Kunrei-shiki romanization

Kunrei-shiki romanization

Kunrei-shiki rōmaji (訓令式ローマ字?, Cabinet-ordered romanization system) is a Japanese romanization system, i.e. a system for transcribing the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet. It is abbreviated as Kunrei-shiki. Its name is rendered Kunreisiki using Kunrei-shiki itself.

Kunrei-shiki is sometimes known as the Monbushō system in English[citation needed], because it is taught in the Monbushō-approved elementary school curriculum. The ISO has standardized Kunrei-shiki under ISO 3602.

Kunrei-shiki is based on the older Nihon-shiki (Nipponsiki) system, modified for modern standard Japanese. For example, the word かなづかい, romanized kanadukai in Nihon-shiki, is pronounced kanazukai in common modern Japanese, and Kunrei-shiki uses the latter spelling.


Legal status

The system was originally promulgated as Japanese Cabinet Order No. 3 as of September 21, 1937. But since this had been overturned by the SCAP during the Occupation of Japan, the Japanese government repealed it and decreed again as Japanese Cabinet Order No.1 as of December 29, 1954. The order mandated the use of Kunrei-shiki in "the written expression of Japanese generally", with a provision that specific alternative spellings could be used in international relations, and where necessary to follow established precedent. See Permitted Exceptions for details. (Japanese text)

Kunrei-shiki has been recognized, along with Nihon-shiki, in ISO 3602:1989. Documentation—Romanization of Japanese (kana script) by the ISO. It was also recommended by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) after they withdrew their own standard, ANSI Z39.11-1972 American National Standard System for the Romanization of Japanese (Modified Hepburn), in 1994.


Despite its official recognition, Kunrei-shiki has not gained widespread acceptance in or outside Japan. The Japanese government generally uses Hepburn, including the romanization of Japanese names on passports,[1] road signage[1] and train signage.[2] The great majority of Western publications and all English-language newspapers also continue to use Hepburn.[3]

Example: tat-u
Conjugation Kunrei Hepburn
Mizen 1 tat-a- tat-a-
Mizen 2 tat-o- tat-o-
Ren'yô tat-i tach-i
Syûsi/Rentai tat-u tats-u
Katei tat-e- tat-e-
Meirei tat-e tat-e

Because Kunrei-shiki is based on Japanese phonology, it can cause non-native speakers to pronounce words incorrectly. John Hinds, author of Japanese: A Prescriptive Grammar, says that this would be "a major disadvantage."[4]

Additional complications appear with newer kana combinations such as ティーム(チーム) team. In Hepburn, these would be distinguished as different sounds and represented mu and chīmu respectively, giving better indications of the English pronunciations. For some Japanese speakers, however, the sounds ティ "ti" and チ "chi" are the same phoneme; they are both represented in Kunrei-shiki as tîmu. This kind of logic often confuses those who do not know Japanese phonology well.[citation needed]

Today, the main users of Kunrei-shiki are native speakers of Japanese (especially within Japan) and linguists studying Japanese. The main advantage of Kunrei-shiki is that it is better able to illustrate Japanese grammar, as Hepburn preserves the irregularity of certain conjugations (see table, right).[5] The most serious problem of Hepburn in this context is that it changes the stem of verbs, which is not reflected in the underlying morphology of the language. One notable introductory textbook for English speakers, Eleanor Jorden's Japanese: The Spoken Language, uses JSL romanization, a system strongly influenced by Kunrei-shiki in its adherence to Japanese phonology, but adapted to teaching proper pronunciation of Japanese phonemes.[citation needed]

