What is Hepburn romanization?

A I U E O Yōon
a i u e o
k ka ki ku ke ko kyakyukyo
s sa shi su se so shashusho
t ta chi tsu te to chachucho
n na ni nu ne no nyanyunyo
h ha hi fu he ho hyahyuhyo
m ma mi mu me mo myamyumyo
y ya yu yo
r ra ri ru re ro ryaryuryo
w wa wi we wo
N n
g ga gi gu ge go gyagyugyo
z za ji zu ze zo jajujo
d da ji zu de do jajujo
b ba bi bu be bo byabyubyo
p pa pi pu pe po pyapyupyo

Hepburn romanization, hebon-shiki (ヘボン式), is the form of romanization shown on the right which was used by James Curtis Hepburn for a Japanese to English dictionary.

Hepburn romanization is less regular than the Nippon-shiki (see What is romanization?) and Kunrei-shiki (see What is or romanization?) systems. For example, the kana し is romanized as shi, whereas the other members of the sagyō are romanized as sa, su, se, so. Similarly for つ romanized as tsu rather than tu.

The Hepburn system uses a macron (a bar over the letters) to indicate long vowels. For example, the long vowels in Tōkyō (東京) are written as ō. This is used both for vowels in hiragana , as in とうきょう, and for vowels in katakana, as in トーキョー, so the Hepburn romanization is based on the English pronunciation rather than the Japanese writing of the word.

In the Hepburn system, the ambiguity between kana n and kana yo, んよ, and kana ni and small kana yo, にょ, is indicated by an apostrophe. んよ is written as n'yo, and にょ is written as nyo.

In most cases the sokuon or "small tsu", っ, is represented in Hepburn by a doubled consonant, but in the case of ち, which is chi in Hepburn romanization, it is represented by a "t", hence matcha for the Japanese tea (抹茶).

Place names romanized for road signs and station names commonly use a modified version of the Hepburn system in which long vowels are ignored, hence "Tokyo" with no macrons. Similarly syllabic n (see What is syllabic n?) is not indicated.


J.C. Hepburn first published a dictionary of Japanese in 1867. The romanization system used at this time was not exactly the same as the final form of romanization now known as "Hepburn" romanization. For example the kana つ was romanized as "tsz", and the kana え as "ye". Hepburn states in the preface of the dictionary

...the system of orthography, with a few variations, is that generally adopted by the students of the language in Japan.
In the third edition of the dictionary, Hepburn adopted a system of romanization created by the "Romanization Club" or Rōmajikwai (羅馬字会) which is the system we now know as "Hepburn" romanization.
The system of orthography adopted in the previous edition of this work has been modified in a few particulars so as to conform to that recommended by the Romajikwai

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