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first romanization system was developed in Japan in the 16th century by
Jesuit missionaries, and was based on Portuguese. Under the
initiative of the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, a printing press had
been brought to Japan in 1590, and the Jesuits printed various
religious texts, which were translated to Japanese and printed
in Japanese script or rōmaji. When the Christians were expelled
1614, the use of rōmaji decreased; however, in the mid-19th
with the opening of Japan to foreigners, the need for rōmaji again
rose, and many debates sprang up about what kind of system to use.
In 1885 the Rōmajikwai
(ローマ字会 - as it was then spelled) was instituted - a group of
Japanese and foreigners who were interested in developing and promoting
romanization in place of the existing mix of kanji and kana. One of the members, Dr. James Hepburn, a missionary and physician, used the Rōmajikwai
system in his Japanese-English dictionary; despite being co-developed,
the system came to bear his name: the Hepburn system (ヘボン式). It
is also called the Hyōjun, or "standard," style (標準式). In the third edition of the Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary
(1954), the editors presented a modifed Hepburn system, which is called
"modified Hepburn" or "revised Hepburn," and which remains the most
common version of the system today.
modified Hepburn and Kunrei systems are the main competing romanization systems
for Japanese. Despite being the "official" system, Kunrei is used
far less regularly than Hepburn - which is used by Japan Railway and
other transportation services, as well as for most public signs and
notices in Japan.
Modified Hepburn is used for most Japanese-English dictionaries, other
foreign-language publications, and in the Library of Congress
cataloging system. The Kunrei system is still used by some
goverment agencies, though is slowly being replaced by modified Hepburn -
however, it is the only romanization system for Japanese recommended by
the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Hepburn system is based on English phonology - that is, the sounds that
are made by English speakers - whereas the Kunrei system is based on
Japanese phonology and the kana
syllabary. According to certain arguments, linguists prefer the Kunrei system because
it is more phonemically consistent than Hepburn, while it is said that
the Hepburn system is more intuitive, as far as actual pronunciation,
to English speakers.
For example: The
Japanese syllabary is a system which combines consonant sounds with the
five vowels, a, i, u, e, o to form letters. In both Kunrei and Hepburn systems, a
か き く け こ
no problems because one sound [k] is represented by one consonant "k"
plus each of the five vowels. However, when other consonant sounds need
to be represented, differences in the systems become more apparent. A line like:
さ し す せ そ
Kunrei: sa si su se so vs. Hepburn: sa shi su se so
Kunrei system always uses one "s" plus one vowel to represent this series of sounds,
while the Hepburn system uses an "sh" in front of the i. To an
English speaker who is reading the sounds for the first time "shi" more
closely approximates the sound of し in Japanese, but because it uses
both "s" and "h" it is not as linguistically consistent as the Kunrei
just one example where the systems differ. The chart below
illustrates the areas of difference between the modified Hepburn, Kunrei, and
Nippon styles of romanization.
What We Use Now: (see
also Search Guide for Japanese)
Library of Congress uses modified Hepburn for cataloging materials in
Japanese - which means that most of the libraries in America, including
Hamilton Library, do too. Cataloging of Japanese materials - or
any non-roman script languages - in America has always been done using
romanized letters, and the native script had to be written by hand on
the catalog cards, if at all. Starting in 1985, some library systems
were able to input native script to the computerized cataloging record,
but that script could still not be displayed by the browsers - meaning,
it was there but you couldn't see it - until very recently.
That means that
all records for Japanese materials in Hamilton Library are in romanized
script, and only records input since 1985 have kanji or kana displays as well. For more information about the modified Hepburn system and searching in Voyager, please see our Search Guide for Japanese.
Aman, Mohammed M., ed. Cataloging and Classification of Non-Western Material: Concerns, Issues, and Practices. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1980.
Barry, Randall K., ed. ALA-LC Romanization Tables: Transliteration Schemes for Non-Roman Scripts. Washington: Cataloging Distribution Service, Library of Congress, 1991.
Fukuda, Naomi. "Some Problems in Cataloging Japanese Books for American
Libraries." Masters thesis, University of Michigan, 1940.
Palmer, Harold E. The Principles of Romanization with Special Reference to the Romanization of Japanese. Tokyo: Maruzun Company, 1930.
Reischauer, Edwin O. "Rōmaji or Rōmazi." Journal of the American Oriental Society 60.1 (1940)
Seeley, Christopher. A History of Writing in Japan. Leiden, New York: E.J. Brill, 1991.
Totten, George Oakley III. "Romanization of Japanese," in Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo, New York: Kodansha, 1983-1986.
Tseng, Sally C., compiler. LC Romanization Tables and Cataloging Policies. Metuchen, N.J., Scarecrow Press, 1990.
Jack Toru. "A Study of Problems of Romanization of the Japanese Language
in Library Cataloging." MLS thesis, University of
"Romaji," "Hepburn," "Kunrei-shiki," "Nihon-shiki," and "Wāpuro Rōmaji" articles from Wikipedia "The Free Encyclopedia."
Preface to the original 1867 Japanese and English Dictionary published by James Hepburn. (1st edition)
Preface to the 1886 Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary (3rd edition) published by James Hepburn, in which the "Hepburn system" is officially published.
- "Rōmaji Conference Room" - website about rōmaji, including various
documents (like the above) which illustrate rōmaji principles - (in
社団法人日本ローマ字会 - The Society for the Romanization
of the Japanese Alphabet - (in Japanese)
Nippon-no-Rômazi-Sya - website of the Rōmaji group founded by Tanakadate Aikitsu in 1909, who support the Nippon style - (in rōmaji)
Contact: Tokiko Yamamoto Bazzell
Japan Specialist Librarian
Asia Collection, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library
2550 The Mall, Honolulu, HI 96822 U.S.A.
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of Hawaii at Manoa. All rights reserved.