Hepburn is based on English phonology and has competed with the alternative Nihon-shiki romanization, which was developed in Japan as a replacement of the 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; it is now known as the Kunrei-shiki romanization. The ordinance was temporarily overturned by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) during the Occupation of Japan, but it 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 the Kunrei-shiki romanization. The ANSI Z39.11-1972 standard was 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 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.