Hepburn system

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The Hepburn system ( Japanese ヘ ボ ン 式 , Hebon-shiki ) is a transcription system for the Japanese script , more precisely for the transcription of the Japanese Mora scripts ("syllabary scripts") Hiragana and Katakana into the Latin script . The Hepburn system is most common in both Japan and around the world.


The Hepburn system ( ヘ ボ ン 式 Hebon-shiki - Hebon is an old mapping of the name Hepburn to the Japanese phonetic system) exists in several slightly different variants, of which only two can be regarded as widespread: the older variant is Hyōjun-Hebon -shiki Rōmaji ( 標準 ヘ ボ ン 式 ロ ー マ 字 ) called "Standard Hepburn System" or simply "Traditional Hepburn System" and can be found in Japan, for example, on Japanese station signs. The other variant, Shūsei Hebon-shiki Rōmaji ( 修正 ヘ ボ ン 式 ロ ー マ 字 ), the "revised Hepburn system" was introduced in 1954 in the third edition of the Japanese-English dictionary "Kenkyusha's Japanese-English Dictionary" (which has since been called "Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary ”means) and is the type of transcription that is predominantly found in newer Japanese dictionaries today. This newer variant is also used in most of the scientific works of western authors.

The Hepburn system is named after Dr. James Curtis Hepburn , an American doctor and missionary, who in 1867 published the first Japanese-English dictionary, the Waei gorin shūsei ( 和 林集成 林集成 ) and then named it in its third edition from 1886 for the first time after the dictionary he published Type of transcription used. However, this transcription system was not worked out by him alone, but rather as early as 1885 by a commission of Japanese and foreign scholars with his assistance.

The other transcription system for the Japanese language, which had also been set up in 1885 as a counter-proposal by a group under the direction of the physicist Aikitsu Tanakadate and Nihon-shiki Rōmaji ( 日本式 ロ ー マ 字 ) " Nippon system " was slightly modified in 1937 by the cabinet “System for official use” determined and confirmed again in 1954. This system is now called Kunrei-shiki Rōmaji ( 訓令 式 ロ ー マ 字 ) " Kunrei system " and is based closely on the systematics of the Japanese syllabary. It was even standardized as ISO 3602: 1989 in 1989 , and since a further cabinet decision in 1994 it has even been used more widely by various official bodies. Occasionally it can also be found in Western textbooks. "Fujisan" (Hepburn) is written there "Huzisan" (Kunrei).

In practice, the Hepburn system is currently much more common. The German Institute for Standardization has specified a modified version of the Hepburn system especially for the library system: DIN 32708: 2014-08 Information and documentation - transcription of Japanese . It follows the revised version and regulates, among other things, the word separation, the use of Japanese typographic characters, modern Kana combinations and upper / lower case in more detail.

Hepburn romanization for hiragana and katakana

a i u e O ya yu yo N
- a i u e O n
k ka ki ku ke ko き ゃ キ ャ kya き ゅ キ ュ kyu き ょ キ ョ kyo
s sa shi see below se so し ゃ シ ャ sha し ゅ シ ュ shu し ょ シ ョ sho
t ta chi tsu te to ち ゃ チ ャ cha ち ゅ チ ュ chu ち ょ チ ョ cho
n n / A ni nu no no に ゃ ニ ャ nya に ゅ ニ ュ nyu に ょ ニ ョ nyo
H Ha Hi fu hey ho ひ ゃ ヒ ャ hya ひ ゅ ヒ ュ hyu ひ ょ ヒ ョ hyo
m ma mi must me mo み ゃ ミ ャ mya み ゅ ミ ュ myu み ょ ミ ョ myo
y ya yu yo
r ra ri ru re ro り ゃ リ ャ rya り ゅ リ ュ ryu り ょ リ ョ ryo
w wa ( ) ( ) wi ( ) ( ) we Where
G ga gi gu ge go ぎ ゃ ギ ャ gya ぎ ゅ ギ ュ gyu ぎ ょ ギ ョ gyo
z za ji to ze zo じ ゃ ジ ャ Yes じ ゅ ジ ュ ju じ ょ ジ ョ jo
d there ji to de do ぢ ゃ ヂ ャ ぢ ゅ ヂ ュ ぢ ょ ヂ ョ
b ba bi bu be bo び ゃ ビ ャ bya び ゅ ビ ュ byu び ょ ビ ョ byo
p pa pi pu pe po ぴ ゃ ピ ャ pya ぴ ゅ ピ ュ pyu ぴ ょ ピ ョ pyo
y イ ェ ye
w ウ ィ wi ウ ェ we ウ ォ Where
v ヴ ァ va ヴ ィ vi vu ヴ ェ ve ヴ ォ vo
s ス ィ si
z ズ ィ zi
sh シ ェ she
j ジ ェ ever
ch チ ェ che
t テ ィ ti ト ゥ do
d デ ィ di ド ゥ you
ts ツ ァ tsa ツ ィ tsi ツ ェ tse ツ ォ tso
f フ ァ fa フ ィ fi フ ェ fe フ ォ fo フ ュ fyu
hy ひ ぇ ヒ ェ hye
  • In Hepburn's first edition, and エ were still transcribed as ye . In its third edition only Sino-Japanese words when the second syllable starts with it, i.e. H. shoyen instead of shoen and sanyetsu instead of san'etsu .
  • The hye in the last line is a double special case that arose from the newfangled interjection ひ ぇ ー っ or ヒ ェ ー ッ, which expresses surprise. Since the ye symbol (Hiragana: Katakana: ) is no longer in use, the simple (small) e symbol had to be used, as is the case with she , je and che . Since the aforementioned interjection is not a "foreign" expression, it can be written in katakana as well as in hiragana.

