Revised request: Japanese transliteration variants

Frank Bennett biercenator at
Tue Sep 1 15:24:40 CEST 2009

Thanks to everyone for their feedback on the earlier request.  Hepburn
is what I know, but the comments reminded me of the importance of
precision and authority, and I have revised the request to provide
more background, and added tags for two systems that some persons
locally are likely to demand receive equal billing with Hepburn.

Request for variant registration

  1. Name of requester: Frank Bennett
  2. E-mail address of requester: bennett at
  3. Records Requested:

     Type: variant
     Subtag: hepburn
     Description: Revised Hepburn romanization.
     Prefix: ja-Latn

     Type: variant
     Subtag: kunrei
     Description: Kunrei-shiki romanization.
     Prefix: ja-Latn

     Type: variant
     Subtag: nihonshiki
     Description: Nihon-shiki romanization, as defined in ISO-3602 Strict.
     Prefix: ja-Latn

  4. Intended meaning of the subtag:

Indicates the target content is Japanese text, romanized according to
the rules set forth in the document cited in the relevant Description.

  5. Reference to published description of the language (book or article):

      English (primary)
          Revised Hepburn: ALA-LC Romanization Tables (available for download)
          Kunrei-shiki: ISO-3602 (available for purchase)
          Nihon-shiki: ISO-3602 Strict (available for purchase)

      English (secondary)

      Japanese (primary)
          Revised Hepburn: Japan Transport Ministry Bulletin no. 490
of 26 July 1947.
          Kunrei-shiki: ローマ字のづづり方 [Method of Romanization], Cabinet
Notice no. 1 of 9 December 1954.

      Japanese (secondary)

  6. Any other relevant information:

The immediate need for this is in the context of bibliography
management, where alternate representations of a title, name or other
field must be offered for sorting or display purposes.  Japanese has a
very orderly phonetic structure and native logographic representation,
but there are several different methods of romanization, none of which
have succeeded in dislodging the others.

Broadly speaking, existing romanization methods fall into two camps.
Revised Hepburn and its variants well exploit the latin script, to
produce a representation from which it is easy to approximate Japanese
pronunciation with a minimum of exposure to the language.
Kunrei-shiki and Nihon-shiki adhere closely the logographic
representation used in native Japanese writing.  As a result, these
methods require some training in order to learn how to map the roman
character combinations used onto the spoken language.

Apart from these relatively small practical differences, their
differing origins (or, more precisely, the differing image of their
origins) fuels a patriotic division of loyalties between the two
camps: for Hepburn is named for a 19th century Christian missionary to
Japan, and Kunrei-shiki is named for a government order issued during
the period of direct Imperial rule, in 1937.  The friction between the
two camps will presumably persist indefinitely.  Therefore, it is
probably prudent to add representatives of both camps to the standard
at this point, to avoid future controversy.

Revised Hepburn is the most common Japanese romanization method in
use.  While there are several variants of Hepburn, the ALA-LC
Romanization Tables provide clear and comprehensive guidelines likely
to be acceptable to any consumer of text that expects Hepburn

(The Traditional Hepburn system dates from the late 19th century, and
has been superceded in modern publishing by Revised Hepburn.  I am not
aware of any publisher that requires it, and have therefore left it
out of this submission.)

(There is an "extended Hepburn" system, which avoids the use of
macrons.  This is not in common use, and is documented, as nearly as I
can tell, only in journal papers published by a single academic.  I
have therefore left it out of this submission.)

Kunrei-shiki is the officially recognized method for romanizing
Japanese in the Cabinet Office and many government ministries,
including the Ministry of Education.  Most adults in Japan were taught
Kunrei-shiki romanization in elementary school, before being exposed
to Hepburn in later schooling or universitiy.  Kunrei-shiki is
definitely a minority method in real-world use, but as the successful
campaign to have Hepburn dropped from the ISO standards, and
Kunrei-shiki set up in its place, the proponents of Kunrei-shiki are
eager partisans, and sensitive to the attitude of standards bodies.

I'll be happy to address any questions or concerns that the group may have.

Thank you for your time,
Frank Bennett

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