Hepburn romanization

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The Hepburn romanization system (ヘボン式, Hebon-shiki) was devised by the Reverend James Curtis Hepburn to transcribe the sounds of the Japanese language into the Roman alphabet for his Japanese–English dictionary, published in 1867. This system was subsequently revised and called Shūsei Hebon-shiki (修正ヘボン式). This revised version is sometimes also referred to as Hyōjun-shiki (標準式) (standard style).

The original and revised variants of Hepburn remain the most widely used methods of transcription of Japanese. As Hepburn is based on English phonology, an English speaker unfamiliar with Japanese will generally pronounce a word romanized in Hepburn more accurately than a word romanized in the competing Kunrei-shiki system. Likewise, native Japanese speakers familiar with the Roman alphabet through the study of English tend to find Hepburn more comfortable than Kunrei.

Standard variants of Hepburn romanization[edit]

There are three standard variants of Hepburn romanization.

  • The first is traditional Hepburn, which renders long vowels and syllabic n in a variety of ways.
  • The second is revised Hepburn, a revised version of traditional Hepburn, in which the rendering of syllabic n as m before certain consonants is no longer used. This is the most common form of Japanese romanization used today, and is used by the Library of Congress. (Revised Hepburn may be referred to as modified Hepburn.)
  • The third is modified Hepburn, which builds on revised Hepburn to further modify traditional Hepburn. This version is consistent in its treatment of long vowels (using macrons) and syllabic n. It has been adopted by some major dictionaries (e.g. the Pocket Kenkyusha Japanese Dictionary published by Oxford University Press), but is still mainly the preserve of linguists. (The term modified Hepburn may be used to refer to revised Hepburn.)

Judopedia uses a variation of revised Hepburn that uses macrons to indicate long vowels (ō and ū). This is often considered to be standard. For example, Tōkyō instead of Tokyo.

Features of Hepburn romanization[edit]

The main feature of Hepburn is that its spelling is based on English phonology. More technically, where syllables constructed systematically according to the Japanese syllabary contain the "unstable" consonant for the modern spoken language, the orthography is changed to something that, as an English speaker would pronounce it, better matches the real sound, for example し is written shi not *si.


  • When he へ is used as a particle it is written e.
  • When ha は is used as a particle it is written wa.
  • When wo を is used as a particle it is written o.

Long vowels[edit]

In traditional and revised Hepburn:

  • The long vowels o and u are indicated by a macron—e.g., long o is written ō.
  • In words of Japanese or Chinese origin, the long vowel e is written ei.
  • In words of Japanese or Chinese origin, the long vowel i is written ii.
  • In words of foreign origin, all long vowels are indicated by macrons.

In modified Hepburn:

  • All long vowels are indicated by doubling the vowel, e.g. long o is written oo.
    • The combination ei is reserved for cases where the two vowels are pronounced as distinct sounds, e.g. in the word Supein (スペイン), meaning "Spain".

Syllabic n[edit]

In traditional Hepburn:

  • Syllabic n (ん) is written as n before consonants, but as n' (with an apostrophe) before vowels and y. It is written as m before other labial consonants, i.e. b, m, and p.

In revised Hepburn:

  • The rendering m before labial consonants is not used, being replaced with n. It is still written n' before vowels and y.

In modified Hepburn:

  • Syllabic n is always written as n with a macron (), such as is used to indicate long vowels in traditional Hepburn. (This can be achieved on word processors through the use of various specialized fonts, e.g. Times Gandhari.) This renders the use of apostrophes unnecessary.

Double consonants[edit]

  • Double (or "geminate") consonants are marked by doubling the consonant following the sokuon, っ, except for shssh, chtch, tstts..


