The Hepburn romanization system (Japanese: ヘボン式ローマ字, Hepburn: 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.
- Legal status
- Variants of Hepburn romanization
- Obsolete variants
- Second version
- First version
- Features of Hepburn romanization
- Long vowels
- A A
- I I
- U U
- E E
- O O
- O U
- E I
- Other combination of vowels
- Syllabic n
- Long consonants
- Hepburn romanization charts
- For extended katakana
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, 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 Nihon-shiki romanization and Kunrei-shiki romanization, the official Cabinet-ordered romanization system.
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. In 1930, a Special Romanization Study Commission was appointed to compare the two. 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 romanization. The ordinance was temporarily overturned by the Supreme Commander for the 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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and many other official organizations used Hepburn instead of Kunrei-shiki. In addition The Japan Times, the Japan Travel Bureau, and many other private organizations used Hepburn instead of Kunrei-shiki. The National Diet Library used Kunrei-shiki.
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
There are many variants of Hepburn romanization. The two most common styles are:
In Japan itself, there are some variants officially mandated for various uses:
Details of these variants can be found below.
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:
The following differences are in addition to those in the second version:
Features of Hepburn romanization
The main feature of Hepburn is that its orthography 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 Harold 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. Supporters argue that Hepburn is not intended as a linguistic tool.
The long vowels are generally indicated by macrons ( ¯ ). Since this diacritical sign is usually missing on typewriter and computer keyboards, the circumflex ( ˆ ) is often used in its place.
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.
In traditional Hepburn:The long vowel a is written aa
In modified Hepburn:The long vowel a is indicated by a macron:
I + I
In traditional and modified:The combination i + i is always written ii.
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:
E + E
In traditional and modified:The combination e + e is written ee if a word-border exists between them:
In traditional Hepburn:The long vowel e is written ee:
In modified Hepburn:The long vowel e is indicated by a macron:
O + O
In traditional and modified:The combination o + o is written oo if a word-border exists between them:
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:
E + I
In traditional and modified:The combination e + i is written ei.
Other combination of vowels
All remaining combinations of two different vowels are written separately:
The long vowels within loanwords are indicated by macrons (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) as follows:
There are many variations on the Hepburn system for indicating the long vowels. For example, 東京（とうきょう） can be written as:
In traditional and modified:
In traditional Hepburn:
In modified Hepburn:
In traditional Hepburn:Syllabic n (ん) 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 な na, and んや n + ya and にゃ nya), but its hyphen usage is not clear.
In modified Hepburn:The rendering m before labial consonants is not used, being replaced with n. It is written n' (with an apostrophe) before vowels and y.
Elongated (or "geminate") consonant sounds are marked by doubling the consonant following a sokuon, っ; for consonants that are digraphs in Hepburn (sh, ch, ts), only the first consonant of the set is doubled, except for ch which is replaced by tch.
Hepburn romanization charts
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. Katakana combinations with beige backgrounds are suggested by the American National Standards Institute and the British Standards Institution as possible uses. Ones with purple backgrounds appear on the 1974 version of the Hyōjun-shiki formatting.