Kunrei-shiki spellings of kana

gojūon yōon
あ ア a い イ i う ウ u え エ e お オ o (ya) (yu) (yo)
か カ ka き キ ki く ク ku け ケ ke こ コ ko きゃ キャ kya きゅ キュ kyu きょ キョ kyo
さ サ sa し シ si す ス su せ セ se そ ソ so しゃ シャ sya しゅ シュ syu しょ ショ syo
た タ ta ち チ ti つ ツ tu て テ te と ト to ちゃ チャ tya ちゅ チュ tyu ちょ チョ tyo
な ナ na に ニ ni ぬ ヌ nu ね ネ ne の ノ no にゃ ニャ nya にゅ ニュ nyu にょ ニョ nyo
は ハ ha ひ ヒ hi ふ フ hu へ ヘ he ほ ホ ho ひゃ ヒャ hya ひゅ ヒュ hyu ひょ ヒョ hyo
ま マ ma み ミ mi む ム mu め メ me も モ mo みゃ ミャ mya みゅ ミュ myu みょ ミョ myo
や ヤ ya (i) ゆ ユ yu (e) よ ヨ yo
ら ラ ra り リ ri る ル ru れ レ re ろ ロ ro りゃ リャ rya りゅ リュ ryu りょ リョ ryo
わ ワ wa ゐ ヰ i (u) ゑ ヱ e を ヲ o
ん ン n-n'
voiced sounds (dakuten)
が ガ ga ぎ ギ gi ぐ グ gu げ ゲ ge ご ゴ go ぎゃ ギャ gya ぎゅ ギュ gyu ぎょ ギョ gyo
ざ ザ za じ ジ zi ず ズ zu ぜ ゼ ze ぞ ゾ zo じゃ ジャ zya じゅ ジュ zyu じょ ジョ zyo
だ ダ da ぢ ヂ zi づ ヅ zu で デ de ど ド do ぢゃ ヂャ zya ぢゅ ヂュ zyu ぢょ ヂョ zyo
ば バ ba び ビ bi ぶ ブ bu べ ベ be ぼ ボ bo びゃ ビャ bya びゅ ビュ byu びょ ビョ byo
ぱ パ pa ぴ ピ pi ぷ プ pu ぺ ペ pe ぽ ポ po ぴゃ ピャ pya ぴゅ ピュ pyu ぴょ ピョ pyo


  • Characters in red are obsolete in modern Japanese.
  • When he (へ) is used as a particle it is written e not he (as in Nihon-shiki).
  • When ha (は) is used as a particle it is written wa not ha.
  • When wo (を) is used as a particle it is written o not wo.
  • Long vowels are indicated by a circumflex, for example long o is written ô.
  • Syllabic n (ん) is written as n' before vowels and y but as n before consonants and as a word final.
  • Geminate consonants are marked by doubling the consonant following the sokuon, っ, without exception.
  • The first letter in a sentence, and all proper nouns, are capitalized.
  • ISO 3602 has the strict form, see Nihon-shiki.

Permitted exceptions

The Cabinet Order makes an exception to the above chart:

  • Limited to international relations and situations with prior precedent in which a sudden spelling reform would be difficult, spelling may also be given by [the following] Chart 2.
しゃ sha し shi しゅ shu しょ sho
    つ tsu  
ちゃ cha ち chi ちゅ chu ちょ cho
    ふ fu  
じゃ ja じ ji じゅ ju じょ jo
  ぢ di づ du  
ぢゃ dya   ぢゅ dyu ぢょ dyo
くゎ kwa      
ぐゎ gwa      

This exceptional clause is not to be confused with other systems of romanization (such as Hepburn) and does not specifically relax other requirements such as marking long vowels.

See also

  • List of ISO transliterations


  1. ^ a b http://www.kictec.co.jp/inpaku/iken%20keikai/syasin/hebon/romaji.htm
  2. ^ http://homepage1.nifty.com/tabi-mo/font_kitei2.htm#10
  3. ^ Powers, John. "Japanese Names", The Indexer Vol. 26 No. 2 June 2008. "It [Hepburn] can be considered the norm as, in slightly modified form, it is followed by the great majority of Western publications and by all English-language newspapers."
  4. ^ Hinds, John. Japanese: A Prescriptive Grammar. "The major disadvantage of this system [Kunrei-shiki] is that there is a tendency for nonnative speakers of Japanese to pronounce certain forms incorrectly."
  5. ^ Hinds, John. Japanese: A Prescriptive Grammar. "The major advantage of kunrei-shiki is that inflectional endings are seen to be more regular."

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