Long vowels

Vowels are usually short. Long vowels are correctly marked with a macron (¯). A circumflex (^) is often used because of the lack of a macron in common keyboard layouts . (The German standard keyboard layout T2 contains the macron as the dead key  +  and thus enables the Hepburn system to be used correctly.) AltGrT

Vowel combinations are represented as follows:

A + A

The combination a + a is written as aa if it is an inner word boundary:

  • 真 新 し いま あ た ら し い   ma + a + ta + ra + shi + i = maatarashii - brand new

In all other cases a + a is contracted to a long ā :

  • お 婆 さ んお ば あ さ ん   o + ba + a + sa + n = obāsan - grandma

I + I

The combination i + i is always written as ii .

  • 兄 さ んに い さ ん   ni + i + sa + n = niisan - [older] brother
  • お 爺 さ んお じ い さ ん   o + ji + i + sa + n = ojiisan - grandpa
  • 美味 し いお い し い   o + i + shi + i = oishii - tasty
  • 新潟に い が た   ni + i + ga + ta = Niigata (place name, lit. "new watt")
  • 灰色は い い ろ   ha + i + i + ro = haiiro - gray (literally "ash color")

U + U

The combination u + u is written as uu if it is an inner word boundary or the present tense ending of certain verbs:

  • 食 うく う   ku + u = kuu - eat
  • 縫 うぬ う   nu + u = nuu - sew

In all other cases u + u are contracted to a long ū :

  • 数学す う が く   su + u + ga + ku = sūgaku - mathematics
  • 注意ち ゅ う い   chu + u + i = chūi - caution
  • ぐ う た ら   gu + u + ta + ra = gūtara - lazy

E + E

The combination e + e is written as ee if it is an inner word boundary:

  • 濡 れ 縁ぬ れ え ん   nu + re + e + n = nureen - part of the "veranda" that is not protected from rain (corridor outside of Japanese houses)

In all other cases e + e is contracted into a long ē :

  • お 姉 さ んお ね え さ ん   o + ne + e + sa + n = onēsan - (older) sister

O + O

The combination o + o is written as oo if it is an inner word boundary:

  • 小 躍 りこ お ど り   ko + o + do + ri = koodori - leap for joy

In all other cases o + o is contracted to a long ō :

  • 大船お お ふ な   o + o + fu + na = Ōfuna - Ōfuna
  • 遠 回 りと お ま わ り   to + o + ma + wa + ri = tōmawari - detour
  • 大阪お お さ か   o + o + sa + ka = Ōsaka - Osaka

O + U

The combination o + u is written as ou if it is an inner word boundary or the present tense ending of certain verbs:

  • 追 うお う   o + u = ou - track
  • 迷 うま よ う   ma + yo + u = mayou - cannot decide
  • 子 馬こ う ま   ko + u + ma = kouma - foal

In all other cases o + u is contracted to a long ō :

  • 学校が っ こ う   ga + (t) + ko + u = gakkō - school
  • 東京と う き ょ う   to + u + kyo + u = Tōkyō - Tokyo
  • 勉強べ ん き ょ う   be + n + kyo + u = benkyō - learn
  • 電報で ん ぽ う   de + n + po + u = dempō - telegram
  • 金曜日き ん よ う び   ki + n + yo + u + bi = kin'yōbi - (weekday of Venus ) Friday
  • 話 そ うは な そ う   ha + na + so + u = hanasō - let's talk!

