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Hepburn romanization

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Hepburn romanization

The Hepburn romanization system (ヘボン式ローマ字 Hebon-shiki Rōmaji) is named after James Curtis Hepburn, who used it to transcribe the sounds of the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet in the third edition of his Japanese–English dictionary, published in 1887. The system was originally proposed by the Romanization Club (羅馬字会 Rōmajikai) in 1885. The revised edition by Romaji-Hirome-kai in 1908 is called "standard style romanization" (標準式ローマ字 Hyōjun-shiki Rōmaji) and this system has been used as the Hepburn system in Japan traditionally.[1]

Although not officially approved, the original and revised variants of Hepburn remain the most widely used methods of transcription of Japanese, and are regarded as the best to render Japanese pronunciation for Western speakers. As Hepburn is based on English and Italian phonology,[2][3] an English or Latin-language speaker unfamiliar with Japanese will generally pronounce a word romanized in Hepburn more accurately than a word romanized in the competing Kunrei-shiki, the official Cabinet-ordered romanization system.

Legal status

Hepburn is based on English phonology and has competed with the alternative Nihon-shiki romanization, which was developed in Japan as a replacement of Japanese script.[2] In 1930, a Special Romanization Study Commission was appointed to compare the two.[2] The Commission eventually decided in favor of a slightly modified version of Nihon-shiki, which was proclaimed to be Japan's official romanization for all purposes by a September 21, 1937 cabinet ordinance and is now known as Kunrei-shiki. The ordinance was temporarily overturned by the Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP) during the Occupation of Japan, but was reissued (with slight revisions) in 1954.

In 1972, a revised version of Hepburn was codified as ANSI standard Z39.11-1972. It was proposed in 1989 as a draft for ISO 3602, but rejected in favor of Kunrei-shiki. The ANSI Z39.11-1972 standard was consequently deprecated on October 6, 1994.

As of 1978, the National Diet Library used Kunrei-shiki.[4]

Although Hepburn is not a government standard, some government agencies mandate it. For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires the use of Hepburn on passports, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport requires the use of Hepburn on transport signs, including road signs and railway station signs.

In many other areas where it lacks de jure status, Hepburn remains the de facto standard. Signs and notices in city offices and police stations, at shrines, temples and attractions also use it. English-language newspapers and media use the simplified form of Hepburn. Cities and prefectures use it in information for English-speaking residents and visitors, and English-language publications by the Japanese Foreign Ministry use simplified Hepburn too. Official tourism information put out by the government uses it, as do guidebooks, local and foreign, on Japan.

Many students of Japanese as a foreign language learn Hepburn.

Variants of Hepburn romanization

Former JNR-style board of Toyooka Station. Between the two adjacent stations, “GEMBUDŌ” follows the Hepburn romanization system, but “KOKUHU” follows the Nihon-shiki/Kunrei-shiki romanization system.

There are many variants of Hepburn romanization. The two most common styles are:

  • Traditional Hepburn, as defined in various editions of Hepburn's dictionary, with the third edition (1886)[5] often considered authoritative[6] (although changes in kana usage must be accounted for). This variant is characterized by the rendering of syllabic n as m before the consonants b, m and p, e.g. Shimbashi for 新橋.
  • Modified Hepburn (修正ヘボン式 Shūsei Hebon-shiki),[7] also known as Revised Hepburn, in which (among other points) the rendering of syllabic n as m before certain consonants is no longer used, resulting in e.g. Shinbashi for 新橋. This style was introduced in the third edition of Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (1954), adopted by the Library of Congress as one of its ALA-LC romanizations, and is the most common version of the system today.[8]

In Japan itself, there are some variants officially mandated for various uses:

  • Kunrei-shiki romanization (訓令式ローマ字 Kunrei-shiki Rōmaji), which permits Hepburn system and Nihon-shiki romanization conditionally. The first five columns in the chart 2 are defined for Hepburn system (see also here).[3]
  • Railway Standard (鉄道掲示基準規程 Tetsudō Keiji Kijun Kitei),[9] which follows the Hyōjun-shiki Rōmaji. All JR railways and other major railways use this type for station names.
  • Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Standard,[10] which follows the modified Hepburn style. This is used for road signs.
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs Passport Standard (外務省旅券規定 Gaimushō Ryoken Kitei),[11] a permissive standard with explicitly allows the use of "non-Hepburn romaji" (非ヘボン式ローマ字 hi-Hebon-shiki rōmaji) in personal names, notably for passports. In particular, rendering the syllabic n as m before b, m, p, and romanizing long o as any of oh, oo or ou (e.g. any of Satoh, Satoo or Satou for 佐藤) is permitted.

