Rōmaji according to the Hepburn system — Japanese with roman letters
Written by Jimmy Mora
Rōmaji is the transliteration of Japanese Kana (Hiragana and Katakana) into the Roman alphabet. Many scholars and serious students consider that Rōmaji is the fourth writing system in Japanese language rather than an arbitrary Anglicized spelling or foreign interpretation of a Japanese word. There are several Rōmaji methods of Japanese transliteration using the Roman alphabet. Consequently, a Japanese word could be written in more than one way by using Roman letters. For reference, see: Rōmaji Systems — Historical Background.
The Revised Hepburn System is by far the most popular of all Rōmaji systems. Listed below is the complete Japanese syllabary or phonetic charts written in Rōmaji according to the Revised Hepburn System, as well as in Kana or Japanese syllabary systems (Hiragana and Katakana).
Shinjinbukan.com, as well as its associated international websites and social media sites endorse the use of the Hepburn Rōmaji System. Thus, all our Japanese martial arts terminology (jargon) is written using the Hepburn system rather than any Anglicized spellings or other spellings adapter to a foreign language. In some cases such "anglicized or foreign language spellings" may be included in parenthesis to assist the readers, but not to replace the native Japanese Rōmaji. For example, Dōjō rather than Dojo, Karate rather than Karaté, Ryūha rather than Ryuha, Shōrin Ryū rather than Shorin Ryu or Shorin-Ryu.
Why is Rōmaji and the Hepburn System relevant to martial artists?
Why is it important to use a Martial Arts Dictionary?
Gojūon — Basic Syllables
The Gojūon (lit. Fifty sounds) is a table used to arrange the kana (hiragana or katakana) according to the Japanese phonetics, which is based on a 5×10 grid with a total of 50 spaces for each sounds. The table has five empty spaces and one extra outside of the grid. Hence, there are only 46 basic syllables in the gojūon.
The space outside of the grid was part of the development of modern Japanese language as the syllable n or hiragana ん replaced the syllable mu or hiragana む. The empty spaces in the gojūon represent sounds that do not exist, such as yi and wu, as well as other sounds that have been discontinued in modern Japanese language, such as: ye, wi and we.
Read from top to bottom and from right to left.
Click on the image below to view the pdf file (in Japanese & English)
Rōmaji Systems — Historical Background
In the 16th century, the Portuguese fleet arrived to Japan accompanied by Jesuit priests, who were the first ones to attempt to create a standard Rōmaji method, or Japanese transliteration using Roman letters. In 1603, the Jesuits published the Nippo Jisho (日葡辞書) - a Japanese-Portuguese dictionary, which was edited by the Portuguese priest João Rodrigues. The Jesuits also printed the Bible, Catholic prayer books and other liturgical books in Japanese in order to teach converts. The Nippo Jisho is still a valuable source for scholars today, and it has been credited as a primary source for many Japanese language dictionaries.
During the Tokugawa period (1603 and 1868), the need for rōmaji was not a priority due to Japan’s isolation until the late 19th century, when Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy. Subsequently, several Rōmaji methods were developed during Japan's recent historical periods:
— Meiji Period (1868–1912)
— Taishō Period (World War I: 1912–1926)
— Shōwa Period (1926–1989) and
— Heisei Period (1989–present).
Since the Meiji Period (1868–1912) different Rōmaji systems have been used in martial arts books, magazines and Japanese-English dictionaries. For any martial artists conducting a more in-depth research, it would be confusing to read these publications without understanding how Rōmaji were used during each period. below in chronological order are the most important Rōmaji methods with a short explanation of their origin and purpose.
日本式ローマ字 ∙ Nihon Shiki or Nippon Shinki Rōmaji was created in 1885 (Meiji Period) by physicist Aikitsu Tanakadate. It was designed for Japanese native speakers with the purpose of completely replacing the use of Kanji and the Kana systems (Hiragana and Katakana). Nihon Shiki was not designed to help foreigners pronounce Japanese by using the Latin alphabet. However, many linguists consider it to be the most consistent Rōmaji system in relation to kana. Nihon Shiki was the foundation for both the Kunrei Shiki and the JSL systems
ヘボン式ローマ字 ∙ Hepburn System or Hebon Shiki Rōmaji was published in 1867 by Reverend James Curtis Hepburn as part of his Japanese–English dictionary, based on based on the phonology of English and Italian. It is also known as the Traditional Hepburn and is considered to be the best system for western speakers who will generally pronounce a word in Hepburn Rōmaji system more accurately than with any other method.
訓令式ローマ字∙ Kunrei Shiki Rōmaji is as a system based on the Nihon Shiki Rōmaji. In 1930 a government commision was established to resolve the political dispute between supporters of the Hepburn System and the Nihon Shiki System. In 1937, the Japanese government officially adopted as Kunrei Shiki by cabinet order (Kunrei) under the name of Kokutei Rōmaji (government authorized Rōmaji). In 1945, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur, overturned the use of Kunrei Shiki in favor of the Modified Hepburn. In 1954, the Japanese government re-established Kunrei Shiki as its official Rōmaji system. Only a few government agencies use Kunrei Shiki, such as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which uses it as part of the elementary school curriculum. Kunrei Shiki and Nihon Shiki have been recognized under the international standard ISO 3602.
