters. However, it isn’t the traditional arrangement into radicals. At first glance it appears to be based on the strokes used in writing the characters, which is one of the methods used to arrange Chinese characters. However, at the moment I don’t have time to go through the entire opening ceremony, nor to investigate the classification that might result in this ordering.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    Having made the move to gojuon order this time, maybe a generation hence when Japan next hosts an Olympics they’ll try iroha order to really confuse the foreigners.

  13. The Internet is strangely unhelpful in finding lookup methods for Chinese characters. I could swear I’ve seen dictionaries where you look up characters according to the first stroke, which is how the order of entry in the opening ceremony seems to be organised, but since I don’t have one of those dictionaries at hand, I’m lost in trying to explain the order.

  14. Silly me, the order in the Parade of Nations in 2008 can be found here:

    2008 Summer Olympics Parade of Nations.

    The arrangement is definitely by character, not pronunciation, but the logic behind the order of characters escapes me.

  15. Stroke count seems to be part of it, no?

  16. From the wiki page, “The names were sorted by the number of strokes in the first character of the name, then by the stroke order of the character (in the order 橫竖撇捺折, c.f. Wubi method), then the number of strokes and stroke order of the second character, then next character and so on. [citation needed]”.

    I don’t know enough about sorting via wubi to verify though.

    UniHan does not encode stroke order, so I imagine, if that blurb from Wikipedia is correct, that it was a tedious process to do.

  17. Natalie S Wainwright says

    If that’s the case, why is Zhonghua Taibei 中华台北 at 24, Central African Republic Zhongfei 中非 at 25 and Zhongguo Xianggang 中国香港 at 26, with China Zhongguo 中国 way at the end at 204,? Leaving China aside, in pinyin the order should have been Zhongfei, Zhongguo Xianggang, Zhonghua Taibei. By radical, it should have been -hua, -guo, -fei. And it’s still not by the number of strokes, with Zhongguo (China) at the very end, with five strokes; also, at number one is Greece, the first character of which has 7 strokes, succeeded immediately by Guinea, with a first character of two strokes. I can see groupings within the names of the nations, but I can’t see an overall order at all!

  18. Quoth Wiki: Traditionally, since the 1928 Summer Olympics Greece always enters first and leads the parade due to the historical status as the progenitor of the Olympics, and the host nation enters last.

  19. If anyone is curious, of the two positions of honor to which the country was entitled at the 2004 Athens games, Greece opted to enter the stadium last. First in the parade was St. Lucia, since they were alphabetized according to the Greek spellings, putting “Αγία” at the beginning.

  20. I suspect that the Chinese, being good hosts, put themselves last.

    The ordering is a bit hard to figure out but seems to be correct. 几 is only two strokes so it comes first. Then for three strokes, 土, 也, and 马. The first stroke in 土 is a 横, those in 也 and 马 are not (although I’m not sure how they would be classified). Then four strokes: 开, 不, 厄, and 牙 all starting with 横; 比, 瓦, 以, 日, 中, which don’t (although I’m not sure how 比, 瓦 and 以 are actually classified), and so on down the line.

  21. @Bathrobe: You may have misunderstood. The host country is always last. Only in Athens in 2004 was that even potentially in question.

  22. Bathrobe says

    Yes, in my hasty skimming I missed the last part of DO’s comment: Greece always enters first and leads the parade due to the historical status as the progenitor of the Olympics, and the host nation enters last.

    The first stroke in 瓦 is a 横, so I’m still a bit mystified by the order. Shouldn’t it be before 比? Or does the left hand component of 比 (which I would interpret as ⼔) already contain a 横?

  23. Using Wubi Hua (Stroke count method), versus Wubi Xing, 比 would be input as 一乙丿乙 (1535) and 瓦 would be 一乙乙丶 (1554). The numbers are what you would press on a phone keypad and seems to also correspond to something that ranks in the order we’re seeing.

  24. John Cowan says

    Unihan provides radical-stroke order (actually three different orders): the main one, krsUnicode, is based on the following properties in decreasing order of importance: KangXi radical, number of residual (non-radical) strokes, simplification indicator (traditional radicals before simplified radicals), Unihan block, and relative Unicode code point within the block.

    This is soon to be modified by adding the identity of the first stroke between the number of strokes and the simplification indicator, so there is less brute-force searching to do. However, it’s a big job to add first-stroke data for all the characters and it is not yet finished.

  25. Jonathan D says

    My daughter was asking me to tell her which country would be next, and I was failing miserably due to not being at all used to thinking about this ordering of the countries. Then I remembered that I had one book on the bookshelf which did feature an index of nations of the world in gojuon order, which mostly did the trick (allowing for small differences in exactly who was listed and what they were called)… except for the (re)discovery that the index in the book completely ignored the long vowel character ー in sorting, while the parade sorting treated it as the vowel it represented, as far as I can tell (スウェーデン, スーダン, スペイン and ガーナ, カーボベルデ, ガイアナ).

  26. Konbanwa!!! I am always drawn to all things Japanese because I have been studying the Japanese language since I was in the 7th grade. I am now much older, and I still have excitement every time I see another Japanese learner!!! I have now been following the Olympics with work and all; however, I am intrigued by the things you have learned while living in Japan. I have not been to Japan as of yet, but that is on the list for next year!!! Learning the language in school for those years, we never really learned about much of the culture, and I had to get my “geek on” at home, reading about it myself. I also appreciate how you talked about syllabary… thank you!!!

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