Details of these variants can be found below.

Obsolete variants

The romanizations set out in the first and second versions of Hepburn's dictionary are primarily of historical interest. Notable differences from the third and later versions include:

Second version

  • エ and ヱ were written as ye (e.g. Yedo)
  • ズ and ヅ were written as dzu (e.g. kudzu, tsudzuku)
  • キャ, キョ, and キュ were written as kiya, kiyo and kiu
  • クワ was written as kuwa[12]

First version

The following differences are in addition to those in the second version:

  • ス was written as su
  • ツ was written as tsu
  • ズ and ヅ were written as du
  • クワ was written as kuwa

Features of Hepburn romanization

The main feature of Hepburn is that its spelling is based on English phonology. More technically, where syllables constructed systematically according to the Japanese syllabary contain the "unstable" consonant for the modern spoken language, the orthography is changed to something that, as an English speaker would pronounce it, better matches the real sound, for example し is written shi not * si.

Some linguists such as H.E.Palmer, Daniel Jones and Otto Jespersen object to Hepburn, as the pronunciation-based spellings can obscure the systematic origins of Japanese phonetic structures, inflections, and conjugations.[13] Supporters argue that Hepburn is not intended as a linguistic tool.

Long vowels

The long vowels are generally indicated by macrons ( ¯ ).[14][15] Since this diacritical sign is usually missing on typewriter and computer keyboards, the circumflex ( ˆ ) is often used in its place.[16][17]

The combinations of vowels are written as follows in traditional/modified Hepburn:

A + A

In traditional and modified:

The combination of a + a is written aa if a word-border exists between them.
  • 邪悪(じゃあく): ji + ya + a + ku = jaaku – Evil

In traditional Hepburn:

The long vowel a is written aa
  • お婆さん(おばあさん): o + ba + a + sa + n = obaa-san[14] – Grandmother

In modified Hepburn:

The long vowel a is indicated by a macron:
  • お婆さん(おばあさん): o + ba + a + sa + n = obāsan[15] – Grandmother

I + I

In traditional and modified:

The combination i + i is always written ii.
  • お兄さん(おにいさん): o + ni + i + sa + n = oniisan – Older Brother
  • お爺さん(おじいさん): o + ji + i + sa + n = ojiisan – Grandfather
  • 美味しい(おいしい): o + i + shi + i = oishii – Delicious
  • 新潟(にいがた): ni + i + ga + ta = Niigata
  • 灰色(はいいろ): ha + i + i + ro = haiiro – Grey

U + U

In traditional and modified:

The combination u + u is written uu if a word-border exists between them or it is the end part of terminal form of a verb:
  • 食う(くう): ku + u = kuu – To eat
  • 縫う(ぬう): nu + u = nuu – To sew
  • 湖(みずうみ): mi + zu + u + mi = mizuumi - Lake
The long vowel u is indicated by a macron:
  • 数学(すうがく): su + u + ga + ku = sūgaku – Mathematics
  • 注意(ちゅうい): chu + u + i = chūi – Attention
  • ぐうたら: gu + u + ta + ra = gūtara – Loafer

E + E

In traditional and modified:

The combination e + e is written ee if a word-border exists between them:
  • 濡れ縁(ぬれえん): nu + re + e + n = nureen – Open veranda

In traditional Hepburn:

The long vowel e is written ee:
  • お姉さん(おねえさん): o + ne + e + sa + n = oneesan[14] – Older sister

In modified Hepburn:

The long vowel e is indicated by a macron:
  • お姉さん(おねえさん): o + ne + e + sa + n = onēsan[15] – Older sister

O + O

In traditional and modified:

The combination o + o is written oo if a word-border exists between them:
  • 小躍り(こおどり): ko + o + do + ri = koodori – Dance
The long vowel o is indicated by a macron:
  • 氷(こおり): ko + o + ri = kōri – Ice
  • 遠回り(とおまわり): to + o + ma + wa + ri = tōmawari – Roundabout route
  • 大阪(おおさか): o + o + sa + ka = ŌsakaOsaka

O + U

In traditional and modified:

