What is Kunrei or Kunrei-shiki romanization?

The kunreishiki (訓令式) ("Government directive") system of romanization is a development of the Nippon-shiki system (see What is romanization?) based slightly more on pronunciation rather than correspondance to kana. For example, the kana づ is written as zu rather than du. However, unlike Hepburn romanization, it does not try to represent the consonants in kana like し and つ using an approximation to English, as in shi and tsu, but uses the more regular si and tu respectively. Similarly じ is zi and じゃ is zya, as with Nippon-shiki.

Long vowels in Kunrei-shiki are indicated by a circumflex (a "hat") rather than a macron (a line over the vowel). For example, Tokyo is romanized as Tôkyô rather than Tōkyō. The syllabic n (kana ン, see What is syllabic n?) before a vowel or non-yōon y has an apostrophe, to distinguish it from a nagyō kana. Thus かんよう is kan'yô, and かにょう is kanyô.

With n Kana Rômazi Without n Kana Rômazi
観桜 かんおう kan'ô 可能 かのう kanô
金融 きんゆう kin'yû 記入 きにゅう kinyû

The Kunrei system became the official system of romanization in Japan in 1937. This official status was overturned in 1954. It was also standardized as ISO 3602 for the romanization of Japanese. Kunrei-shiki is also known as the MEXT or Monbusho system of romanization, since it is the one which is taught to fourth-year elementary school students in Japan. See How is Japanese writing taught to Japanese children?


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