Combination of two different vowels except O + U

The combination e + i is always written as ei , also in Sino-Japanese words, where its pronunciation is close to a long ē :

  • 学生が く せ い   ga + ku + se + i = gakus ei - student
  • 経 験け い け ん   ke + i + ke + n = k ei ken - experience
  • 制服せ い ふ く   se + i + fu + ku = s ei fuku - uniform
  • め い   me + i = m ei - niece
  • 招 い てま ね い て   ma + ne + i + te = man ei te - call / invite and then

All other combinations of two different vowels (except o + u ) are also written separately:

  • 軽 いか る い   ka + ru + i = kar ui - easy
  • う ぐ い す   u + gu + i + su = ug ui su - Japanese bush warbler (species of bird)
  • お い   o + i = oi - nephew

Vowel with a stretch line

A long vowel displayed in (mostly) foreign-language expressions by a stretch line (with horizontal writing: , with vertical writing also written vertically) is always represented in Latin script by a long vowel with macron (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) :

  • セーラー   se + (expansion stroke) + ra + (expansion stroke) = Sera - Seaman (sailor)
  • パ ー テ ィ ー   pa + (stretch) + ti + (stretch) = pātī - party
  • レ ー ナ (伶 奈)   re + (stretch mark ) + na = Rēna - Lena
  • ヒ ー タ ー   hi + (stretch mark ) + ta + (stretch mark ) = hītā - heating (heater)
  • タ ク シ ー   ta + ku + shi + (stretch mark ) = takushī - taxi
  • ス ー パ ー マ ン   su + (stretch mark ) + pa + (stretch mark ) + ma + n = Sūpāman - Superman

Further writing rules

Particles and

The characters (ha) and (he) are pronounced like and えin Japanese, insofar as they are used as grammatical particles ( postpositions ), and are written accordingly in transcription wa and e . In the traditional Hepburn system, the latter was still written ye .

  • 私 は 学校 に 行 き ま すわ た し は が っ こ う に い き ま す.   Watashi wa gakkō ni ikimasu. - I go to school.
  • こ こ は 横 浜 で すこ こ は よ こ は ま で す.   Koko wa Yokohama desu. - This is Yokohama .
  • こ こ へ 来 て は 行 け ま せ んこ こ へ き て は い け ま せ ん.   Koko e kite wa ikemasen. - You can't come here.

Of course, the reading and writing ha and he are retained when they are not used as particles:

  • 葉 書は が き   ha + ga + ki = hagaki - postcard


The character (actually where ) is only used in modern Japanese as a grammatical particle (postposition) and is then pronounced just like お and written accordingly o .

  • 何 を 見 て る のな に を み て る の?   Nani o miteru no? - What are you looking at (there)?

Occasionally “where” is also written when there is a need for greater clarity.

Syllable n ( )

If a vowel or y-sound comes after a syllable- n , an apostrophe is correctly used to avoid ambiguities:

  • 金曜日き ん よ う び   kin'yōbi - Friday
  • 慎 一し ん い ち   Shin'ichi - Shin'ichi (name)

traditional Hepburn system:
The syllable n (Katakana: ) is written before m , b , p as m , otherwise always as n :

  • 音 楽お ん が く   ongaku - music
  • 勉強べ ん き ょ う   benkyō - learn
  • 乾杯か ん ぱ い   Kampai - cheers
  • 新聞し ん ぶ ん   shimbun - newspaper
  • 電報で ん ぽ う   dempō - telegram

Revised Hepburn system:
In this system preferred by Japanologists, the syllable n (Katakana: ) is always written as n , so:

  • 乾杯か ん ぱ い   Kanpai - cheers
  • 新聞し ん ぶ ん   shinbun - newspaper
  • 電報で ん ぽ う   denpō - telegram

Small tsu ( )

Before consonantic syllables, the small tsu ( ) indicates the doubling of the following consonant (e.g. kkk ). For the digraphs, shssh , tstts but chtch (not conform, but analogous to the others, occasionally transcribed as cch ):

  • 学校が っ こ う   gakkō - school
  • 日本に っ ぽ ん   Nippon - Japan (ancient reading; 日本 is usually read Nihon )
  • 仰 るお っ し ゃ る   ossharu - say (politely)
  • 一 通い っ つ う   ittsū - a copy (of a document)
  • 一致い っ ち   itchi - match

If the small tsu is at the end of a word, it expresses the abrupt end of the word and is given with an apostrophe:

  • ア ア ア ッ   aaa ' - abruptly terminating "aaah"
  • ひ ぇ ー っ   hyē ' - surprise sound


The beginning of sentences and proper names are usually capitalized in accordance with English practice.

  • 私 は 学校 に 行 き ま すわ た し は が っ こ う に い き ま す.   Watashi wa gakkō ni ikimasu. - I go to school now.
  • こ こ は 横 浜 で すこ こ は よ こ は ま で す.   Koko wa Yokohama desu. - This is Yokohama .

