Hepburn romanization (ヘボン式ローマ字,Hebon-shiki Rōmaji, 'Hepburn-type Roman letters') is a system for the romanization of Japanese that uses the Latin alphabet to write the Japanese language. It is used by most foreigners learning to spell Japanese in the Latin alphabet and by the Japanese for romanizing personal names, geographical locations, and other information such as train tables, road signs, and official communications with foreign countries. Largely based on English writing conventions, consonants closely correspond to the English pronunciation and vowels approximate the Italian pronunciation.
The Hepburn style (Hebon-shiki) was developed in the late 19th century by an international commission that was formed to develop a unified system of romanization. The commission's romanization scheme was popularized by the wide dissemination of a Japanese–English dictionary by commission member and American missionary James Curtis Hepburn which was published in 1886. The "modified Hepburn system" (shūsei Hebon-shiki), also known as the "standard system" (Hyōjun-shiki), was published in 1908 with revisions by Kanō Jigorō and the Society for the Propagation of Romanization (Romaji-Hirome-kai).
Although Kunrei romanization is officially favored by the Japanese government today, Hepburn romanization is still in use and remains the worldwide standard. The Hepburn style is regarded as the best way to render Japanese pronunciation for Westerners.[by whom?] Since it is based on English and Italian pronunciations, people who speak English or Romance languages (e.g., Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish) will generally be more accurate in pronouncing unfamiliar Japanese words romanized in the Hepburn style compared to Nihon-shiki romanization and Kunrei-shiki romanization.
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 the Kunrei-shiki romanization. The ANSI Z39.11-1972 standard was deprecated on October 6, 1994.
In many other areas that it lacks de jure status, Hepburn remains the de facto standard. Signs and notices in city offices and police stations and 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 as well. Official tourism information put out by the government uses it, as do guidebooks, both local and foreign, on Japan.
Many students of Japanese as a foreign language learn Hepburn.
There are many variants of the Hepburn romanization. The two most common styles are as follows:
The Traditional Hepburn, as defined in various editions of Hepburn's dictionary, with the third edition (1886) often considered authoritative (although changes in kana usage must be accounted for). It is characterized by the rendering of syllabic n as m before the consonants b, m and p: Shimbashi for 新橋.
Modified Hepburn (修正ヘボン式,Shūsei Hebon-shiki), also known as Revised Hepburn, in which (among other points) the rendering of syllabic n as m before certain consonants is no longer used: Shinbashi for 新橋. The style was introduced in the third edition of Kenkyūsha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (1954), was adopted by the Library of Congress as one of its ALA-LC romanizations, and is the most common version of the system today.
In Japan itself, there are some variants officially mandated for various uses:
Railway Standard (鉄道掲示基準規程,Tetsudō Keiji Kijun Kitei), which follows the Hyōjun-shiki Rōmaji. All Japan Rail and other major railways use it for station names.
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Standard, how to spell Roman letters (Hepburn style) of road signs, which follows the modified Hepburn style. It is used for road signs.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Passport Standard (外務省旅券規定,Gaimushō Ryoken Kitei), a permissive standard, which 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, it renders the syllabic n as m before b, m and p, and romanizes long o as oh, oo or ou (Satoh, Satoo or Satou for 佐藤).
Details of the 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:
ス was written as sz.
ツ was written as tsz.
ズ and ヅ were written as du.
クヮ was written as kuwa.
The main feature of Hepburn is that its orthography is based on English phonology. More technically, when syllables that are constructed systematically according to the Japanese syllabary and contain an "unstable" consonant in the modern spoken language, the orthography is changed to something that better matches the real sound as an English-speaker would pronounce it. For example, し is written shi not si.
Some linguists such as Harold E. Palmer, Daniel Jones and Otto Jespersen object to Hepburn since the pronunciation-based spellings can obscure the systematic origins of Japanese phonetic structures, inflections, and conjugations. Supporters of Hepburn[who?] argue that it is not intended as a linguistic tool.
The long vowels are generally indicated by macrons ( ¯ ). Since the macron is usually missing on typewriters and people may not know how to input it on computer keyboards, the circumflex accent ( 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 they are in two adjacent syllables.
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:
Tōkyō – indicated with macrons. That follows the rules of the traditional and modified Hepburn systems and is considered to be standard.
Tokyo – not indicated at all. That is common for Japanese words that have been adopted into English and 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 circumflex accents, like the alternative Nihon-shiki and Kunrei-shiki romanizations. They are often used when macrons are unavailable or difficult to input, due to their visual similarity.
Tohkyoh – indicated with an h (only applies after o). It is sometimes known as "passport Hepburn" as the Japanese Foreign Ministry has authorized (but not required) it in passports.
Toukyou – written using kana spelling: ō as ou or oo (depending on the kana) and ū as uu. That is sometimes called wāpuro style, as it is how text is entered into a Japanese word processor by using a keyboard with Roman characters. The method most accurately represents the way that vowels are written in kana by 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 makes the pronunciation of ou become ambiguous, either 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 and Basic English writers' Japanese-English wordbook follow this style, and it is also used in the JSL form of romanization. It is also used to write words without reference to any particular system.
Syllabic n (ん) is written as n before consonants, but as m before labial consonants: 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.
The rendering m before labial consonants is not used and is 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
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.
* — The use of ウ in these two cases to represent w is rare in modern Japanese except for Internet slang and transcription of the Latin sound [w] into katakana. Eg: ミネルウァ (Mineruwa "Minerva", from Latin MINERVA [mɪˈnɛrwa]); ウゥルカーヌス (Wurukānusu "Vulcan", from Latin VVLCANVS, Vulcānus [wʊlˈkaːnʊs]). The wa-type of foreign sounds (as in watt or white) is usually transcribed to ワ (wa), while the wu-type (as in wood or woman) is usually to ウ (u) or ウー (ū).
⁑ — ヴ has a rarely-used hiragana form in ゔ that is also vu in Hepburn romanization systems.
⁂ — The characters in green are obsolete in modern Japanese and very rarely used.