Hepburn romanization

Hepburn romanization (ヘボン式ローマ字, Hebon-shiki Rōmaji, 'Hepburn-type Roman letters')[1] 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[2] 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.[3] Largely based on English writing conventions, consonants closely correspond to the English pronunciation and vowels approximate the Italian pronunciation.[1]

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.[1] 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).[4][5]

Although Kunrei romanization is officially favored by the Japanese government today, Hepburn romanization is still in use and remains the worldwide standard.[1] 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.[6][7]

Legal status

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.[6] In 1930, a Special Romanization Study Commission was appointed to compare the two.[6] 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.[8]

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.[citation needed]

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.

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