The combination o + u is written ou if a word-border exists between them or it is the end part of terminal form of a verb:
  • 追う(おう): o + u = ou – To chase
  • 迷う(まよう): ma + yo + u = mayou – To get lost
  • 子馬(こうま): ko + u + ma = kouma – Foal
  • 仔牛(こうし): ko + u + shi = koushi – Calf
The long vowel o is indicated by a macron:
  • 学校(がっこう): ga + (sokuon) + ko + u = gakkōSchool
  • 東京(とうきょう): to + u + kyo + u = TōkyōTokyo
  • 勉強(べんきょう): be + n + kyo + u = benkyō – Study
  • 電報(でんぽう): de + n + po + u = dempō[14] or denpō[15]Telegraphy
  • 金曜日(きんようび): ki + n + yo + u + bi = kinyōbi[14] or kin'yōbi[15] – Friday
  • 格子(こうし): ko + u + shi = kōshi – Lattice

E + I

In traditional and modified:

The combination e + i is written ei.
  • 学生(がくせい): ga + ku + se + i = gakuseiStudent
  • 経験(けいけん): ke + i + ke + n = keiken – Experience
  • 制服(せいふく): se + i + fu + ku = seifukuUniform
  • 姪(めい): me + i = mei – Niece
  • 招いて(まねいて): ma + ne + i + te = maneite – Call/invite and then

Other combination of vowels

All remaining combinations of two different vowels are written separately:

  • 軽い(かるい): ka + ru + i = karui – Light (for weight)
  • 鴬(うぐいす): u + gu + i + su = uguisu – Bush warbler
  • 甥(おい): o + i = oi – Nephew


The long vowels within loanword are indicated by macrons (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) as follows:

  • セーラー: se + (chōonpu) + ra + (chōonpu) = sērā – Sailor
  • パーティー: pa + (chōonpu) + ti + (chōonpu) = pātī – Party
  • レーナ: re + (chōonpu) + na = Rēna – Lena
  • ヒーター: hi + (chōonpu) + ta + (chōonpu) = hītā – Heater
  • タクシー: ta + ku + shi + (chōonpu) = takushī – Taxi
  • スーパーマン: su + (chōonpu) + pa + (chōonpu) + ma + n = Sūpāman – Superman


There are many variations of the Hepburn system for indicating the long vowels. For example, 東京(とうきょう) can be written as:

  • Tōkyō – indicated with macrons. This follows the rules of the traditional and modified Hepburn systems, and is considered to be standard.
  • Tokyo – not indicated at all. This is common for Japanese words that have been adopted into English. This is also the convention used in the de facto Hepburn used in signs and other English-language information around Japan, mentioned in the paragraph on legal status.
  • Tôkyô – indicated with circumflexes. Circumflexes are how long vowels are indicated by the alternative Nihon-shiki and Kunrei-shiki romanizations. Circumflexes are often used when a word processor does not allow macrons.
  • Tohkyoh – indicated with an h (only applies after o). This is sometimes known as "passport Hepburn", as the Japanese Foreign Ministry has authorized (but not required) this usage in passports.[18][19][20]
  • Toukyou – written using kana spelling: ō as ou or oo (depending on the kana) and ū as uu. This is sometimes called wāpuro style, as this is how text is entered into a Japanese word processor using a keyboard with Roman characters. This method most accurately represents the way that vowels are written in kana, differentiating between おう as in とうきょう(東京), written Toukyou in this system) and おお (as in とおい(遠い), written tooi in this system).
    • However, using this method, the pronunciation of ou becomes ambiguous; it could either be a long o or two different vowels, o and u. See Wāpuro rōmaji#Phonetic accuracy for details.
  • Tookyoo – written by doubling the long vowels. Some dictionaries such as Pocket Kenkyusha Japanese dictionary[21] and Basic English writers' Japanese-English wordbook follow this style, and this is also used in the JSL form of romanization. This rule is also used when writing words without reference to any particular system.[22]


In traditional and modified:

  • When ha is used as a particle, it is written wa.

In traditional Hepburn:

  • When he is used as a particle, Hepburn originally recommended ye.[14] This spelling is obsolete, and it is commonly written as e (Romaji-Hirome-Kai, 1974[23]) or sometimes as he (wāpuro romanization).
  • When wo is used as a particle, it is written wo.[14]

In modified Hepburn:[15]

  • When he is used as a particle, it is written e.
  • When wo is used as a particle, it is written o.

