The Latin alphabet was first used in Japan in the 16th century by Portuguese
missionaries, who devised a romanisation system based on Portuguese
spelling. Later the Dutch introduced a romanisation system based on Dutch.
By the 20th century, there were a number of different romanisation
systems in use, including the Nippon, Kunrei and Hepburn systems.
Hepburn system (ヘボン式/hebon-shiki)
The Hepburn system was devised by James Curtis Hepburn (1815-1911), an
American missionary from Philadelphia who arrived in Japan in 1859 and compiled
the first modern Japanese-English dictionary about a decade later. The Hepburn
system is now the most widely used romanisation system.
Kunrei system (訓令式/kunreishiki "Cabinet
The Kunrei system was promulgated by the Japanese government during
the 1930s. A revised version was issued in 1954.
The main differences in spelling between the Kunrei and Hepburn systems
are as follows (Hepburn in brackets): si (shi), ti (chi), tu (tsu), hu (fu),
zi (ji), sya (sha), syu (shu), syo (sho), tya (cha), tyu (chu), tyo (cho),
zya (ja), zyu (ju), and zyo (jo). Long vowels: â (ā), ê
(ē), î (ī), ô (ō), û (ū).
Nippon system (日本式/nipponshiki)
The Nippon system was the creation of Tanakadate
Aikitsu and was first used in 1881. It is identical to the Kunrei
system except for the sounds da, di, du, de, do, dya, dyu, dyo, which
are written da, zi, zu, de, do, zya, zyu, zyo in the Kunrei system
and da, ji, zu, de, do, ja, ju, jo in the Hepburn system.
Rōmaji (Hepburn System) with katakana and hiragana
Reading in vertical columns running from top to bottom and from right to left,
the first column (in green) is hiragana, the second (in yellow) is katakana and
the third is rōmaji, and so on.
Rōmaji is the standard way of transliterating Japanese into the Latin
alphabet. In everyday written Japanese, rōmaji can be used to write
numbers and abbreviations. It is also used in dictionaries, text books and
phrase books for foreign learners of Japanese.
When typing Japanese on computers, most people, both Japanese and non-Japanese, use
rōmaji, which is converted to kanji, hiragana or katakana by the input software.
It is also possible to type in hiragana or katakana if you have a Japanese
keyboard, but few people are familiar with this method.
Sample text in rōmaji
Subete no ningen wa, umarenagara ni shite jiyū de ari, katsu, songen to
kenri to ni tsuite byōdō de aru. Ningen wa, risei to ryōshin
to o sazukerarete ori, tagai ni dōhō no seishinn o motte kōdō
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason
and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)