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Quality Japanese Translation Services - Consistency in use of Romaji

The first exposure of many new learners to Japanese comes via Romaji, the Latin script rendering of Japanese pronunciation.

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The reason for this is usually to allow the student to be able to learn Japanese words that they can use in conversation before tackling the intricacies of Chinese “kanji” characters or the Japanese phonetic syllabaries, Katakana and Hiragana. What can be confusing is that there are multiple systems in active use so the same word (and pronunciation) can be written in different ways. This is an issue for the Japanese translator as it is often necessary to “Romanize” Japanese words when translating into English. This article looks at the key differences between the “Romaji” systems.

There are three main Romaji systems in active use: 

  • Hepburn, 
  • Nihon-shiki, and 
  • Kunrei-shiki. 

The main differences between these systems concern how the sounds we associate with “h” as a letter after another consonant, the “f”, “j”, and “ts”.

The Hepburn system is the closest to English and should be used whenever possible (only possible exceptions are when a company officially uses another form for its name on its website etc.) as its use will avoid confusion in readers of your translation. Hepburn uses “h” where it would normally be used in English (“Mitsubishi” rather than “Mitsubisi” in the other two systems), as well as other double consonants that add clarity “Tsushin” (communications) as part of a name, rather than “Tusin”). Other differences include that, in the other two systems, the sound which is closer to “fu” in English is written as “hu”, and the “j” sound is “dy”, except for “ji” which is “di”. 

Another thing to avoid when you are forced to related Japanese words “as is” in your English text is literally writing double vowel sounds. If you are writing the Japanese name “Koki” with an extended “o” sound (like the word “oar” in English), some romanization systems will depict this as “Kooki”, but writing this in English will give the reader the impression that it should be sounded like “who”. In this case, it is better to be less precise than end up writing something misleading.

In conclusion, as always in translation, you should aim to be consistency. Although it is necessary to be aware of the other systems, you should learn and use the Hepburn system when writing Japanese words literally in English to provide the most intuitive and accessible system to readers of your Japanese English translation who may not be familiar with Japanese pronunciation.

About the Author
Simon Way is a contributing author to SAECULII YK, providers of Quality Japanese Translation Services Tokyo, Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news by Japanese Translation Services

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