Using the Hepburn System in Japan

  • Japanese Railways (lettering on station signs):
    uses the “traditional” Hepburn system and also uses ā , ī , ū , ē , ō .
  • Japanese companies (spelling of company and product names):
    mostly use the "traditional" Hepburn system without marking the long vowels (Meiji Chocolate, Shiseid o , Seik o etc.)
  • Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japanese names are spelled in passports):
    uses the “traditional” Hepburn system, but allows an extension h (“oh” instead of “ō”, for example in “ Tomoko Ohta ” instead of “Ōta”) on request .
  • Japanese Ministry of Transport (lettering on the road signs):
    uses the "revised" Hepburn system (syllable-n always n ), but does not display long vowels at all.
  • Japanese Ministry of Culture (teaching in schools): has
    both the “official” Kunrei system and the “traditional” Hepburn system taught


The vowels and consonants in the Hepburn system are pronounced as follows:

  • m, d, b: as in German
  • k, t, p: similar to German, but not breathy, ie you don't hear an "h" afterwards
  • a, e, o: as in German, but only emphasized briefly, double vowels are pronounced long: for example a as in Ball and ā as in Bad
  • i: similar to German, but not with tense lips; between voiceless consonants and with a low tone accent at the end of the word, usually mute or weakly emphasized
  • u: u with not rounded lips ( [ɯ] ), often sounds like ü ; between voiceless consonants and with a low tone accent at the end of the word, usually indicated mute or weakly
  • h: as in German; is pronounced like a fine ch in I before a mute i and sounds similar to sch ( [ç] )
  • f: sound between h and f ; blow between the almost closed lips; before silent u when at the end of a word sometimes pronounced like ch
  • n ( [ɴ] ): is spoken before m, b, p (see syllable-n ) as m and before g or k as ng ( Ingolf (g is emphasized) or anchor , [ŋ] ); otherwise it is spoken further back in the throat than the German n ; is sometimes only indicated nasally (the tongue does not touch the palate)
  • g: as in German, often also as ng ( [ŋ] )
  • s: like voiceless s or German ß ( [s] ; mass and measurements , but not sun [z] )
  • sh ( [ɕ] ): similar to German soft ch , but with tongue position as in German sch
  • ch: close connection (affricate) of t + sh ( [t̠͡ɕ] )
  • ts: like German z ( fence , [ʦ] )
  • y: like German j ( jacket , someone , [j] )
  • r: [ɺ] or sometimes [ɾ]
  • w: similar to w in English, but without rounding the lips ( [ɰ] )
  • z: like voiced s ( say , sun , [z] )
  • j: voiced counterpart ( [ʑ] ) to sh : like the second g in garage , but almost like a voiced s (mostly inside the word, i.e. after a vowel) or similar to voiced j ( jungle , junkie , [d̠͡ʑ] ; mostly am Beginning of word and after n ).

The plosive sound, which is represented by a double consonant (except nn and mm ) or tch , is pronounced as in Italian or Finnish . This means that the following consonant is prepared and the flow of air is stopped. The double consonant does not mean, as in German, that a preceding vowel is short, but the consonant itself is long. In the case of non- plosives (for example [s] ) the consonant actually sounds long.

  • 学校が っ こ う: gakkō say: "ga" (short pause) "kkō"
  • 一 緒い っ し ょ: issho say: "i" (long "sh") "sho"


The Japanese language pitch accent is not reflected in the Japanese script or the Hepburn system.

Advantages and disadvantages of the Hepburn system


The Hepburn system has become the standard in English-language literature since the third edition of the Japanese-English dictionary Waei Gorinshūsei ( 英語林集成 ) by the American doctor James Curtis Hepburn, which was published in 1886, and made it possible to establish itself in Germany after the Second World War thus an internationally fairly uniform spelling. It enables readers who are familiar with the English sound-letter assignment of the consonants and the normal "Italian" pronunciation of the vowels to pronounce Japanese words that are acceptable to Japanese and as a pronunciation aid is far more intuitive than the Kunrei system.


The Hepburn system is only of limited use as a pronunciation aid for native German speakers, as many consonants are pronounced differently than in German, so correct reading must first be learned. The widespread use of the Hepburn system contributes to the fact that a phonetically more exact transcription of Japanese in IPA phonetic transcription is largely uncommon.

The Hepburn system is sometimes misunderstood as a transliteration system, but it is a transcription system because with some syllables ( ji , zu ) the re-conversion into the Japanese syllabary scripts Hiragana ( じ / ぢ , ず / づ ) and Katakana ( ジ / ヂ , ズ / ヅ ) is not unique.

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. パ ス ポ ー ト : ヘ ボ ン 式 ロ ー マ 字 と 異 な る 場合. ("Passport: In the event of a deviation from the Hepburn Rōmaji "). Aichi Prefecture website , April 1, 2018, accessed August 27, 2018 (Japanese).