Syllabic n

In traditional Hepburn:[14]

Syllabic n () is written as n before consonants, but as m before labial consonants, i.e. b, m, and p. It is sometimes written as n- (with a hyphen) before vowels and y (to avoid confusion between, for example, んあ n + a and na, and んや n + ya and にゃ nya), but its hyphen usage is not clear.
  • 案内(あんない): annai – Guide
  • 群馬(ぐんま): gummaGunma
  • 簡易(かんい): kan-i – Simple
  • 信用(しんよう): shin-yō – Trust

In modified Hepburn:[15]

The rendering m before labial consonants is not used, being replaced with n. It is written n' (with an apostrophe) before vowels and y.
  • 案内(あんない): annai – Guide
  • 群馬(ぐんま): gunma – Gunma
  • 簡易(かんい): kan'i – Simple
  • 信用(しんよう): shin'yō – Trust

Double consonants

Double (or "geminate") consonant sounds are marked by doubling the consonant following the sokuon, っ; for consonants that are digraphs in Hepburn (sh, ch, ts), double only the first consonant of the set, except for chtch.[14][15]

  • 結果(けっか): kekka – Result
  • さっさと: sassato – Quickly
  • ずっと: zutto – All the time
  • 切符(きっぷ): kippu – Ticket
  • 雑誌(ざっし): zasshi – Magazine
  • 一緒(いっしょ): issho – Together
  • こっち: kotchi (not kocchi) – This way
  • 抹茶(まっちゃ): matcha (not maccha) – Matcha
  • 三つ(みっつ): mittsu – Three

Hepburn romanization charts

Gojūon Yōon
あ ア a い イ i う ウ u え エ e お オ o
か カ ka き キ ki く ク ku け ケ ke こ コ ko きゃ キャ kya きゅ キュ kyu きょ キョ kyo
さ サ sa し シ shi す ス su せ セ se そ ソ so しゃ シャ sha しゅ シュ shu しょ ショ sho
た タ ta ち チ chi つ ツ tsu て テ te と ト to ちゃ チャ cha ちゅ チュ chu ちょ チョ cho
な ナ na に ニ ni ぬ ヌ nu ね ネ ne の ノ no にゃ ニャ nya にゅ ニュ nyu にょ ニョ nyo
は ハ ha ひ ヒ hi ふ フ fu へ ヘ he ほ ホ ho ひゃ ヒャ hya ひゅ ヒュ hyu ひょ ヒョ hyo
ま マ ma み ミ mi む ム mu め メ me も モ mo みゃ ミャ mya みゅ ミュ myu みょ ミョ myo
や ヤ ya ゆ ユ yu よ ヨ yo
ら ラ ra り リ ri る ル ru れ レ re ろ ロ ro りゃ リャ rya りゅ リュ ryu りょ リョ ryo
わ ワ wa ゐ ヰ i /wi † ゑ ヱ e /we † を ヲ o /wo ‡
ん ン n /n '​
が ガ ga ぎ ギ gi ぐ グ gu げ ゲ ge ご ゴ go ぎゃ ギャ gya ぎゅ ギュ gyu ぎょ ギョ gyo
ざ ザ za じ ジ ji ず ズ zu ぜ ゼ ze ぞ ゾ zo じゃ ジャ ja じゅ ジュ ju じょ ジョ jo
だ ダ da ぢ ヂ ji づ ヅ zu で デ de ど ド do ぢゃ ヂャ ja ぢゅ ヂュ ju ぢょ ヂョ jo
ば バ ba び ビ bi ぶ ブ bu べ ベ be ぼ ボ bo びゃ ビャ bya びゅ ビュ byu びょ ビョ byo
ぱ パ pa ぴ ピ pi ぷ プ pu ぺ ペ pe ぽ ポ po ぴゃ ピャ pya ぴゅ ピュ pyu ぴょ ピョ pyo
  • † — The characters in red are rare historical characters and are obsolete in modern Japanese.[24][25] In modern usage they are either undefined,[15] or romanized varyingly with or without the w.[16][21]
  • ‡ — The characters in blue are rarely used outside of their status as a particle in modern Japanese,[16] and romanization follows the rules above, but they are sometimes used in loanwords where it is transliterated as wo.[26][27]

For extended katakana

These combinations are used mainly to represent the sounds in words in other languages.

