Wiktionary:About Japanese/Transliteration

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Transliteration of the Japanese Language

The basis for the Wiki-romanization of Japanese is the Hepburn system [1]. In Japanese, the term for romanization of Japanese text is romaji (ローマ字). Pretty much anyone seeking to look up Japanese terms, even a beginning Japanese-language student, will know this term, so it is safe to use it in contexts specific to the Japanese language.

Other than the rules elaborated below, all Japanese text should follow the hiragana/katakana->romaji mapping in the Hepburn romanization charts on the Wikipedia (note, this does not include the rules qualifying those charts that are also listed above in the same article.

There are two sets of rules qualifying these charts. The first is the "strict" set, to be followed in article titles and the like for maximum consistency, and the second is the "relaxed" set, which can be used in running text for improved readability.

Strict rules

  • Every word in Japanese is to be expressed as a single romanized "word", with no spaces or hyphens.
    A word, in this context, is a single sentence component, including compound nouns, and most particles (助詞). Conjugated forms are counted as a single word, as are verbs consisting of する affixed to a noun. The following all count as a single word, and appropriate romanization is given in parentheses:
  • Each word should be separated from other words by spaces.
    • 僕は純苔です (boku wa jundai desu)
    • サチより日本語が上手だ (sachi yori nihongo ga jōzu da)
  • The letter は, when used as a particle and pronounced "wah", should be transliterated as wa instead of ha.
    • 上手じゃない (boku wa jōzu ja nai), but じめまして (hajimemashite)
  • The letter を, when used as a particle and pronounced "oh", should be transliterated as o instead of wo.
    When used in proper nouns, including person and place names, it should be transliterated as o unless it is customary to transliterate that person's or place's name as wo.
  • The letter へ, when used as a particle and pronounced "eh", should be transliterated as e instead of he.
    • 日本へ行きたい (nihon e ikitai), but へんたい (hentai)
  • The letter ん, when followed in the same word by a vowel (あ, い, う, え, or お) or a "y" mora (や, ゆ, よ ), should be transliterated as nTemplate:'instead of just n.
    • 近縁 (きんえん, kin'en), but 近年 (きんねん, kinnen) and 記念 (きねん, kinen)
    • 金融 (きんゆう, kin'yū), as opposed to 記入 (きにゅう, kinyū)
  • Any symbol followed by ー (the chōonpu) indicates that the vowel is long and it is transliterated by using the vowel with a macron over it (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū).
    • らーめん (rāmen), ビー玉 (ビーだま, bīdama), スーツ (sūtsu), ケーキ (kēki), オーケストラ (ōkesutora).
  • Any syllable ending in the お (o) sound that is followed by う in the same word should be considered a "long お" and transliterated as ō.
    • Exceptions: If the う is the final syllable in a verb, and thus transformed to another syllable as a result of conjugation, then it should be written separately. If the お-sound is part of the honorific prefix お- or ご-, then it is written separately.
    • 交差点 (こうさてん, kōsaten) and ありがとう (arigatō), but 誘う (さそう, sasou) and 大海 (おおうみ, ōumi).
  • おお (oo) and うう (uu) combinations are considered long vowel forms of お and う and are transliterated as ō and ū, respectively.
    • Exception: If the second instance of the vowel sound is pronounced separately (rearticulated), then both vowels should be written.
    • 大騒ぎ (おおさわぎ, ōsawagi), but 五陰 (ごおん, goon) and 女王 (じょおう, joō). 十 (じゅう, ), but 食う (くう, kuu) and 風雲 (ふううん, fūun).
  • The long vowels あ and い are always transliterated by doubling the vowel (aa or ii) unless the ー is in use. The ああ and いい combinations when rearticulated follow the rules as above
    • お母さん (おかあさん, okaasan), らーめん (rāmen), and 高上がり (たかあがり, takaagari). 新潟 (にいがた, Niigata), ビー玉 (ビーだま, bīdama), and 言い (ii).
  • The long vowel え is rare, and it is rarely indicated as such.
    • 姉さん (ねえさん, nesan or neesan, but not nēsan), but 濡れ縁 (ぬれえん, nureen) and ケーキ (kēki).
  • っ (the sokuon, a.k.a. little tsu) should be transliterated as a doubling of the initial consonant of the following letter. If there is no following letter, then it is simply dropped in the transliteration.
    • Exception: If the sokuon precedes the chi kana (ち/チ), do not use "cchi" and instead use "tchi". If before the shi kana (し/シ), use "sshi".
    • 喫茶店 (きっさてん, kissaten), って (tte), あっ (a)
  • Japanese punctuation can be romanized with the closest equivalent English punctuation: . for 。; , for 、; " for 「 or 」; etc.
    • 行きましょうか。 ikimashō ka.
    • 料理して、食べた。 ryōrishite, tabeta.

Relaxed rules

  • If a compound word can be broken into discrete parts, especially when one of the parts is a common prefix or suffix, use a hyphen to separate the parts.
    • 明治時代 (meiji-jidai)
    • 理想的 (risō-teki)
    • 岐阜市 (gifu-shi)
    • 不可算名詞 (fu-kasan-meishi)
    • Exception: if the word is very short, or the prefix or suffix is strongly associated with the word: ご飯 (gohan), 御茶 (ocha)
  • If a particle or suffix is strongly associated with the preceding word, it is acceptable to use a hyphen instead of a space. If the association is particularly strong and the words are short, it is acceptable to simply join them in the romanization.
    • 鈴木さん (suzuki-san)
    • いいですね (īdesu ne)
  • If a short phrase is entirely set and usually pronounced as one word, it is acceptable to romanize it as one word.
    • どういたしまして (dōitashimashite)
    • とんでもない (tondemonai)
  • If a sentence is a question, a question mark should be used in the romanization. If it is unclear whether the sentence is a question (e.g., そうですね), the question mark is optional, and should probably be omitted.
    • 行きますか。 (ikimasu ka?)