Hepburn-Style Romaji Likely to Become Standardized

The yomiuri Shimbun

Romaji — the method used to write Japanese in the Latin alphabet — has multiple variations, resulting in different spellings for some words. To eliminate the confusion, an expert panel of the Cultural Affairs Agency reached an agreement on Jan.23 to amend the 1954 Cabinet announcement on the use of romaji.

The widely used Hepburn style of romanization, which has a pronunciation and spelling system similar to English, is likely to replace the “kunrei” style recommended in the Cabinet announcement. If replaced, it will be the first amendment in about 70 years.

The two basic romaji variations are Hepburn and kunrei. The Cabinet announcement in 1954 defined that kunrei, which follows the pattern of the 50 Japanese alphabets, should be used when transcribing Japanese in Latin lettering.

However, use of Hepburn was also widely adopted per the GHQ’s request as they found it easier to read, making both romanization styles in use: some places still have differing spellings, such as “Shinjuku” in Hepburn and “Sinzyuku” in kunrei; names of Japanese passport holders are romanized in Hepburn.

The expert panel in their draft report pointed out that Hepburn is more common in use than kunrei. “Since the Hepburn style is widely used, it will cause serious confusion if [the government] tries to re-standardize the kunrei style,” a member of the panel said at its meeting on Jan.23.

Upon receiving the report from the panel, the cultural agency is set to speed up deliberation on the matter and likely finalize the decision after Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahito Moriyama consults with the agency’s Cultural Council.