Digraphs with orange backgrounds are the general ones used for loanwords or foreign places or names, and the ones with blue backgrounds are used for more accurate transliterations of foreign sounds, both suggested by the Cabinet of Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.[28] Katakana combinations with beige backgrounds are suggested by the American National Standards Institute[26] and the British Standards Institution as possible uses.[27] Ones with purple backgrounds appear on the 1974 version of the Hyōjun-shiki formatting.[29]

イィ yi イェ ye
ウァ wa ウィ wi ウゥ wu* ウェ we ウォ wo
ウュ wyu
ヴァ va ヴィ vi vu ヴェ ve ヴォ vo
ヴャ vya ヴュ vyu ヴィェ vye ヴョ vyo
キェ kye
ギェ gye
クァ kwa クィ kwi クェ kwe クォ kwo
クヮ kwa
グァ gwa グィ gwi グェ gwe グォ gwo
グヮ gwa
シェ she
ジェ je
スィ si
ズィ zi
チェ che
ツァ tsa ツィ tsi ツェ tse ツォ tso
ツュ tsyu
ティ ti トゥ tu
テュ tyu
ディ di ドゥ du
デュ dyu
ニェ nye
ヒェ hye
ビェ bye
ピェ pye
ファ fa フィ fi フェ fe フォ fo
フャ fya フュ fyu フィェ fye フョ fyo
ホゥ hu
ミェ mye
リェ rye
ラ゜ la リ゜ li ル゜ lu レ゜ le ロ゜ lo
va vi ve vo
  • * — The use of ウゥ to represent wu is rare in modern Japanese outside of Internet slang and transcription of the Latin digraph VV into katakana.
  • ⁑ — ヴ has a rarely used hiragana form in ゔ that is also vu in the Hepburn romanization systems.
  • ⁂ — The characters in green are obsolete in modern Japanese and used very rarely.[24][25]

See also


  1. ^ ヘボン式ローマ字綴り (in Japanese).  
  2. ^ a b c Carr, Denzel. The New Official Romanization of Japanese. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Mar., 1939), pp. 99-102.
  3. ^ a b  
  4. ^ Kent, et al. "Oriental Literature and Bibliography." p. 155.
  5. ^ "■和英語林集成第三版". Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  6. ^ "明治学院大学図書館 - 『和英語林集成』デジタルアーカイブス". Retrieved 2012-06-29. 
  7. ^ "Japanese".  
  8. ^ "UHM Library : Japan Collection Online Resources". 2005-10-06. Retrieved 2012-06-29. 
  9. ^ "鉄道掲示基準規程". Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  10. ^ "道路標識のローマ字(ヘボン式) の綴り方". KICTEC. Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  11. ^ "パスポートセンター ヘボン式ローマ字表 : 神奈川県". Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  12. ^ James Curtis Hepburn (1872). A Japanese-English And English-Japanese Dictionary (2nd ed.). American Presbyterian mission press. pp. 286–290. Retrieved 2013-12-16. 
  13. ^ 松浦四郎 (October 1992). "104年かかった標準化". 標準化と品質菅理 -Standardization and Quality Control- (Japanese Standards Association) 45: P.92–93. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i James Curtis Hepburn (1886). A Japanese-English And English-Japanese Dictionary. (Third Edition). Z. P Maruyama & Co. Retrieved April 12, 2011. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (Fourth Edition).  
  16. ^ a b c Fujino Katsuji (1909). ローマ字手引き [RÔMAJI TEBIKI] (in Japanese). Rômaji-Hirome-kai. 
  17. ^  
  18. ^  
  19. ^ Consulate-General of Japan in San Francisco. ヘボン式ローマ字綴方表 [Table of Spelling in Hepburn Romanization] (PDF) (in Japanese). Retrieved December 13, 2011. 
  20. ^ Consulate-General of Japan in Detroit. "Example of Application Form for Passport" (PDF) (in Japanese). Retrieved December 13, 2011. 
  21. ^ a b Pocket Kenkyusha Japanese Dictionary. "Pocket Kenkyusha Japanese Dictionary (9780198607489): Shigeru Takebayashi, Kazuhiko Nagai: Books". Retrieved 2012-06-29. 
  22. ^ "ローマ字の長音のつづり方". Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b  
  25. ^ a b  
  26. ^ a b "■米国規格(ANSI Z39.11-1972)―要約". Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  27. ^ a b "■英国規格(BS 4812 : 1972)―要約". Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  28. ^  
  29. ^ "■標準式ローマ字つづり―引用". Retrieved 2012-07-13. 


  • Kent, Allen, Harold Lancour, and Jay Elwood Daily (Executive Editors). Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science Volume 21. CRC Press, April 1, 1978. ISBN 0824720210, 9780824720216.

External links

  • Preface of first edition of Hepburn's original dictionary, explaining romanization
  • Preface of third edition of Hepburn's original dictionary, explaining romanization
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