Variations of the Hepburn system indicate the long vowels ō and ū as follows:

  • Tokyo: not indicated at all. This is common for Japanese words that have been adopted into English. This is also the convention used in the de facto Hepburn used in signs and other English-language information around Japan, mentioned in the paragraph on legal status.
  • Tohkyoh: indicated with an "h". This is sometimes known as "passport Hepburn", as the Japanese Foreign Ministry has authorized (but not required) this usage in passports. [1]
  • Toukyou: written using kana spelling: ō as ou or oo (depending on the kana) and ū as uu. This is sometimes called wāpuro style, as this is how text is entered into a Japanese word processor (do purosessā) using a keyboard with Roman characters. This is not recognized as standard and is almost exclusively found in amateur romanization. Nevertheless, this method most accurately represents the way that vowels are written in kana, differentiating between おう (as in とうきょう (東京), written Toukyou in this system) and おお (as in とおい (遠い), written tooi in this system).

Some linguists object to Hepburn, as the pronunciation-based spellings can obscure the systematic origins of Japanese phonetic structures, inflections, and conjugations. Supporters argue that Hepburn is not intended as a linguistic tool.

Hepburn romanization charts[edit]

For hiragana[edit]

a i u e o (ya) (yu) (yo)
ka ki ku ke ko きゃ kya きゅ kyu きょ kyo
sa shi su se so しゃ sha しゅ shu しょ sho
ta chi tsu te to ちゃ cha ちゅ chu ちょ cho
na ni nu ne no にゃ nya にゅ nyu にょ nyo
ha hi fu he ho ひゃ hya ひゅ hyu ひょ hyo
ma mi mu me mo みゃ mya みゅ myu みょ myo
ya yu yo
ra ri ru re ro りゃ rya りゅ ryu りょ ryo
わ wa ゐ wi ゑ we を wo
ga gi gu ge go ぎゃ gya ぎゅ gyu ぎょ gyo
za ji zu ze zo じゃ ja じゅ ju じょ jo
da (ji) (zu) de do ぢゃ (ja) ぢゅ (ju) ぢょ (jo)
ba bi bu be bo びゃ bya びゅ byu びょ byo
pa pi pu pe po ぴゃ pya ぴゅ pyu ぴょ pyo

The characters in red are obsolete in modern Japanese.

For standard katakana[edit]

ア a イ i ウ u エ e オ o
カ ka キ ki ク ku ケ ke コ ko キャ kya キュ kyu キョ kyo
サ sa シ shi ス su セ se ソ so シャ sha シュ shu ショ sho
タ ta チ chi ツ tsu テ te ト to チャ cha チュ chu チョ cho
ナ na ニ ni ヌ nu ネ ne ノ no ニャ nya ニュ nyu ニョ nyo
ハ ha ヒ hi フ fu ヘ he ホ ho ヒャ hya ヒュ hyu ヒョ hyo
マ ma ミ mi ム mu メ me モ mo ミャ mya ミュ myu ミョ myo
ヤ ya ユ yu ヨ yo
ラ ra リ ri ル ru レ re ロ ro リャ rya リュ ryu リョ ryo
ワ wa ヰ wi ヱ we ヲ wo
ン n
ガ ga ギ gi グ gu ゲ ge ゴ go ギャ gya ギュ gyu ギョ gyo
ザ za ジ ji ズ zu ゼ ze ゾ zo ジャ ja ジュ ju ジョ jo
ダ da ヂ (ji) ヅ (zu) デ de ド do ヂャ (ja) ヂュ (ju) ヂョ (jo)
バ ba ビ bi ブ bu ベ be ボ bo ビャ bya ビュ byu ビョ byo
パ pa ピ pi プ pu ペ pe ポ po ピャ pya ピュ pyu ピョ pyo

The characters in red are obsolete in modern Japanese.

For extended katakana[edit]

These are used mainly to represent the sounds in words in other languages. Most of these are not formally standardized and some are very rarely used.

イェ ye
ウィ wi ウェ we ウォ wo
ヷ va ヸ vi ヹ ve ヺ vo
ヴァ va ヴィ vi ヴ vu ヴェ ve ヴォ vo
シェ she
ジェ je
チェ che
ティ ti トゥ tu
テュ tyu
ディ di ドゥ du
デュ dyu
ツァ tsa ツェ tse ツォ tso
ファ fa フィ fi フェ fe フォ fo
フュ fyu


"Hepburn romanization." Wikipedia. Accessed on September 18, 2006.