ヘボン式ローマ字 ∙ New Hepburn System The Hepburn System has been upgraded a few times. In 1954, the Revised Hepburn System was introduced in the third edition of the Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary and was also adopted by the Library of Congress as standards for Japanese Romanization endorsed by the ALA-LC (American Library Association - Library of Congress). The latest upgrade to the Systen was the Modified Hepburn System which was used by the Pocket Kenkyusha Japanese Dictionary published by Oxford University Press. The Modified Hepburn has also been adopted by other well-known dictionary publishers and it is consistent with use of macrons: ā, ī, ū, ē, ō to represent long vowels by using replacing the consonant m with n, Honbu rather than Hombu. The term Modified Hepburn and Revised Hepburn are often inter-changed by the general public without any major distinction between the two upgrades to the Traditional Hepburn System. The Revised Hepburn System is endorsed for official use by several government agencies, such as Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs which issues all Japanese passports with full names in both Kanji and Rōmaji. Also, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has an official policy to combine Kanji and Rōmaji in all public signs posted throughout Japan, including all public highways, airports, metro, bus and rail stations.
ワープロローマ字∙ Wāpuro Rōmaji or Word Processor Rōmaji was explicitly developed as a data input method for computer and not as a formal Rōmaji system. The name Wāpuro is short for “wādo purosessā”, which means word processor. Japan’s national Wāpuro Rōmaji standard is JIS X 4063-2000, which defines the rules for input method from roman letters to Japanese characters. Any software enabled with Wāpuro Rōmaji or Roman character kana conversion allows a person to type a Japanese word using a western keyboard and it would automatically be converted into Hiragana, Katakana or even Kanji. However, an unintended result of the development of Wāpuro Rōmaji is that it has become popular among native Japanese speakers, particularly younger ones, who used it in casual settings, such as in virtual chat rooms, social media, text messages. It is also popular in Japanese pop-culture like in anime (animations) and manga (comics and cartoons). Wāpuro Rōmaji does not use any special character such as accents, circumflexes or macrons for extended vowels to. In some cases the spellings produced by this method may be ambiguous for pronunciation among non-native Japanese speakers.
JSLローマ字∙ JSL Rōmaji was created by Dr. Eleanor Harz Jorden in her book “Japanese: The Spoken Language” published by Yale Language Press in 1987. Dr. Jorden earned her Ph.D. at Yale University and was a very influential scholar of Japanese language who taught at many prestigious universities and served with the U.S. State Department as the Chairman of the Department of East Asian Languages at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). The JSL method was based on the Kunrei Shiki Rōmaji System, as it follows the Japanese syllable structure rather than sound itself. JSL Rōmaji uses three types of accents markings: (´), (`) and (ˆ). Therefore, to avoid confusion the JSL Rōmaji uses doubled vowels rather macrons or circumflex, such as in the words Tookyoo (東京) or Oosaka (大阪).Also, the hiragana syllable (ん) in JSL is transliterated to (n̄) rather than: (m), (n), (n') as used by other Rōmaji Systems. The JSL is a very accurate and complex method to indicate all the nuances of the spoken language and the Japanese Kana. However, it is not intuitive for non-native Japanese speakers. It requires a lot of time to master, which could be devoted to learning Japanese kana instead.
Examples of Rōmaji transliteratios
Due to the nature of the Japanese language, the transliteration of words into western letters or "Romāji", presents many challenges. As a consequence, a Japanese word can have several spellings using the roman alphabet, because there are several conventions or systems that can be used to write "Romāji".
The transliteration system presented in this dictionary incorporates special letters for all the extended vowels used in Japanese language, such as ō, ū. In my opinion, this is a more accurate system to write Japanese in Romāji. This explains why many Karate terms have adopted "incorrect" or "less accurate" spellings. In those cases I present my suggested spelling first. And next in parenthesis I list other possible "alternate spellings". Here are three examples:
dō (alt. do, dou)
Used in Karate Dō, Budō, Dōjō, Judō, etc.
honbu (alt. hombu)
shōrin ryū (alt. Shourin Ryuu, Shorin-ryu)
— Example 1: Dōjō
Hepburn System: Dōjō
Nihon Shiki / Kunrei Shiki: Dôjô
Wāpuro Rōmaji: Doujou
Adapted to English, without extended vowels: Dojo
— Example 2: Budō
Nihon Shiki / Kunrei Shiki: Budô
Wāpuro Rōmaji: Budou
Adapted to English, without extended vowels: Budo
— Example 3: Ryūha
Nihon Shiki / Kunrei Shiki: Ryûha
Wāpuro Rōmaji: Ryuuha
Adapted to English, without extended vowels: Ryuha
— Example 4
Nihon Shiki / Kunrei Shiki: Karate
Wāpuro Rōmaji: Karate
Adapted to Spanish or French with accent marks: Karaté
— Example 5
Nihon Shiki / Kunrei Shiki: Ôsaka
Wāpuro Rōmaji: Oosaka
Adapted to English, without extended vowels: Osaka
— Example 6
Nihon Shiki / Kunrei Shiki: Ryûkyû
Wāpuro Rōmaji: Ryuukyuu
Adapted to English, without extended vowels: Ryukyu
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Shibu Chō: Jimmy Mora, Renshi, Roku Dan (6th Dan) ∙ © 2016 Shinjinbukan Foundation
Shinjinbukan.com is a free resource sponsored by the Shinjinbukan Foundation. The statements on this site represent my own personal understanding of Onaga Yoshimitsu Kaichō's teachings. Therefore, I do not claim to speak on his behalf. As one more of his students, I am eager to share his living and oral traditions. Jimmy Mora